‘The end of coal is in sight’: COP26 president says 77 countries have pledged to phase out coal-fuelled power plants

UN conference host Britain said 77 countries had pledged to phase out coal as a study showed the carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere had rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels.

We were expecting to see some rebound,” said the study’s lead author Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate modelling researcher at the University of Exeter. “What surprised us was the intensity and rapidity of the rebound.”

Alok Sharma, British president of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, said the two-week meeting was on its way to gradually ending use of the world’s most widely used fuel – for which demand is set to hit a new record this year.

He said yesterday 77 countries had signed a pledge to phase out coal-fuelled power plants – which produce more than 35pc of the world’s electricity – and stop building new ones.

“Today I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” Mr Sharma told the conference. But the hurdles to reach the UN goal of “net zero” global emissions by 2050 are still enormous.

Many developing countries, not least China, India and Indonesia, rely on cheap, accessible coal and other fossil fuels to grow, despite their disadvantages to the environment and health.

The British government said on Wednesday it expected 190 nations and organisations to sign the non-binding pledge, in which richer countries would phase out coal power before 2040, and poorer countries before 2050.

But the list published yesterday left out both India and China which is home to almost half the over 2,600 coal-fired plants operating or under construction around the world.

And the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, this year said to achieve the UN goal of “net zero” emissions by 2050, no new fossil fuel projects should be approved after 2021 – a goal the latest pledge is sure to miss.

In 2020, carbon dioxide emissions fell by a record 1.9 billion tonnes – a 5.4pc drop – as countries locked down and economies ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new report, produced by the Global Carbon Project, forecasts emissions will rise by 4.9pc this year.

At least 20 countries plan to commit at the summit yesterday to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, according to two people familiar with the talks.

There was a sharp reverse, however, for one of the most eye-catching announcements of the conference – a pledge by more than 100 world leaders to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade.

Indonesia, home to huge tropical rainforests, said Monday’s agreement was at odds with its own development plans.

In 2019 alone, an area of Indonesian forest and other land half the size of Belgium was burned for palm oil plantations.

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