Countries, including major coal users Poland and Vietnam, are committing to shift away from the major fossil fuel in initiatives announced at COP26 climate talks.
The UK Government has hailed moves away from coal announced on “energy day” at the conference as signalling “the end is in sight” for the fossil fuel, which is the single biggest contributor to climate change.
Initiatives include a UK-led coal-to-clean power transition statement committing countries to ending all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally and rapidly scaling up deployment of clean power generation.
The statement also sees them commit to phasing out coal power in economies in the 2030s for major economies and the 2040s for the rest of the world and to ensure the shift away from coal power is fair and benefits workers and communities.
More than 40 countries have signed up to the statement, including 18 committing to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power for the first time, such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile, the UK Government said.
Separately, 28 new members have signed up to the UK-led “powering past coal alliance”, to phase out the use of the most polluting fossil fuel, including Chile, Singapore and Durban.
Efforts to swiftly end the use of coal – the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – are seen as key to cutting carbon enough to get the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5C, beyond which the worst impacts of storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and rising seas will be felt.
Since the Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 1.5C to 2C was agreed in 2015, there has been a 76% cut in the number of new coal plants planned, a cancellation of 1000 gigawatts of new coal plants – around ten times the UK’s total electricity generating capacity, UK officials said.
But while it appears the world’s use of coal peaked in around 2014, it is still not falling significantly, with heavy use and even increases in countries such as China.
In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that investment in new polluting coal power plants and mines, and new oil and gas projects, had to be stopped from 2021 in order to effectively tackle climate change.
In order for the planet to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – needed to meet the internationally agreed 1.5C goal – global electricity production must hit that target a decade earlier, the IEA said.
Under the latest push, major banks including NatWest have committed to ending finance for coal, in a move coming after commitments from China, Japan and South Korea and the G20 to end overseas finance for coal generation, the Government said.
Initiatives to phase out coal also include support for emerging economies to move away from the fossil fuel, and to do so in ways that are fair to workers in coal-intensive economies.
Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Today marks a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change as nations from all corners of the world unite in Glasgow to declare that coal has no part to play in our future power generation.
“Spearheaded by the UK’s COP26 presidency, today’s ambitious commitments made by our international partners demonstrate that the end of coal is in sight.
“The world is moving in the right direction, standing ready to seal coal’s fate and embrace the environmental and economic benefits of building a future that is powered by clean energy.”
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said any progress towards powering past coal is welcome, but there were “glaring gaps” such as a lack of commitment from China and other large emitters to stop increasing coal at home – and nothing on the phasing out of oil and gas.
He added: “Whether it’s flirting with a new coal mine or licensing a massive oil field here at home, too often the Government has been looking both ways on climate.”
“Rather than driving the ambition we need, as COP president it has let others off the hook,” Miliband said, calling for a phase out of fossil fuels and a just transition for workers.
Juan Pablo Osornio, head of Greenpeace’s delegation at COP26, said: “For some countries signing up to this, particularly Vietnam and Egypt, the commitment to rule out new coal projects is significant given the role of coal in their economies.
“But overall this statement still falls well short of the ambition needed on fossil fuels in this critical decade.
“The small print seemingly gives countries enormous leeway to pick their own phaseout date, despite the shiny headline.”
He said a plan to end coal by 2030 at the latest was needed for countries such as Poland and Germany, and a solid commitment was needed from all governments to end new coal, oil and gas projects immediately to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.