By David Adams
November 15, 2021 - Senior Coalition and Labor Party figures have welcomed the final outcome of the Glasgow COP26 climate summit and its loose commitment to “phase down” the use of coal, as environmentalists, investors, and industry analysts call for sharper action to avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming.
The landmark COP26 conference drew to a close on the weekend, culminating in a last-minute bargaining session between the 197 nations over the precise wording of the Glasgow Climate Pact.
COP26 was billed as one of the world’s last opportunities to wind down fossil fuel use and lock in carbon emission reduction commitments, with the goal of keeping global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celcius.
But the final Glasgow Climate Pact includes a pledge to “phase down” the use of coal, after several parties, led by India, pushed to change the wording from “phase out”.
Critics believe that wording will effectively permit coal as a fuel source for years to come, despite the global scientific community calling for the urgent cessation of fossil fuel use.
Alok Sharma, UK president of COP26, tearfully apologised for the final statement.
“I am deeply sorry,” Sharma told delegates on Sunday. “I also understand the deep disappointment. But I think as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”
The final agreement means the world has “kept 1.5 degrees alive,” Sharma added.
“But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
The reception was somewhat more upbeat in the Coalition on Monday morning, as senior politicians celebrated wording likely to support Australia’s massive coal export industry.
Speaking on “Sunrise”, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce supported the wording of the final pledge, while maintaining that coal exports are vital to the national economy.
“We have to be very mindful that our exports of our fossil fuels supports your pension, supports your health system, supports your police system,” he said.
Joyce’s parliamentary colleague, Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, said the final wording was a “green light” for further coal mine development in Australia.
“That’s what brings people out of poverty and that’s why countries like India wouldn’t sign up to coal being consigned to history,” he told “Today”.
Outspoken Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon agreed with that sentiment, telling “Sunrise” the final agreement was a “good outcome.
“It’s a good outcome for those developing countries who will desperately need our relatively efficient fossil fuels over many decades to bring them out of poverty and help them build their own cleaner economies,” he said.
The Glasgow Climate Pact also asks signatories to “revisit or strengthen” their 2030 emission reduction targets next year.
Climate scientists maintain that deep emissions reductions are needed by the end of the decade if humanity is to keep climate change in check.
The federal government was lashed for the plan it took to Glasgow, which vowed to reduce emissions by between 26% and 28% by 2030, well under targets set by the UK and the US.
However, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor have already said that plan is “fixed”.
“We are committed to meeting and beating it, as we did with our Kyoto-era targets,” they said in a joint statement on Sunday.
With COP26 done and dusted, industry analysts say the climate pact could have been far stronger.
“The final agreement in Glasgow is a helpful step forward if limited in its ambition,” said John O’Brien of Deloitte’s energy transition & decarbonisation sector.
O’Brien hailed the mobilisation of $174 trillion in global capital to address the threat of climate change and the opportunities of a just transition.
He also noted the commitment of some nations to phase out coal by 2040.
However, “the final changes in wording from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’ the use of coal will be heavily criticised for failing to secure a 1.5 C goal,” he said.
Weak COP26 commitments may leave Australian companies exposed during the “inevitable” green transition, said Rebecca Mikula-Wright, CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change.
The group has long warned that Australian firms could fall out of favour in the eyes of international capital due to the nation’s lagging emission reduction targets.
“Global capital is ready to deploy trillions to the zero emissions transition, but more governments need
to provide clarity and back up their 2050 commitments with stronger 2030 targets,” she said.
“Climate risk is investment risk.”