The United Nations’ COP26 climate talks concluded Saturday night in Glasgow with a deal aiming to keep alive the ability to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but last-minute negotiations watered down language about efforts to phase out coal.
“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive,” COP26 President Alok Sharma stated on the COP26 website.
“But its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
Nearly 200 nations agreed to the Glasgow climate pact, but Switzerland expressed disappointment at the talks that the final text weakened more ambitious language in earlier drafts addressing coal as well as fossil fuel subsidies.
In a departure from previous UN climate agreements, the pact explicitly mentioned “coal” and “fossil fuel subsidies”, but the word “inefficient” was added before “fossil fuel subsidies” during negotiations.
The pact’s language emphasises the need to accelerate the transition towards cleaner energy sources.
It calls on the parties "to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognising the need for support towards a just transition".
India, which relies heavily on coal for energy, objected to the draft text about coal, according to Reuters and other press reports. The final deal weakened the wording to read the “phase-down", rather than phasing out, of "unabated coal power”.
Sharma acknowledged the disappointment from many at the way the negotiations concluded, saying: “I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry. I also understand the deep disappointment, but… it’s also vital that we protect this package.”
The COP26 president, from host country the United Kingdom, paused and grew emotional, and was met with applause from delegates, in a video clip shared on the BBC News website.
He then proposed that the amended version be adopted, declared that he heard no objections, and stated: “It is so decided,”, tapping the gavel.
Greenpeace posted a tweet in response to the last-minute adjustment, stating: “They changed a word but they can’t change the signal coming out of this COP – the era of coal is ending. If you’re a coal company executive this COP was a bad outcome.”