More than 40 countries agree to phase out coal-fired power. More than 40 countries have agreed to phase out their use of coal-fired power, the dirtiest fuel source, in a boost to UK hopes of a deal to “keep 1.5C alive”, from the Cop26 climate summit.
Major coal-using countries, including Canada, Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam, will phase out their use of coal for electricity generation, with the bigger economies doing so in the 2030s, and smaller economies doing so in the 2040s.
However, some of the world’s biggest coal-dependent economies, including Australia, China, India and the US were missing from the deal, and experts and campaigners told the Guardian the phase-out deadlines countries signed up to were much too late.
The goal of “consigning coal to history” has been a key focus for the UK as host of the Cop26 summit, which aims to put the world on track to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s business secretary, said: “Today marks a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change, as nations from all corners of the world unite in Glasgow to declare that coal has no part to play in our future power generation. Today’s ambitious commitments made by our international partners demonstrate that the end of coal is in sight.”
Coal use is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, and use of the polluting fuel has rebounded after the temporary plunge in emissions caused by last year’s lockdowns.
The deal brokered by the UK at Glasgow includes commitments from dozens of developing as well as developed countries to stop using coal, and more than 100 financial institutions and other organisations have also agreed to stop financing coal development.
The deal came as part of a focus on energy for the fifth day of the Cop26 summit, and follows a spate of previous announcements earlier in the week, such as a commitment from scores of countries to halt deforestation. Also on Wednesday:
More than 20 governments and financial institutions, including the UK, US and Denmark, agreed to phase out overseas finance for all fossil fuels.
Research showed that the world could be on track to limit global heating to 1.9C, if commitments from India and other countries on greenhouse gas emissions are fulfilled.
Data seen by the Guardian revealed fossil fuel companies were using the energy charter treaty to sue governments for the losses they incur from national commitments to decarbonise.
Ireland was told it would need to cull 1.3m animals to meet climate targets.
The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, told the Cop26 conference London would become a global hub for net zero investment.
The suite of announcements on coal is a key pillar of the UK’s strategy for Cop26. Leading figures acknowledged to the Guardian before the two-week conference began that the core aim – of getting countries to produce national emissions-cutting plans that would add up to a halving of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, which scientists say is needed to stay within 1.5C – would not be fulfilled.
So in order to close the gap between countries’ headline carbon-cutting commitments and the 45% reduction in emissions needed, part of the UK’s strategy is to focus on major areas of importance to the climate – “cash, coal, cars and trees” in the mantra espoused by Boris Johnson – that will produce key progress in tackling the climate crisis.
Many campaigners welcomed the suite of announcements on coal, which also included a commitment by more than 20 countries – understood to include the US, as well as the UK and Denmark – to stop funding any fossil fuel development overseas by the end of 2022, and divert the estimated $8bn (£5.85bn) a year saved into clean energy investment instead.
Chris Littlecott, social director at the thinktank E3G, said: “This commitment on coal is definitely a big step forward, and would have been unthinkable a year or two ago. It’s a real sign of improvement.”
But others said the move did not go far enough. Jamie Peters, director of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: “The key point in this underwhelming announcement is that coal is basically allowed to continue as normal for years yet. Some people may hear what the prime minister said at the opening of Cop, compare it to this, and wonder why there is such a difference between words and action. ”
Expert assessments have found that for the world to stay within 1.5C, developed economies should phase out coal before 2030, rather than in the 2030s as in the deal announced on Wednesday night.
Elif Gündüzyeli, senior coal policy coordinator at the campaign group Climate Action Network Europe, said: “This is not a game-changer. A 2030 phaseout deadline should be a minimum, and this agreement doesn’t have that. Coal is already expensive [compared with renewable energy] and no one wants to put money in coal any more.”
The IEA has said all new development of fossil fuels must cease from this year, if the world is to stay within the 1.5C limit. The IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, has also frequently called for the world to give up on coal, which produces more carbon than other sources of electricity, if the climate crisis is to be tackled.
Although South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines did not sign up to phase out coal, they agreed deals that will lead to the early retirement of many of their existing coal-fired power plans.
More than 20 countries and financial institutions will halt all financing for fossil fuel development overseas and divert the spending to green energy instead from next year.
The move marks a significant boost for the transition to clean fuels. The Guardian understands the countries involved include the US, UK, Denmark and some developing countries that would receive such finance, including Costa Rica. The European Investment Bank is one of the financial institutions involved.
Diverting their funding from fossil fuels to low-carbon efforts will generate an estimated $8bn a year around the world for clean energy. The agreement will prevent the funding of any fossil fuel development, including gas, though there are provisions for loopholes.
However, China and Japan, two big funders of fossil fuel development around the world, have shunned the initiative.
The countries involved will also be able to continue developing their own fossil fuel resources at home, including oil and gas fields.
The US has at least 24 pending fossil fuel projects representing more than 1.6 gigatons of potential greenhouse gas emissions. The UK is licensing new oil and gas fields in the North Sea, despite hosting the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The UK will also be able to press ahead with funding a controversial gasfield in Mozambique, because that project is already in the pipeline and the initiative covers only new investments. Funding for fossil fuels from private sources will also not be affected by the agreement.
The move also builds on the UK’s efforts to end the overseas financing of coal, as president of the G7 this year as well as host of Cop26.
The G7 agreed in May to stop funding coal development overseas, despite resistance from Japan, and China – one of the biggest funders of coal development around the world.
Collin Rees, the programme manager at the Oil Change International campaign group, said the initiative, which will be made public on Thursday when the Cop26 summit is focusing on energy issues, would mark a major change in outlook for fossil fuel investment around the world.
He said: “This is a massive step forward. This represents a serious chunk of the current international public finance for fossil fuels. It’s a really big thing, though there may be some devil in the detail.