A new initiative, led by the United Kingdom and Canada, to phase-out the use of coal for electricity generation was received with loud cheers in Bonn, and raised the chances of the two-week climate change conference ending on an optimistic note.
Along with a important agreement on ‘pre-2020 actions’, and Wednesday announcement by four European countries to ratify the Doha amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, the new coal ‘alliance’ has helped in changing the mood somewhat at the year-ending conference that had begun under the gloomy shadow of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
‘The Global Alliance To Power Past Coal’, as it was called, seeks to bring together countries, regions and cities to commit themselves to a phase-out of coal within their jurisdictions within their chosen timelines. A ‘declaration’ by the newly-launched alliance said that coal phase-out needed to be carried out “no later than by 2030” in the OECD and EU countries, and “no later than by 2050” in the rest of the world to meet the temperature goals set in the Paris Agreement.
“As a result, phasing out traditional coal power is one of the most important steps governments can take to tackle climate change and meet our commitment to keep global temperature increase well below 2 degree celsius (compared to pre-industrial times), and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degree celsius,” the ‘declaration’ said.
Eighteen countries, and a few states from the United States and Canada, joined the alliance at the time of its launch in a crowded room on Thursday morning. The alliance says it hopes to have at least 50 partners by next year’s climate change conference.
“The global alliance launched by Canada and the UK is a fantastic example of the leadership we need to win the race against climate change. Not only have these two countries understood the importance of a coal phase-out for their citizens’ health, their economies, and the climate as a whole, they have also inspired others to join their effort. This is the true spirit of the Paris Agreement, and it is alliances like this that give me confidence that we can win this race,” Laurence Tubiana, France’s special representative for the 2015 climate conference in Paris, and now the CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said.
The conference was also energised by a rousing speech by French President Emmanuel Macron who promised to compensate for the loss of American funding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which carries out periodic assessments of climate change science and whose recommendations provide the scientific foundation to the international climate negotiations.
“I can guarantee that starting from 2018, the IPCC will have all the money that it needs and that it will continue to support our decision making. They will not miss a single Euro,” he said while speaking at the high-level segment of the conference on Wednesday evening, and received a big applause.
And in comments seemingly directed at the United States, Macron also proposed a new ‘border tax’ to protect the economy of Europe from imports from “countries that do not respect these (climate) goals and are not supporting the environmental transition”.
A keenly-awaited speech by German chancellor Angela Merkel received a lukewarm response, devoid as it was of any concrete new promise to curb the use of coal in Germany’s power industry which many were expecting her to announce.
India’s Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, who spoke on Thursday, urged the world to move away from “unsustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns” which, he said, were not necessarily linked to “higher levels of well being”.
“We may at times find it difficult to take hard measures to address climate change as we still have not fully come to terms with the enormity of the challenge. It often takes a hurricane, a massive hole in the Antarctic ice sheet, a devastating forest fire or an extreme flood event, to humble us, and remind us of our role in the current crisis, and nudge us to take action. We need not always wait for scientific reports to act,” he said, while recalling all the actions India was taking to fight climate change.
The two-week conference is scheduled to end on Friday. One of its main agenda was to advance the work on framing of guidelines and rule-book for implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement that has to be concluded by the end of next year. Countries were still working on that with one more day of discussions remaining, but in the meanwhile some important progress was made on issues related to ‘pre-2020 actions’, wherein developed countries agreed to discuss the progress they have made on their ‘pre-2020’ climate obligations, and also on agriculture wherein countries agreed to organise a series of workshops to explore ways to climate-proof agriculture.