UN conference host Britain said 77 countries had pledged to phase out coal, dirtiest of the fossil fuels that drive global warming, as a study showed the carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere had already rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels.
Indonesia, Poland, Vietnam and other nations on Thursday pledged to phase out their use of coal-fired power and stop building plants, a deal the COP26 climate summit host Britain described as putting the end of the fuel "in sight".
Underpinned by commitments from 20 governments to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, Britain hopes to deliver one of its main aims for the United Nations summit of "consigning coal power to history".
But the deal to end domestic use of the most polluting fossil fuel leaves out some of the world's biggest coal-dependent nations, such as Australia, China and India.
Alok Sharma, British president of the two-week COP26 conference in Glasgow said on Thursday 77 countries had signed a pledge to phase out coal-fueled power generation — which accounts for more than 35 percent of world’s power — and stop building new plants.
“Today I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” Sharma told the conference.
He said there had been rapid progress since 2019: “Who’d have thought, back then, that today we are able to say that we are choking off international coal financing or that we would see a shift away from domestic coal power?“
It remained to be seen whether the pledges would highlight divisions between wealthy nations, pushing for a swift end to the dirty fuels of the industrial revolution, and poorer developing countries that, despite all their disadvantages, rely on cheap, accessible coal and other fossil fuels to grow.
More than 90 percent of the 195 coal plants being built around the world are in Asia, and this year, coal demand is set for a new record.
In 2020, carbon dioxide emissions fell by a record 1.9 billion tons — a 5.4 percent drop — as countries locked down and economies ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. The new report, produced by the Global Carbon Project, forecasts emissions will rise by 4.9 percent this year.
Nevertheless, the International Energy Agency said that, if the emissions-cutting pledges made so far were all fulfilled, the rise in the global temperature could be limited to 1.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
This would be a significant step toward the 1.5C the United Nations says is needed to halt potentially irreversible climate effects that would dwarf the intensifying storms, heatwaves, droughts and floods that the world is already experiencing.
The British government said on Wednesday it expected 190 nations and organizations to sign up to the non-binding pledge, in which richer countries would phase out coal-fueled power generation in the 2030s in richer countries, and poorer countries in the 2040s.
In September, China said it would stop funding overseas coal plants, although the pledge did not cover domestic projects. China has almost half of the more than 2,600 coal plants operating or under construction in the world.
At least 20 countries plan to commit at the summit on Thursday to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, according to two people familiar with the talks.
Banks and other financial institutions including the ADB, Citi and HSBC are also expected to step up by announcing financial mechanisms to help countries quit coal.