Ahead of COP26, the call for an international coal phase-out hits a snag

Members of the G20, a collection of the world’s largest economies, announced Sunday they would stop financing coal production abroad and aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Missing from this commitment, however, was a pledge to curb the use of coal within their own borders. 

The announcement came at the end of the G20 summit in Rome, where leaders met to discuss and negotiate some of the world’s biggest issues, including climate change. Coal combustion is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions — and members of the G20 represent the world’s largest coal producers and consumers, including the European Union, Australia, and China. 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi celebrated the new commitment, saying at a press conference that, “Now, for the first time, the whole of the G20 recognizes the scientific validity of the one-and-a-half-degree goal and they commit themselves with a sufficiently significant language.”

But environmental leaders and climate policy experts criticized the pledge for its failure to address domestic coal use, as well as its vague promises ahead of the United Nations’ COP26 conference, which started in Glasgow this week.

“If the G20 was a dress rehearsal for COP26, then world leaders fluffed their lines,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement. She called the communiqué “weak” and “lacking both ambition and vision.” 

Scientists point out that current global commitments are not enough to halt global warming to 1.5 degrees C, and that the planet is actually on the path to 2.7 degrees C by the end of the century. That warming would result in more frequent intense fires, heat waves, flooding, food production challenges, and other catastrophic impacts. 

In Glasgow, world leaders are meeting to carve out a way to curb climate change — it’s the most important climate conference in several years. But the commitment G20 nations have brought to the meeting isn’t what some were hoping for. 

UN Secretary António Guterres said in April that the wealthiest countries should phase out coal by 2030. Everyone else, by 2040. 

Guterres also said that countries should come to COP26 with “concrete proposals that ease access to greater finance and technological support for the most vulnerable countries.” Instead, nations making up the G20 are showing up empty handed without specific financial agreements or ambitious coal end dates. 

China, Australia, Russia, and India were among countries that pushed back on an end date during the G20 summit. “We are not engaged in those sorts of mandates and bans,” said Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. “That’s not the Australian government’s policy; it won’t be the Australian government’s policy.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Ahead of COP26, the call for an international coal phase-out hits a snag on Nov 1, 2021.