Day 4 COP26: The Future Of Energy

Photo of a large pile of coal and yellow digger's picking it up
Rian Patel

Ahead of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, the United Nations Development Programme released a YouTube video featuring Frankie – a dinosaur. In the video, the computer-generated dinosaur bursts into the UN’s general assembly hall, causing diplomats to tremble, and warmed them not to choose extinction for humanity.

The dinosaurs reign of millions-of-years on Earth left a legacy of nothing more than fossils and fossil fuels. Day 4 was ‘Energy Day’ at COP26 and fossil fuels were all the rage. Despite their use for power and economic growth worldwide, the insurmountable carbon emissions that result from them must be reduced and tackled if the world is to avoid climate change disaster. So, what progress was made at Day 4 of COP26?

More than 40 countries have committed to the phaseout of coal use

An often touted and ambitious phrase by the President of COP26, Alok Sharma, has been to ‘consign coal to history’. Coal can be regarded as the most polluting fossil fuel, especially in terms of carbon emissions. It is the most carbon intensive source of fuel, and also the one which has most attributed deaths per unit energy, such as through air pollution.

Therefore, the biggest announcement of the day came right from its offset: where more than 40 countries have committed to the phaseout of coal use and stopping investments in coal domestically and internationally. This included major coal-using nations such as Vietnam and Poland, whose targets have been set to phasing out coal by the 2040s, whereas for the richer, developed nations phaseout is set for the 2030s.

However, a point raised by Ed Miliband, the UK’s Shadow Business Secretary, was that the UK government ‘has left others off the hook’. China, India, the US and Australia did not sign-up despite their own wide use of coal for power. The leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, raised the issue that the developments for the coal mine here in the UK in Cumbria has undermined the country as the host of COP26.

Nonetheless, the announcement was welcome and complimented with another pledge, by 20 countries including the US, to end all fossil fuel public financing abroad by the end of 2022, building on what was discussed among the G7 nations in July. China, not in attendance at the conference, made a similar pledge before COP26.

Entering COP26 the world was facing 2.7oC

Coal, which has been responsible for 14.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions in 2021 (higher than oil and natural gas) was tackled. It has become a part of a series of announcements and pledges so far at COP26, which led to an announcement by the International Energy Agency (IEA), that could count as slightly more pleasant news on Day 4.

After number-crunching commitments, net-zero pledges, and strategies, they said it could be possible to limit the global temperature rise to 1.8oC, if all are fully implemented. While COP26 aims to keep the 1.5oC target alive, as set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015, it is still worth noting that entering COP26 the world was facing 2.7oC.

Major oil, gas and energy companies were not invited to COP26

This is far above what was agreed in Paris, and would cause climate catastrophe. The 1.8oC figure, however, was met with contention by the UN’s assistant secretary-general for climate change, Selwin Hart, who argued ‘the world is on a 2.7oC pathway’, ‘our fight is far from over’, and there is a ‘long way’ to go.  

Perhaps surprisingly, the major oil, gas and energy companies were not invited to COP26. Despite many having pledges to achieve net-zero corporation-wide by 2050, their absence on ‘Energy Day’ truly left it to diplomats and politicians to make the decisions. Although, these companies will be required to reach the just energy transition that the climate crisis demands, away from their own oil and gas exploits to new renewable energies, hydrogen, nuclear and carbon capture technologies.  

Protestors made their mark outside COP26, with Insulate Britain blocking Parliament Square in London. Protestors are forever attempting to put pressure on decision makers to do more about climate change, in their own agreeable or disagreeable ways. Yet, the need to do and act on climate change is imperative, its consequences will have an effect on every part of human life, more so in the developing world. Here’s to hoping more valuable announcements and pledges surface from COP26 and beyond going forward.

Rian Patel

Featured image courtesy of Artyom Korshunov via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

This article is part of Impact Nottingham’s COP26 series. For more articles on the conference check out the link here.

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