COP26 world leaders agree new climate deal after last-minute change to use of coal

A watering down of language at the eleventh hour stunned the climate summit and appeared to upset COP26 President Alok Sharma, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

World leaders at COP26 have agreed a new climate deal, but there is anger from some over the "watered down" wording regarding the use of coal.

The new Glasgow Pact was agreed after last-minute negotiation delays and wrangling at the COP26 climate summit.

It will get countries to strengthen their emissions-cutting targets for 2030 by the end of next year.

It will also call for accelerated efforts toward the "phase down" of unabated coal and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

  • Alok Sharma was left in tears as he announces the COP26 deal

What is the last-minute change and why is there anger over it?

The wording regarding the use of unabated coal - coal generated without the use of technologies to reduce CO2 emissions - was changed at the last minute as India and China pushed to amend the wording from “phase out” to “phase down”.

COP26 President Alok Sharma apologised for the way in which the change happened, and was close to tears as he announced the deal.

Many European and vulnerable countries, including many island states, say they are disappointed by the amendment.

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The representative for Fiji told the summit: “What we would like to express was not just our astonishment but our immense disappointment in the manner in which this has been introduced.”

He said days before, they were warned against making “last-minute” changes to the text and said “due process” had not been followed.

EU Executive vice president Frans Timmermans said he was “disappointed” the language on coal had been diluted.

Frans Timmermans Vice-President of the European Commission and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry Credit: PA/Jane Barlow

He said: “It is no secret to this gathering that the European Union would have wanted to go even further than the initial text in the cover agreement on coal.

“This is a consequence of our own painful experience with coal. We all know that European wealth was built on coal.

“And if we don’t get rid of coal, European death will also be built on coal, we know full well, that coal has no future and this is what we’re working on with our own plans to put an end to coal in Europe in the foreseeable future.”

He added: “Having said that, and then of course it will be no surprise to you that what was just read out to us is a further disappointment.

“Not because we want to be right, but because we know that the longer you take to get rid of coal, the more burden you’re putting on our natural environment, but also the more burden you put on your economy because coal is simply not a smart economic proposition either. That’s why we want to speed up the exit out of coal.”

Indian delegate member Bhurpender Yadav. The last-minute proposal was put forward by India. Credit: PA/Jane Barlow

However, the deal includes the first explicit mention of fossil fuels in a UN climate agreement.

The representative for Switzerland – who also represents the Environmental Integrity Group – criticised the change, calling it “watered down”.

But during negotiations, she said she would not oppose the change in order to get a deal agreed before leaving Glasgow.

She said: “This will not bring us closer to 1.5C but will make it more difficult to reach it.”

The negotiation delay led to the deal being agreed more than 24 hours after the official finishing time of the UN summit in Glasgow.

What else does the deal call for?

To try to keep limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels “alive” - as agreed in the Paris Agreement in 2015 - the deal will get countries to strengthen their emissions-cutting targets for 2030 by the end of next year.

Scientists say to keep temperature rises to 1.5C, global emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030, and to zero overall by mid-century. But the latest pledges leave the world well off track to meet the goal.

Alok Sharma President of the Cop26 climate summit Credit: PA/Jane Barlow

The Glasgow Pact also has promises to provide money for poorer and more vulnerable countries to develop in an environmentally friendly way, and to cope with climate-related disasters and impacts

Developed countries are urged to at least double their collective provision of climate finance to help developing nations adapt to climate change, from 2019 levels, by 2025.

What has the reaction been like?

Climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in reaction to the COP26 agreement: “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah.

“But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”

After the decisions were agreed, Cop26 President Alok Sharma told the climate summit: “We can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C within reach but its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises, if we translate commitments into rapid action and if we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambition to 2030 and beyond.”

He said the “vast gap that remains” must be closed and quoted remarks from the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, who earlier told the conference that for Barbados and other small island states a rise of 2C is a “death sentence”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a video of his reaction, saying there have been “serious breakthroughs” made at COP26.

He added: “We’ve kept 1.5 alive and made huge progress on coal, cars, cash and trees.

“And while there is still so much that needs to be done to save our planet, we’ll look back at COP26 as the moment humanity finally got real about climate change.”

Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan said of the new deal: “It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters.”

Amanda Mukwashi, chief executive of Christian Aid, said: “We were told that COP26 was the last best chance to keep 1.5C alive, but it’s been placed on life support.

“Rich nations have kicked the can down the road and with it the promise of the urgent climate action people on the front line of this crisis need.”

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon praised Glasgow's role in hosting the summit.

She said of the deal: "The Glasgow Climate Pact does not contain everything that every country wanted and there is understandable disappointment that key issues were watered down in the final hours, but there can be no doubt that the Glasgow summit has made progress on some important issues.

“The importance of capping temperature increases at 1.5 degrees is no longer questioned and the need for countries to come back next year with higher contributions to tackling emissions may just be enough to keep 1.5 alive – if countries including Scotland really do deliver on our commitments."

She added: “There is also recognition for the first time, although it is deeply disappointing that due to last minute interventions by China and India it is not as strong and clear as it should be, of the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, a journey Scotland has already embarked on – and needs to accelerate – in a way that is fair and just.”

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has tweeted that "more should and must be done".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “there has been modest progress".

He said: “Glasgow has been a missed opportunity – a summit too often of climate delay not climate delivery”.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “Whatever my view of the shortcomings of this deal, Alok Sharma has shown himself to be a person of decency, integrity and commitment as #COP26 President.”