UK hails Cop26 pledge by 40 countries to scrap coal

Fourth day of Glasgow talks is dedicated to clean energy transition

Coal-fired power stations, such as this one in Germany, are regarded as one of the most environmentally damaging energy sources. Bloomberg
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More than 40 countries have agreed to phase out coal power in what Britain described as a milestone on the journey to one of the Cop26 summit’s key goals.

The UK used the fourth day of the summit to announce that major coal users including Poland, Vietnam and Chile had committed to scrapping the fossil fuel.

Britain has also secured promises to cut off investment in coal-fired power plants, which are regarded as one of the dirtiest energy sources.

But the world’s biggest coal consumers, China, India and the US, have not signed up to the pledge.

The UK announced commitments on behalf of 190 countries and organisations, with 23 nations promising for the first time to phase out the fuel.

They are promising to stop issuing permits for new coal plants and complete their exit from coal power in the 2030s, in the case of developed countries, and the 2040s in the case of emerging economies.

"We call on others to join us as we redouble our efforts to accelerate the global energy transition over the coming years," said the 46 countries and the European Union in a joint declaration.

Britain made phasing out coal power one of its four priorities for the Glasgow summit, where Thursday’s talks are dedicated to energy issues.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the announcements were a “milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change”.

“The world is moving in the right direction, standing ready to seal coal’s fate and embrace the environmental and economic benefits of building a future that is powered by clean energy," he said.

Mr Kwarteng said the number of proposed new coal plants had fallen by 76 per cent since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

This called on countries to strive for temperature rises no more than 2°C, or preferably 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change.

Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, said clean power was key to achieving the Paris goals. Coal currently generates more than a third of the world’s electricity.

“Today, I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” Mr Sharma told summit delegates on Thursday. "I do believe we're getting to a point where we consign coal power and history.

"A brighter future comes ever closer. A future of cleaner air, cheaper power and good, green jobs. But we must continue to work together over this vital decade to finish that job."

Talks between G20 countries in the run-up to Cop26 failed to yield a firm commitment to end the use of coal. But G7 nations agreed to wind down financing for the fossil fuel this year.

Britain plans to purge coal from its energy mix by 2024, while Germany, another signatory to Thursday's promise has set a 2038 date but could move it forward when a new government takes power.

Private investors including HSBC and Fidelity International are promising not to finance unabated coal plants, a term which means they do not have technology such as carbon capture which limits their carbon footprint.

Addressing one of the notable absences from the list, Australia, Cop26 climate champion Nigel Topping said the country would become a "powerhouse in renewables" because of its sunshine and vast land area.

China, Japan and South Korea have made a separate pledge to stop financing coal plants overseas, Mr Kwarteng said.

Al Gore, the former US vice president and environmental campaigner, told the summit that renewable alternatives to coal had "developed with dizzying speed".

"We do have the tools available to us to solve this crisis," he said. "The missing element has been sufficient political will."

The announcements came after banks and insurers with more than $130 trillion of assets promised on Wednesday to invest in green initiatives.

The finance talks followed commitments by world leaders to curb deforestation, cut methane emissions and promote green agriculture.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed progress on three of Britain’s four priorities, which he described as “coal, cars, cash and trees”.

“We have begun to make progress – substantial palpable progress - on three out of the four,” he said on Wednesday, referring to coal, cash and trees.

“But the negotiations in Glasgow have a long way to go, and far more must be done.”

Updated: November 04, 2021, 6:06 PM