Cop26 must consign coal to history to save the planet

Climate summit president Alok Sharma calls this year's Glasgow event ‘our last hope’

The last chance to protect the planet and its population from catastrophic climate change lies with the Cop26 environmental summit, the event’s president said on Friday.

Cop26 chief Alok Sharma said the November summit in Glasgow, Scotland, is “our last hope” to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“I have faith that world leaders will rise to the occasion and not be found wanting in their tryst with destiny,” he said in a speech.

“That, in six months’ time, when we are packing up and going home, we will be able to say that at this critical juncture, each of us took responsibility. That we chose to act. And that we kept 1.5°C alive.”

The environment emerged in 2021 as a key priority for international leaders after US President Joe Biden led a conference on climate action, showing the US was back at the table after Donald Trump’s presidency.

The National
The National

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this year announced that Britain would cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, bringing forward the country’s target to reach zero emissions by 15 years.

Activists including Greenpeace and Greta Thunberg say action is needed rather than words and are wary of political ambitions to achieve climate change goals.

Mr Sharma, a member of the UK Cabinet, said coal as a power source must be consigned to history.

In 2012, 40 per cent of the UK's electricity came from coal. That figure has dropped to less than 2 per cent, the UK government said.

“This is our last hope of keeping 1.5°C alive. Our best chance of building a brighter future – a future of green jobs and cleaner air,” Mr Sharma said.

“We are working directly with governments and through international organisations to end international coal financing.

“This is a personal priority, and to urge countries to abandon coal power, with the G7 leading the way.

“The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past, and in the past they must remain.”

Environmental protesters in Germany as the country's leaders discussed amendments to climate protection laws this week. Getty
Environmental protesters in Germany as the country's leaders discussed amendments to climate protection laws this week. Getty

Cop26 will focus on limiting global warming, helping communities to adapt and encouraging co-operation to reach climate goals.

Four climate priorities

Mr Sharma said he wanted all countries to commit to 2030 emission targets so that the world could become net zero by 2050. He proposed bans on environmentally harmful vehicles by 2040.

He said vulnerable people in parts of the world already affected by climate change needed help, and he encouraged projects that would put one billion people in a safer place by 2025.

The Cop26 president said there was too much uncertainty about the availability of money pledged to tackle climate change, and he aims to build international trust by ensuring the promise of an annual $1 billion is realised.

His fourth priority, he said, was to build co-operation between nations and organisations committed to tackling the effects of climate change.

Mr Sharma, speaking at Whitelee windfarm near Glasgow, said he would head to Cop26 with a message from his daughters in mind – to choose the planet over politics.

“Their response was simple: ‘Please, tell them to pick the planet.’ And that’s the message I want to leave you with today.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 14: COP26 President Alok Sharma rehearses a speech at Whitelee Windfarm, with six months to go until the U.N. Climate Change Conference, on May 14, 2021 near Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Russell Cheyne - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Alok Sharma at Whitelee Windfarm, near Glasgow. WPA Pool/Getty Images

“A message from my daughters, a message from future generations. This is our moment. There are no second chances. Let’s pick the planet.”

He said plans were still in placed for an in-person, Covid-secure summit in November, allowing for officials from developing countries that bear the brunt of climate change to meet those from developed countries responsible for most of the world's emissions.

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, welcomed Mr Sharma’s commitment to the 1.5°C goal, but said more action was needed.

“The UK can’t claim climate leadership overseas while at home the government continues to entertain a new coal mine in Cumbria or maintains the planning block on English onshore wind,” she said.

Updated: May 14, 2021 02:32 PM

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