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Nations reach a contentious compromise on climate agreement at COP26

Nearly 200 nations accepted a contentious climate compromise Saturday aimed at keeping a key global warming target alive.

Finance takes centre stage at UN climate talks
British Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that COP26 would finally deliver the funds needed by vulnerable nations - Copyright AFP/File Ben STANSALL
British Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that COP26 would finally deliver the funds needed by vulnerable nations - Copyright AFP/File Ben STANSALL

Nearly 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.

The final agreement came after hours of negotiations that continued late into the night on Friday and resumed early Saturday morning. But finally, a draft agreement was reached.

The agreement contains an unprecedented reference to the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis, even after an 11th-hour objection from India that watered down the language around reducing the use of coal, according to CNN.

For the first time ever, a climate agreement includes language explicitly calling for the phaseout of a fossil fuel – coal. It also explicitly endorses the concept of “loss and damage,” meaning an expectation that rich countries like the U.S. and those comprising the European Union will provide some compensation for the damage wrought on poorer countries by climate change.

Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav argued against a provision on phasing out coal, saying that developing countries were “entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels.”

Yadav blamed “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns” in rich countries for causing global warming.

Strange as it may seem – before India demanded a watered-down coal reference, the one issue that has been replayed year after year and turned down at the climate summits is an acknowledgment that the climate crisis has been caused by the burning of fossil fuels. That has also changed.

Negotiators today said the deal preserved, albeit barely, the overarching goal of limiting Earth’s warming by the end of the century to 1.5 degrees, reports the Associated Press. The planet has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial times.

And despite this modicum of progress, the harsh truth of the matter is that a true global transition from coal will only happen when China decides it’s ready to quit using the fossil fuel. And even though no one wants to hear it, in China, India, and Indonesia, coal is still king.

October 2010. This is Jungliangcheng Power Plant in Tianjin, China. Source – Shubert Ciencia, CC SA 2.0.

While China has pledged to stop financing coal projects abroad, it is still building coal plants and opening mines at a fast pace.

China has more than 1,200 major coal plants in operation and has plans to build some 150 more, according to the Global Energy Monitor (GEM). In 2019, China opened 102 new mines.

In the end, 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.

Now, projected warming is 1.8C if each country keeps its promises, and 2.7C if nations stick with their current policies. While both figures, especially the higher one, distress climate scientists, the world still has some hope of averting catastrophic climate change if further actions are taken at future COPs in the next few years.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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