The UK, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Indonesia are among the 40 countries that signed a pledge to phase out coal. That seems a positive development for the climate. But on closer inspection, it appears that the global ‘coal to clean power transition’ commitment failed to rally the support of several of the world’s biggest coal consumers, including China, India, the United States, and Australia—rendering the agreement fairly impotent.
In fact, most countries that did sign the pledge at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow have either already pledged to phase out coal, or use little of it themselves, especially when compared to the top coal-consuming nations.
In June, the UK had already brought forward its target to end coal use in electricity generation by one year to October 2024 as part of its aim to lead the world in tackling climate change. Already in 2017, Italy announced its plans to phase out coal by 2025. Germany’s incoming government has reportedly agreed to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than currently planned.
These major economies were signatories to the pledge that said, “Our shared vision is to accelerate a transition away from unabated coal power generation, as is essential to meet our shared goals under the Paris Agreement, in a way that benefits workers and communities and ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.”
The pledge also lacks specifics in terms of the end date for unabated coal, while analysts point out that the signatories account for just 11 percent of coal-generated electricity globally.
Despite President Biden’s loud climate agenda, the United States, where coal still accounts for 20 percent of electricity generation, did not join the pledge—even though the U.S. held last-minute talks with the UK government, during which the U.S. sought an exemption for coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage.
The unwillingness of the U.S. to join the pledge appears to be linked to the U.S. Administration’s efforts to pass the Build Back Better bill, The New York Times reports, citing U.S. officials. The approval of the bill largely hinges on the vote of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is opposed to any piece of legislation that could harm coal or natural gas. U.S. officials decided not to anger Senator Manchin further by signing onto the coal phase-out pledge, the NYT reported.
Regardless of the reasons why, the lack of broad and meaningful support for the coal phase-out plan could mean that coal won’t be phased out as quickly as COP26 would like us to believe.