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India and China weaken COP26 deal for coal

After COP26 climate deal, India and China dim hopes
China's largest coal-fired power plant in Shanghai, China

The 26. UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) pledged to speed up the fight against the single biggest contributor to climate change – coal. More than 40 countries have committed to shift away from the fossil fuel. However, the world’s two biggest burners of coal, China and India, raised concerns during the discussions and forced amendments, ultimately weakening the coal pledge. In the end, the COP26 Presidency compromised and arrived at the pact with ‘phase down’ of coal as fuel, instead of ‘phase out’ the use of coal as originally proposed.

China and India, along with other coal-dependent nations including the United States and Australia, did not commit to bring coal use to an end. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from burning, and thus the biggest contributor to climate change.

Post the decision, Alok Sharma, president of COP26, said he was “deeply sorry” for the way the process had unfolded, and stated that “China and India are going to have to explain themselves to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world.”

China, India, and the US alone accounted for almost 50% of all fossil fuel emissions in 2019.

While not agreeing to ending coal, India, however, promised it will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tons and meet half of its energy requirements with renewable fuels by 2030. It also promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2070.

On the other hand, China said it would not go beyond previous commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. The country also reiterated that it will cap fossil fuel use during 2025-2030 and said it will reach peak levels of carbon emissions by 2030.

“It is encouraging to see that the US and China issued a joint declaration on climate towards the end of COP26, with an agreement to reduce methane emissions, protect forests and phase out coal”, Kathlyn Collins, Head of ESG, at Matthews Asia said. “This is an important area where two of the largest carbon emitters can work together.”

Other key climate goals in COP26 deal

Even if the language was weakened from “phase out” to “phase down”, it was the first time at a COP conference that the countries agreed to accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

The COP26 deal also called on member countries to further strengthen their 2030 emission reductions by the next year. Furthermore, India, China and Russia paved away from signing the Global Methane Pledge signed by 103 nations, which targets a 30% cut in methane emissions by 2030 from 2020 levels.

The pact kept alive the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to below 2°Celcius and as close as possible to 1.5°C. Before COP26, the planet was on course for a dangerous 2.7°C of global warming.

“While 90% of the global economy has now committed to aiming for a net-zero target over the next 30-50 years, ambitions are still lagging behind the Paris targets,” Silvia Dall’Angelo, Senior Economist at Federated Hermes said. “In addition, the lack of details underpinning commitments suggests there is a risk COP26 was an exercise in climate change diplomacy, masking a deficit of political capital, a sense that was reinforced by the prominent absence of China’s President Xi.”

However, Dall’Angelo called it a “bright spot” that the finance industry committed $130tn of capital to achieve a net zero economy by 2050, under the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). The agreement includes companies across the entire financial spectrum – banks, insurers, pension funds, asset managers, stock exchanges, etc.