Cop26 coal deal falters as quarter of nations fail to commit to key pledge

A deal hailed by the UK as paving the way to end coal power worldwide appeared to falter on Thursday, as it emerged that a quarter of the countries to sign up had not fully committed to the pledge.

Green groups suggested that the UK had oversold its initial announcement of the deal, which promised a 190-strong coalition of countries and companies that had “agreed to both phase out coal power and end support for new coal power plants”.

But the deal did not include the US, despite President Joe Biden’s goal to have a green electricity system by 2035.

It emerged on Thursday that six of the new countries to sign up had not committed to key pledges; either to a deadline to phase out coal or to ending the construction of new coal power plants.

The wording of the pledge also appeared to have been watered down, with commitments to end coal power for developed nations by 2030 and by 2040 for developing nations, but with the caveat of “or as soon as possible thereafter”.

Poland has said it considers itself a developing nation and has only vowed to phase out coal in the 2040s

Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Sources from the UK side said they wanted to give countries the opportunity to sign up to as many of the pledges as they preferred, in order to get more nations on board.

Asked why the US had declined to join the deal, Nigel Topping, a member of the UK’s Cop26 team, said “look at the state of Virginia”.

Mr Biden’s Democrats suffered a shock defeat in the race for governor in the coal mining state earlier this week.

Indonesia, a major Asian coal power, agreed to phase out coal power “into the 2040s”, but only on condition of receiving additional financial support.

Poland, the European Union’s coal holdout, clarified that it considered itself a developing nation and would therefore not phase out coal until the 2040s, in line with its current deadline of 2049.

The commitment also includes Wales as a separate entity to the UK, as well as some countries that are already coal-free.

‘Quite hard to declare a global deal if you’re missing key countries’ 

Dave Jones, from coal analysts Ember, said it was “quite hard to declare a global deal if you’re missing key countries in there”.

Mr Jones said that firm commitments from Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam – three of the top 10 coal power countries – were significant.

He said they would “move the dial” globally, and could encourage China to move away from coal. Some 80 per cent of the world’s coal is in Asia.

Cracks also appeared on Thursday in the UK-led deal to end deforestation by 2030, as Indonesia, which has a third of the world’s rainforests, backtracked on its commitment. The country’s environment minister dismissed the plan as "inappropriate and unfair".

Neither the coal or deforestation plans are legally binding, but the UK pushed back on the suggestion that they were not sufficiently robust.

Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, said: “I think all those who signed up have done so in full understanding of what they’re signing up to.”

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