COP26 climate change deal falls short on coal targets

·Weekend Editor
·2 min read
COP26 President Alok Sharma holds a gavel as he speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 13, 2021.

The COP26 climate conference has come to an end, but it probably won't satisfy some of its more outspoken critics. Reuters and The Washington Post report that the United Nations-helmed summit has reached a final deal on efforts to accelerate emissions reduction and otherwise keep to a Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5C. There are some areas where the new arrangement (billed by the UN as the Glasgow Climate Pact) may offer significant progress, but there are also concerns it doesn't hold countries to stricter standards — including a move away from coal energy.

In negotiations that extended roughly a day past the original November 12th deadline, representatives from China and India successfully changed language in the COP26 agreement that asked countries to "phase-down" unabated coal use rather than "phase-out." While COP26 president Alok Sharma and numerous countries' delegates wanted the tougher language, Sharma said it was "vital" to protect the deal. However, there are worries this will give coal-dependent countries like China and India an excuse to avoid firmer commitments to emissions reduction.

Previous critics blasted wealthier nations for failing to act on a promise of giving poorer countries $100 billion per year until 2023 to help them deal with climate change. The Glasgow deal only committed to making a new plan in the next three years.

The final pact does include some notable measures. It asks countries "revisit and strengthen" their climate change plans before the end of 2022, as New Scientist noted. Similarly, there's a strategy to address long-running disputes over global carbon credit markets. Numerous countries promised to reduce methane emissions and stop deforestation, and the agreement called for reduced subsidies on fossil fuels. Separately, the US and China reached a deal to limit climate change in the 2020s, including a new recognition from China that methane had a significant impact on rising temperatures.

Nonetheless, there are fears the COP26 arrangement is generally too soft. It doesn't set many binding targets. The final language only "requests" that countries rethink their plans, for instance. The pact might prompt some countries to step up their environmental initiatives, but others may face relatively few consequences if they fall short.

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