Some 190 nations may have signed up to the ‘end of coal’ agreement but the only country that really matters isn’t among them.
China burns about as much coal as the rest of the world combined, explains Sky News’ Asia correspondent, Tom Cheshire.
To understand the difference China can make, consider this:
The press release for the agreement mentions that ending international coal financing (which China has previously agreed to do) could, eventually, end 40 gigawatts of coal capacity. China alone added 38.4 gigawatts of coal capacity in 2020.
For context, that’s eight times the entire coal capacity of the UK.
And it’s not slowing down: according to China’s own climate pledges, it will keep adding coal capacity until 2025, and only then will “gradually” reduce it.
Thus far, efforts have been stop start. A nationwide directive in 2017, to restrict coal power, did stop some coal-fired plants being built. But many of them have since resumed construction – with huge sites being built in Shanxi province.
This is zombie coal power – supposedly killed off, then brought stumbling back to life. Post-pandemic industrial activity and nationwide electricity shortages have only made things worse.
But an agreement without China isn’t useless.
First, it’s good in itself. Second, such a large coalition puts some pressure on China (and others) to join the club. That won’t shift China’s 2025 coal emissions peak, but may encourage the “gradual” reduction to pick up a bit of pace.
Australia also hasn’t got the memo if the world is “consigning coal to history”, writes Sky News’ southeast Asia correspondent, Siobhan Robbins.
This country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of fossil fuels.
As one miner told me: “If the world wants coal, we’ll sell it.”
In the coal communities of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, one politician said they expected to be mining for the next 30 years.
Locals estimate between 80,000 and 100,000 people in the area get money from coal.
From miners, to electricians, to the local laundry, no one can afford for this industry to disappear.
And that’s the reason for much of the scepticism I heard time and again when I asked people about the COP26 pledge to phase out coal.
While many told me they aren’t wedded to coal itself, they want to know a clear plan for a viable alternative which will provide the same level of jobs and wages being extracted from mining.
They simply don’t believe a straight switch from coal to renewables is the answer.
That’s a problem politicians here need a detailed solution to.
But the decision not to join the methane pledge or the coal promise at COP26 have left environmentalists feeling Australia is putting cash before climate.
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Coal is the elephant in the conference room, writes Sky News correspondent, Katerina Vittozzi.
At COP26, India’s prime minister refreshed 2030 targets on renewable energy and set a net-zero one but, so far, there has been no mention of a domestic coal phase-out plan or a sign-up to a global one.
And this is why.
India relies on coal for more than 60% of its electricity generation.
It is, quite literally, keeping the lights on for the vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion population.
The domestic coal industry also employs, directly and indirectly, many hundreds of thousands of people.
Many of this country’s poorest rely on coal, a cheap and accessible energy source, for the very basics – things like heating and cooking.
As India seeks to lift millions of its population out of poverty, its energy demands will only grow.
Little surprise then that, right now, India seems reluctant to commit to international coal targets.
But what might push it towards them, in the end, ironically, are foreign pressures.
Not climate change ones though; financial ones.
India is the world’s second biggest importer of coal and it’s feeling the pinch of the rising price of foreign fossils fuel imports.
To counter this, in the short term, it can ramp up domestic coal production. But, in the long term, India will be looking for ways to guarantee energy security, at the right price.
It’s these pressures that might force, or at least start, a coal phase-out – but it’ll come on India’s own terms and timetable.
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