Cop 26 Follow-Up: A Failure In Weaning Countries Off Coal

Coal is described as the single best source of global warming due to its potent nature. Emissions from coal have huge heat-absorbing potential and stay up in the atmosphere for decades, making it the dirtiest fuel. Despite its destructive potential, around 37% of global energy is still produced from coal. There were high hopes from COP-26 to phase out coal completely, with the president of the summit Alok Sharma saying the end of coal was in sight. However, with the final agreement we were in for a big disappointment as big consumers of coal refused to pledge for complete phase-out. And here we have stranded with a coal phase down rather than a phase-out.

Big consumers of coal like the US, Australia, China, and India have refused to pledge to complete coal phase-out. While countries like Indonesia, Poland, and Vietnam have pledged to phase out coal. This uneven transition towards green energy in itself is a huge hurdle towards limiting the rise in global temperature up to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While it is laudable that many countries have pledged to phase out coal, many among them can only do so with the help of global funding. Indonesia for example has pledged to phase out coal, however, it does not have the resources to materialize that goal. Without international financing, there certainly would not be much progress.

Climate financing is a critical tool in curtailing climate change. Almost a decade ago, at the Copenhagen summit, it was decided that wealthier nations would set aside at least 100 billion dollars yearly to help finance climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing and least developed countries. Yet the provision of this meager sum has not been fulfilled. It is impossible to progress by ignoring the developing world. Climate change can not be dealt with by individual actions, it requires global cooperation. By not delivering our commitments to climate financing, we aren’t getting away with the impending disaster.

The most tragic aspect of climate change, perhaps, is the fact that it disproportionately impacts those who have least contributed to it. Island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu face extinction, yet they have contributed the least to climate change. It is, therefore, the moral obligation of the top 10% of industrialized countries that contribute over 80% to global emissions, to increase climate financing and to ensure its delivery.

Another dismal outcome of COP-26 is the blocking of ‘’loss and damage funds’’ by the rich nations. The fund proposed that wealthy nations pay for the damages that are incurred by the poorer nations due to climate change. As explained above, paying for such losses is indeed the moral obligation of wealthy nations. Yet their refusal speaks volumes about the prevailing apathy in the corridors of wealth and power. By the time this apathy fades and reasoning returns, it might be too late for small nations like the Maldives, which suffer the threat of being engulfed by the ocean.

There is no doubt that there were also many positive outcomes of COP-26. Like commitments towards reducing methane emissions by 30% and reversal of deforestation by 2030. Yet given the gravity of the situation and the fast pace at which we are heading towards the tipping point, the cop 26 agreements simply fall short of averting the climate disaster.

At the conclusion of the COP, Greta Thunberg shared the picture of her disappointed face, which reflects the disappointment of all climate enthusiasts, be it nations or individuals. But as the UN secretary-general said, ‘’ I know many of you are disappointed’’ but ‘’ Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward.’’

The global population must proceed, turning our disappointment and anger into fuel that motivates us. No matter what, let's keep pushing forward… with our words, actions, decisions, and whatever the barest minimum we can do.


Sarah Saleh

An ardent environmentalist, economist, and sustainable development enthusiast.