Energy & Environment

COP26 draft calls for faster phaseout of coal, fossil subsidies

AP-Scott Heppell

A draft agreement put forward by the president of the United Nations global climate summit calls for countries to accelerate the phaseout of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels. 

The draft, which is subject to change amid negotiations, represents a more ambitious call than expected since a previous “non-paper” did not mention fossil fuels. 

Still, it does not set a firm timeline for the phaseouts, and such policies could be contentious domestically in countries like the U.S.

During the conference, 18 countries said for the first time that they would phase out coal, with major economies ending their use in the 2030s and others ending it in the 2040s. The U.S. did not join them.

When it’s burned, coal adds more planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than other fossil fuels like oil and gas.

The new draft also calls for countries to create and release proposed pathways toward achieving net-zero emissions by or around the middle of the century in order to limit warming.

This too, could be contentious as a group of countries that includes China and India recently wrote that calls for net-zero by 2050 could exacerbate inequality between developed and developing nations.

Asked what the most contentious issues would be and whether the coal language would ultimately make it in, COP26 President Alok Sharma did not give a specific answer.

“There were a range of views that were expressed by different groups. I think there were certain elements of the cover decision that were welcomed. There were other elements of the cover decision which various parties raised concerns about,” he said during a press conference.

He added that they would have to go through feedback and “reflect” but noted that it was put together based on “what we heard from parties in the first place.”

Environmentalists argued that the language is momentous — since this is the first time a COP decision would mention fossil fuels — but also argued it could be even stronger. 

“The science is really urgent. It’s a huge alarm bell and so you know, this paltry,  pathetic text is nowhere near where we need to be on the science, but it is a little bit of a political victory,” said Jean Su, director of the  Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice Program. 

Su said that ending the subsidies and phasing out coal are “part of the equation” but also called for stopping new coal oil and gas development, and phasing out what’s existing. 

The draft also advocates for more ambition from countries, urging them to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 emissions targets by 2022 in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals for limiting warming.

The Paris Agreement calls for countries to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with the further goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees when compared to pre-industrial levels.

This comes after analyses found that plans for this decade fall short.

The draft specifically says that countries need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions 45 percent by 2030 when compared to 2010 levels.

It also suggests a further increase in climate financing for developing countries, but doesn’t set a specific goal.

Instead, it endorsed “enhanced” support for developing countries, beyond the current $100 billion per year goal, which has not yet been met.

The draft decision was also missing a few elements, listing placeholders instead for things still being worked out like discussions on long-term climate finance and a global goal on adaptation, or actions that prepare for and try to mitigate climate-caused damage.

— Updated at 12:55 p.m.

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