After two weeks of discussions, the world’s largest climate change conference ended yesterday with a watered-down pledge to “phase down” the use of coal.

The original wording was to “phase out” coal, but India required a last-minute change.

"India’s last-minute change to the language to phase down but not phase out coal is quite shocking,” Australian climate scientist Bill Hare told the Associated Press. “India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly.”

200 countries accepted the deal, on the last day of COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Glasgow.

Coal is the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last two weeks, representatives from across the world had discussed ways to reduce the catastrophic effects of climate change.

UN goals not achieved

Before the conference, the United Nations had set clear goals it had hoped to get the leaders of the world to agree to. None of these were achieved.

  • End fossil fuel subsidies
  • Phase out coal
  • Pledge to halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2030
  • Rich nations provide poor nations with US$10 billion in financial aid, with $50 billion of that spent on helping poorer nations adapt to climate change

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe,” he said.

“It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg warned on Twitter “beware of a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome [of COP26] as “good”, “progress”, “hopeful” or “a step in the right direction”.”

Aside from ‘phasing down’ coal, what did they actually do?

The key commitments are:

  • Countries have another year (until 2022) to come back with better carbon-reduction commitments
  • Accelerating climate ambition, with a new yearly progress check in
  • New rules for trading carbon credits internationally
  • New transparency rules on how countries report back on their action on climate change
  • Recognition that the rights of indigenous peoples and human rights need to be protected

What does New Zealand’s government have to say about all this?

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw said in a statement it was “clearly disappointing” the goal of $100 billion of aid to poorer countries to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions was not met.

“However, shortly before COP the Prime Minister and I did announce a fourfold increase in the climate aid we provide to the Pacific and other lower-income countries, which reflects New Zealand’s fair share of the $100 billion goal.”

“And so, even though the global goal has not yet been met, New Zealand will still support our Pacific neighbours and others transition toward clean energy, as well as adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change,” James Shaw said. 


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