COP26 concludes with calls for ‘coal phasedown,’ urgent climate change action

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Nov. 13 (UPI) — Representatives of nearly 200 countries agreed Saturday on a major new plan to address climate change at the COP26 conference that wrapped up in Scotland.

The pact keeps intact the goal of preventing global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is needed to prevent catastrophes, the conference announced on Twitter Saturday.

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“But, it will only survive if promises are kept and commitments translate into rapid action,” it said.

COP26 President Alok Sharma, who held back tears as the conference ended, said he was “infinitely grateful” the 1.5 degree goal was kept alive, but he called “its pulse is weak.” He said the conference showed there was a gap between short-term action needed to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement agreed upon six years ago.

Overall, he praised the final package that he said was balanced and carefully incorporated the perspectives from 200 countries.

“Collectively, this is a package that really moves things forward for everyone,” he said.

The agreement leaves out specific reductions each country must make over the next decade, but governments will meet again next year with plans to cut emissions, reports The New York Times.

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An earlier draft included “accelerating efforts towards the phaseout of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”

The final agreement was changed to “phase down” the use of coal. The Times reports that the change came at the request of India, which rankled negotiators from Switzerland, Marshall Islands, Mexico and others.

“We do not need to phase down, but to phase out,” Simonetta Sommaruga, Switzerland’s representative, told the paper. We are disappointed both about the process and the last-minute change. This will not bring us closer to 1.5 but will make it more difficult to reach.”

However, the agreement is the first of its sort to explicitly mention fossil fuels, reports CNN.

Seve Paeniu, representative for low-lying atoll nation Tuvalu, told reporters that the agreement was positive but needed to be followed up with action, according to CNN. Specifically, he mentioned a promised fund financed by wealthy countries to mitigate climate change impacts in vulnerable nations like his.

“I think Glasgow has provided a platform for ambition,” he said. “The challenge now is for countries to actually deliver on those.”

As the conference’s final meeting was gaveled to a close, Patricia Espinosa United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary, said that while country representatives didn’t get everything they wanted, that was the nature of consensus-driven decision making.

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She noted that countries agreed that much more financial assistance is needed to help developing nations mitigate climate change. She pointed to how an earlier pledge by wealthy countries to provide aid remains outstanding.

“Yes, we’re disappointed that the $100 billion pledge remains outstanding,” she said, calling on them to make good by next year.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted on Saturday that she expected “a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome as ‘good’, ‘progress’, ‘hopeful’ or ‘a step in the right direction.'”

Negotiations on the new pact called the Glasgow Agreement went into overtime Friday evening, which was initially slated to be the final day of the two-week conference. Negotiators failed to reach an agreement by the 6 p.m. deadline.

Sharma earlier told The Washington Post that he deal was the best shot at curbing greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming while helping vulnerable nations.

While the agreement kept the language around fossil fuels, the Post reported that many activists want to see even stronger language.

A proposed “facility” for helping vulnerable countries cope with “loss and damage” from climate change has been reduced to “dialogue between parties, relevant organizations and stakeholders,” the Post added. This has disappointed activist groups, who have argued the world’s poorest countries deserve reparations for a climate problem they did little to cause.

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The new draft also still requests nations increase their carbon-cutting pledges to be in line with the Paris Agreement by the end of the year.

An initial draft was released Wednesday and reaffirmed the goal to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent worsening climate change impacts.