Nations strike climate deal with coal compromise at COP26

After two weeks of talks in Glasgow, 200 countries have reached a climate agreement no one loves. Caryn Ceolin with the words mentioned in the final deal for the first time in COP history, and the last-minute change that sparked fierce backlash.

By The Associated Press, The Canadian Press

Almost 200 nations accepted a contentious climate compromise Saturday aimed at keeping a key global warming target alive, but it contained a last-minute change that watered down crucial language about coal.

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change promoted by India to “phase down,” rather than “phase out” coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Nation after nation had complained earlier on the final day of two weeks of U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland about how the deal did not go far or fast enough, but they said it was better than nothing and provided incremental progress, if not success.

Negotiators from Switzerland and Mexico called the coal language change against the rules because it came so late. However, they said they had no choice but to hold their noses and go along with it.

Swiss environment minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the change will make it harder to achieve the international goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

Many other nations and climate campaigners pointed at India for making demands that weakened the final agreement.

“India’s last-minute change to the language to phase down but not phase out coal Is quite shocking,” Australian climate scientist Bill Hare, who tracks world emission pledges for the science-based Climate Action Tracker. “India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly.”

Others approached the deal from a more positive perspective. In addition to the revised coal language, the Glasgow Climate Pact included enough financial incentives to almost satisfy poorer nations and solved a long-standing problem to pave the way for carbon trading.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Canada was able to set an example for other large, oil-producing nations at the conference, but that “we haven’t and won’t be able to win every single battle in the fight against climate change.”

“We know we need to do more and the world needs to do more. Canadians gave us a mandate to go further and faster in our fight against climate change and there’s no doubt we have our work cut out for us,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The agreement also says big carbon polluting nations have to come back and submit stronger emission cutting pledges by the end of 2022.

“It’s a good deal for the world,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told The Associated Press. “It’s got a few problems, but it’s all in all a very good deal.”

Before the India change, negotiators said the deal preserved, albeit barely, the overarching goal of limiting Earth’s warming by the end of the century to 1.5 degrees. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial times.

Ahead of the Glasgow talks, the United Nations had set three criteria for success, and none of them were achieved. The U.N.`s criteria included pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, $100 billion in financial aid from rich nations to poor, and ensuring that half of that money went to helping the developing world adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference,” Guterres said Saturday night. “But we have some building blocks for progress.”

Negotiators Saturday used the word “progress” more than 20 times, but rarely used the word “success” and then mostly in that they’ve reached a conclusion, not about the details in the agreement. Conference President Alok Sharma said the deal drives “progress on coal, cars, cash and trees” and is “something meaningful for our people and our planet.”

Environmental activists were measured in their not-quite-glowing assessments, issued before India’s last minute change.

“It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5 C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan, a veteran of the U.N. climate talks known as the Conferences of Parties.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, speaking for a group of retired leaders called The Elders, said the pact represents : the pact represents “some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster….People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty.”


Environmental groups and politicians in Canada reacted with a mix of discouragement and determination to a last-minute deal reached at the United Nations climate talks.

The Sierra Club’s Canadian chapter said the deal marks a “disappointing end” to the two-week conference in Glasgow, Scotland, known as COP26.

“This final agreement is a small step but not the leap we need,” representatives said in a statement, calling the compromise “on trend with the divisive summit.”

“In the words of David Attenborough … ‘our motivation should not be fear but hope.”’

They and others cited the international goal to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times.

Climate Action Network Canada, which was also in attendance, warned Canadian politicians they will be held to the deal’s pledges.

“We leave Glasgow with renewed conviction that we must fight back against every fraction of a degree of warming, to protect the people and the places we love,” the network said in a Twitter post.

Green Party MP Elizabeth May said in tweet from Scotland that the diluted language on coal marks a move to appease India, China and others.

“The hope of holding to 1.5 degrees is barely alive. But hope is not lost,” she wrote.

The advocates’ views reflected those of many states, as nation after nation complained on the final day of the U.N. talks the agreement did not go far or fast enough. They said, however, that it was better than nothing and provided incremental progress, if not success.

Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor the University of British Columbia specializing in environmental and climate change policy, said the commitments show progress but that the globe remains on track for 2.4 C of warming this century.

Nonetheless, the call for more ambitious near-term targets at next year’s conference is “encouraging,” she said.

“It’s also increasingly clear that greater climate finance for developing countries from wealthy, developed countries like Canada will be essential in achieving needed progress,” she said in an email.

The meeting has also sent a strong signal to Canada’s fossil-fuel industry, whose exports Harrison warned are bound to decline after 2030 if countries keep their word on temperature goals.

“COP26 finally called out the elephant in the room with more focus than at any previous COP on fossil fuels as the main cause of climate change,” she said, pointing to oil and gas as well as coal.

Canada has joined more than 20 countries in promising to end subsidies for fossil fuels projects overseas. And the deal itself calls for an eventual end of some coal power and of fossil fuel subsidies.

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