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COP26: More than 40 countries agree to move away from coal

COP26: More than 40 countries agree to move away from coal

Overview

COP26 has so far consistently delivered important "side deals" and the fourth day of the summit was no exception. On Thursday, when the focus was on the energy transition, more than 40 countries agreed to move away from coal-fired energy over the next two decades.

In the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, countries from all corners of the world committed to achieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation, in the 2030s for major economies and in the 2040s for others. This includes not issuing any new permits, not beginning construction and ending direct government support for unabated coal-fired power generation. It is expected that developed countries will need to deliver significant financial resources for developing countries to ensure "a just transition" away from coal.

Supporters of the statement include some countries which continue to rely heavily on coal, including Canada, Poland and Ukraine. The UK naturally supported the statement as it already has a target of phasing out coal use by 2024, but the ongoing debate over whether approval will be granted for a new coal mine off the coast of Cumbria provides interesting context (Boris Johnson commented at the start of COP26 that he was not in favour of the mine, but that the decision belonged to the planning authorities).

Conspicuous by their absence were Australia, China, India and Russia. Similarly, the US declined to support the statement, though media reports suggest that US officials had engaged with the draft text and negotiated intensely for it to exclude certain advanced coal facilities which can capture CO2. The US was, however, one of 25 signatories of a related commitment to end direct public support for international unabated fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022 (except in limited circumstances where the 1.5 degree warming limit is not compromised).

Though hailed by COP26 President Alok Sharma as ensuring that "coal is no longer king", the statement has already been criticised for its loose wording and vague timetable, which is unlikely to deliver a coal phase out prior to 2050. Furthermore, without the support of some of the world's most coal-dependent nations, the statement must be viewed as a first rather than the final nail in the coal-filled coffin.

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