Nearly 200 countries attending the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, agreed on a global climate deal on Saturday, following last-minute changes pushed by China and India that watered down language about use of coal power.
After two weeks of talks, the 197 nations did not veto last-minute changes to revise the final text of the deal, named the Glasgow Climate Pact, to “phase down” rather than “phase out” unabated coal.
Unabated coal is the burning of coal without carbon capture and storage. An earlier draft of the agreement would have called to phase out all coal.
The change in wording was also backed by other nations, including Iran and South Africa.
“May I just say to all delegates, I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” COP26 Conference President Alok Sharma told the assembly after he heard representatives from Switzerland, the European Union, and small island states express objections over the last-minute changes he approved before they had a change to review them. Sharma, who was clearly emotional, acknowledged that some of those nations had compromised on their own demands in the hopes of securing the outlined deal.
“I also understand the deep disappointment but I think, as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package,” he added moments before banging down the gavel on the deal.
The “phase out” wording had weathered four different drafts but the Chinese delegation did not back the language, reported The Times. The United States ultimately brokered a deal with China and India to soften the working, according to the outlet.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told a press conference after the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact, “You have to phase down coal before you can ‘end coal.’”
“We are, in fact, closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos and securing cleaning air, safer water, and healthier planet,” he said.
The agreement comes over a week after Xinhua News Agency, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, touted that China had “hit a historic high” in its daily coal production.
India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, told Reuters that the revision was needed to reflect the “national circumstances of emerging economies.”
“We are becoming the voice of the developing countries,” he said, adding that coal had been “singled out” during the COP26 talks while there was no similar call to phase out oil or natural gas. He added, “We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice.”
He also commented that at the root of the climate crisis is “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption.”
“The world needs to awaken to this reality. Fossil fuels and their use have enabled parts of the world to attain high levels of wealth and wellbeing,” he said.
The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever global climate deal where nations have explicitly agreed to reduce the use of coal.
Nations at the COP26 summit also agreed on rules for international trading of carbon credits and to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, as well as have countries with higher carbon emissions commit to submitting stronger targets to cut emissions by the end of 2022. The United Nations effort had hoped for an agreement that would limit global temperature rise to the IPCC-recommended 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels—the tougher threshold set by the IPCC modelling used in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The current pledges now finalized in the latest Glasgow Climate Pact, if fulfilled, are projected to be enough to only limit global temperature rise to 2.4 degrees Celcius.
Ahead of the summit, the U.N. had set three criteria for success—none of them were achieved. The criteria included pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, $100 billion in financial aid from rich nations to poor, and ensuring that half of that money went to helping the developing world adapt to the worst effects of climate change.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.