COP26 agrees on ‘phasedown’ of coal-fired thermal power

COP26 President Alok Sharma acknowledges applause during the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow on Saturday.

GLASGOW — U.N. climate talks wrapped up Saturday with an agreement to work toward the “phasedown” of dependence on coal-fired thermal power generation.

The Glasgow Climate Pact adopted at the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow included “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power,” for which measures to curb emissions are yet to be devised.

At the time of its adoption, the COP26 president’s draft statement used the word “phaseout” regarding coal-fired thermal power generation, but India demanded a revision at the last minute. Ultimately, phaseout was replaced with the weaker expression “phasedown.”

It is extremely unusual for a COP agreement to include a clause on restrictions on the use of coal. It is also rare for the president’s draft to be changed at the last minute before adoption.

In principle, COP pacts are agreed upon unanimously. The last-minute change therefore showed that host country Britain, which hopes to accelerate the abandonment of coal, made concessions to India and China, which are highly dependent on coal-fired power generation.

Japan also plans to continue to suspend and abolish inefficient coal-fired power plants, with the aim of reducing the proportion of coal in the nation’s energy mix to 19% in fiscal 2030.

The Paris Agreement framework adopted in 2015 stipulated efforts to limit global warming to well below 2 C, and preferably to 1.5 C, compared to pre-industrial levels. The Glasgow pact, however, stated the long-term global goal to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels,” stressing that the world will realize the 1.5 C target.

It also called for each country to review its reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions by the end of next year, further urging the international community to strengthen its climate change strategies.

The Glasgow conference agreed on rules for internationally transferring mitigation outcomes and completed the Paris Agreement rulebook to implement the system— an area where past COPs had failed to reach a consensus, making it known as the last piece of the Paris Agreement.

Under the system, when developed countries provide technical assistance to developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a portion of the reduction can be credited to the developed countries.

Emerging countries demanded that credits issued under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol framework also be certified under the Paris Agreement, but developed countries opposed the idea.

In Glasgow, the two sides reached a compromise that credits issued from 2013 on will be certified. This agreement could cut an estimated 9 billion tons, or 30% of the world’s total emissions yearly through 2030.

As for financial assistance to developing countries, the Glasgow pact referred to “deep regret” that developed countries had not achieved their goal of contributing $100 billion (about ¥11 trillion) annually by 2020. It urged them to achieve the target as soon as possible, taking into account requests from developing countries to increase the amount.

“We have the first ever international agreement to phase down coal and a road map to limit global warming to 1.5 C,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after the summit, underscoring the achievements of COP26.