India and China will need to explain themselves to poor nations for watering down the Glasgow climate pact at the COP26 conference, the event’s president Alok Sharma said on Sunday, reported The Guardian.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, had decided to phase out the use of coal as a fuel. But, India and China proposed to change the text of the deal from “phase out” use of coal to “phase down” in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
“We are on the way to consigning coal to history,” Sharma told The Guardian. “This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did.”
Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from burning it is the biggest contributor to climate change.
Both India and China are heavily dependent on coal. The COP26 had recognised India’s intervention on November 13.
Several countries had opposed the change. However, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav defended India’s push to “phase down” the use of fossil fuels, saying that developing countries could not promise to “phase out” coal and fossil fuel subsidies as they are dealing with the agenda of development.
The Glasgow Climate Pact has not set a deadline on the use of coal, but it has been considered significant as it marks the first time such a resolution has been agreed by a United Nations climate conference.
Sharma, a British MP, said he accepted the compromise as he thought that otherwise there would have been no deal. “We would have lost two years of really hard work, and would have ended up with nothing to show for it for developing countries,” he told The Guardian.
He added: “It wasn’t quite the wording I wanted, but I have been saying for quite some time I want us to consign coal to history [at this COP]; therefore having this wording [phase down] about coal is incredibly important.”
Reacting to India and China’s decision, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that even with the weaker wording the Glasgow deal “sounded the death knell for coal power”.
“Whether the language was ‘phase down’ or ‘phase out’ doesn’t seem to me as a speaker of English to make that much difference,” he said on Sunday, reported Reuters. “The direction of travel is pretty much the same.”
Johnson, however, said some countries were not willing to “go there” to a high level of ambition at the summit. This has frustrated “those for whom climate change is already a matter of life and death”, he said.
“We can lobby, we can cajole, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign nations to do what they do not wish to do,” he said. “It’s ultimately their decision to make and they must stand by it.”
On the watered-down text, United Nations Climate envoy John Kerry told reporters: “Did I appreciate we had to adjust one thing tonight in a very unusual way? No. But if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have a deal. I’ll take ‘phase it down’ and take the fight into next year.”
Australian climate scientist Bill Hare said India’s last-minute recommendation of changing the climate pact’s language was shocking. “India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly,” he said.
Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands said that the pact was not perfect.
“The coal change and a weak outcome on loss and damage are blows,” she said. “But it is real progress and elements of [it] are a lifeline for my country. We must not discount the crucial wins covered in this package.”