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The COP26 president says “coal has to go” if the planet is to meet climate targets

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Justin Merriman | Bloomberg Creative Photos | Getty Images

This year’s COP26 climate change conference must bring coal a thing of the past, according to UK lawmakers, who will be formally negotiating at the summit.

In a comprehensive speech on Friday, COP26 President-elect Alok Sharma wanted to highlight the importance of ending international coal financing, a goal he called a “personal priority”.

“We are calling on the countries to give up coal power and are looking for the G-7 to lead the way,” he said. “At the same time, we are working with developing countries to support their transition to clean energy.”

“The days of coal, which provides the cheapest form of energy, are in the past and must remain in the past,” he continued.

Sharma said science understands that “coal has to go” to sustain the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The above target was set in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed at the 2015 COP21 Summit in the French capital.

The agreement, described by the United Nations as a legally binding international treaty on climate change, aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”.

The COP26 summit is scheduled to take place in the UK in the Scottish city of Glasgow from November 1st to 12th, 2021. It was originally scheduled to take place in November 2020, but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK’s official COP26 website said it would “bring parties together to accelerate action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”.

In his remarks on Friday, Sharma continued: “The reality is that renewable energies are cheaper than coal in most countries. The coal business, as the UN Secretary-General said, is going up in smoke. It is old technology.”

“So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it where it belongs in the past and, of course, help workers and communities transition by creating good green jobs to fill the void.”

While some will view Sharma’s ambitions as laudable, coal still provides more than a third of the planet’s electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency.

According to an analysis by the IEA, global coal consumption decreased by 4% in 2020, but that decrease “was mainly concentrated in the first few months of the year”.

“By the end of 2020, demand had risen above pre-Covid levels due to Asia, where economies were recovering quickly and December was particularly cold,” added the IEA.

In the US, coal continues to play an important role in power generation. Preliminary figures from the US Energy Information Administration show that natural gas and coal accounted for 40.3% and 19.3% of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020, respectively.

Sharma’s comments come at a time when plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, a county in northwest England, have been proving extremely controversial in a few quarters.

The proposed development has sparked much debate, not least because the UK will host COP26 in November. The fate of the project has yet to be determined.

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Katherine Clark