Australia 'nowhere in sight' as 190 leaders commit to cancel coal

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A coalition of 190 countries and organisations have pledged to phase out coal and end support for new coal-fired power plants.

Australia was not among them.

In a deal brokered by the United Kingdom at COP26, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement was agreed to by both large emitters and smaller nations who are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

With its Prime Minister back in Sydney, news has come through from COP26 that Australia will not be signing a new deal to phase out coal. Source: AAP
With Prime Minister Scott Morrison back in Sydney, news has come through from COP26 that Australia will not be signing a new deal to phase out coal. Source: AAP

Calling the deal a “momentous turning point”, the UK government said nations have committed to “accelerate coal phase out” and “rapidly scale up” a world-wide clean energy transition.

They said the agreement is “effectively ending all public financing of new unabated coal power” as it comes on top of a pledge by major banks to stop financing the fossil fuel, and commitments by China, Japan, Korea and G20 countries to cease funding overseas coal generation.

A “milestone moment” is how the UK characterised the deal which includes 40 nations as well as financial institutions and companies, and will see major economies phase out coal within the 2030s and others doing so in the 2040s.

On the list of countries saying no to coal are Chile, Poland and Vietnam, with major emitters including the US, China, and India sticking by the pollutant. 

Coal is the single biggest contributor to man-made global heating and while it continues to be used in abundance, hopes of meeting the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees of heating are slim.

Australia urged to consider future generations

While welcoming the commitment as “coal’s curtain call”, the Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen noted Australia, the world’s second largest exporter of thermal coal, is “nowhere in sight”.

Negotiations will continue until the end of next week at COP26. Source: Getty
Negotiations will continue until the end of next week at COP26. Source: Getty

“Fossil fuels like coal have got to go, because they are accelerating global warming, which is worsening extreme weather events like the Black Summer bushfires that harm Australians,” he said.

“We have known about the risks, impacts and costs of climate change for some time, but it seems the prosperity and wellbeing of Australians is once again being ignored in favour of short-term profits for coal and gas corporations.

“We need to stop clinging to our polluting past and look to the future.

“It’s not just a matter of saving face internationally, it’s about creating a future where our children and grandchildren can not only survive, but thrive.”

Fossil fuels here to stay as Australia backs gas and coal into future

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison having now returned to Sydney, Australians will be among those in Glasgow continuing climate negotiations until the end of next week.

Having refused to sign to a US-led deal to reduce methane levels, today's announcement marks the second time Australia has refused to make a fossil fuel abating commitment at COP26.

In Australia, the coal seam gas and cattle industries are both major emitters of methane, and with cutting coal also off the table, it appears the government is showing a firm commitment to fossil fuels into the future.

Mr Morrison has long shown enthusiasm for continuing the industries and sees them as part of the government’s plan to reach net zero by 2050.

Scott Morrison told parliament that coal would not hurt them. Source: AAP
Scott Morrison told parliament that coal would not hurt them. Source: AAP

As treasurer, in 2017, Mr Morrison famously carried a lump of coal into parliament telling cross benchers “don’t be afraid, don’t be scared”, and since becoming prime minister he has sought to expand the coal seam gas industry.

The Australian pavilion at the COP has even featured a large display by gas giant Santos, alongside featured clean energy companies. 

While fossil fuels look safe for now, the forestry industry will likely face a shake-up this decade, with Australia joining over 100 other nations to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation” by 2030.

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use was endorsed by China, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and covers 85 per cent of the world’s forests.

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