'The end of coal is in sight': Climate summit deals mark shift away from fossil fuels

UniqueThis 4 Nov 4

GLASGOW, Scotland — Two key deals announced Thursday signal progress among some nations in making the all-too-important shift away from fossil fuels to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The agreements, unveiled at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, included a pledge signed by 25 countries, including the United States and Canada, to stop public financing of overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of next year. The United Kingdom also unveiled its so-called Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, which featured new commitments from 23 countries — including Poland, South Korea and Indonesia — to phase out coal power.

"Today, I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight," said Alok Sharma, president of this year's climate summit, which is known as the 26th "conference of the parties," or COP26.

Though optimism about how far these deals can go is tempered by inconsistent timelines for phasing out coal and caveats for funding overseas fossil fuel projects, transitioning the global economy away from fossil fuels is critical for keeping alive the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Jennifer Layke, global energy director at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based research nonprofit organization, called the agreement to end funding for oil, gas and coal projects abroad "a critical step forward."

"As the clean energy transition speeds up, it is imperative that we accelerate energy access in developing countries and ensure a just transition that lifts everyone up and leaves no one behind," she said in a statement.

The United States' participation in the agreement is significant, as the government provides billions of dollars each year to finance fossil fuel projects around the world. The newly announced deal is also more aggressive than a similar promise made by G-20 countries this year, which only focused on coal projects abroad.

The independent climate think tank E3G said the COP26 agreement could result in countries and public finance institutions shifting more than $15 billion of financing toward clean energy.

The agreement, however, is not binding, and it was not signed by several major energy funders overseas, including China, Japan, Germany and South Korea. It also doesn’t completely rule out public support for such projects in “limited and clearly defined circumstances,” according to a statement released by the U.K., which is hosting the climate summit.

The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, led by the U.K., commits countries to end investments in new coal power plants domestically and internationally. Nations are also pledging to phase out coal power in the 2030s for major economies and in the 2040s for the rest of the world.

U.K. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement that the developments show the world is "moving in the right direction."

"Today marks a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change," he said, "as nations from all corners of the world unite in Glasgow to declare that coal has no part to play in our future power generation."