Australia refuses to support COP26 coal pledge

Coal-fired power station at night (coal workers)
Image: Shutterstock

A pledge to phase out coal gained the support of 23 more countries at UN climate conference COP26 on Thursday, but was shunned by big users of the dirtiest of the fuels that cause global warming, including Australia, according to Reuters.

The COP26 summit hopes to find ways to keep within reach a target of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), but the scale of the challenge was underlined by a study showing carbon dioxide emissions have returned to near pre-pandemic levels.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal are the single biggest contributor to climate change, and weaning the world off coal is considered vital to achieving global climate targets.

Related article: Financiers pledge to fight climate change at COP26

The COP26 pledge to drop coal did not include Australia, India, the United States and China, which has around half the coal-fired plants operating around the world and plans to build more.

Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.4 per cent in 2020 as economies ground to a halt, but the new report by the Global Carbon Project forecast a 4.9 per cent rebound in emissions for this year.

“We were expecting to see some rebound,” said the report’s lead author Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate modelling researcher at the University of Exeter.Report ad

“What surprised us was the intensity and rapidity.”

It was a stark reminder to leaders at COP26 in Glasgow of the challenge of preventing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

The United Nations says a rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius would trigger climate impacts far more catastrophic than the intensifying storms, heatwaves, droughts and floods already being seen.

“I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” Alok Sharma, British president of the two-week summit, said in detailing the pledge to phase out existing coal-fuelled power plants and to stop building new ones.

The non-binding pledge has 77 signatories, including 46 countries, such as Poland, Vietnam, and Chile, 23 of which are making commitments on ending coal for the first time.

Richer nations agreed to quit coal power by the 2030s and poorer ones by the 2040s. Poland said it was aiming for the 2040s—having previously pledged to stop mining coal in 2049. Indonesia did not agree to the part of the deal on ending finance for new coal plants.

Related article: ‘Time for action’, Queen tells climate summit

Coal-fired power today produces more than a third of the world’s electricity. Many developing countries currently rely on cheap, accessible coal to fuel their economies, just as developed countries did from the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century onwards, despite the costs to the environment and public health.

Meanwhile, a report by a group of environmental groups including Jubilee Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation, shows public financial institutions overseas, including export credit agencies, poured $36.7 billion into Australian fossil fuel projects over a decade. This was 11 times more than the amount directed to renewable energy, which received $3.3 billion between 2010 and 2020.

Read the full report here.

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