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Climate talks in Bonn end with new alliance opposed to coal

24 November 2017


Source of CO² emissions: the Hambach open-pit mine, in Germany, extracts lignite, the most polluting form of coal

Source of CO² emissions: the Hambach open-pit mine, in Germany, extracts lignite, the most polluting form of coal

AT THE end of the latest round of the international climate talks, COP23, in Bonn, last Friday, the UK and Canada launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a union of countries that have promised to phase out the burning of coal. Earlier at the summit, the delegation from the United States had held a pro-coal event.

The new alliance, which consists of more than 20 countries, including Mexico, Italy, France, Portugal, and Angola, as well as regional governments, hopes to increase to more than 50 members by next year’s summit, which will take place in Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining industry.

The UK had announced, in 2015, that it would phase out unabated coal-burning by 2025, after a campaign by the Climate Coalition, made up of more than 130 civil-society organisations, including the Women’s Institute, Christian Aid, and the Church of Scotland.

In 2012, power generation in the UK included 40 per cent from coal, but this has since fallen to just two per cent. At the launch of the event in Bonn, the UK Climate Change Minister, Claire Perry, said: “Reducing global coal consumption should be a vital and urgent priority for all countries and states. Unabated coal is the dirtiest, most polluting way of generating electricity. The Powering Past Coal Alliance will signal to the world that the time of coal has passed.”

PAClimate talk: the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, gives a speech in Bonn on Wednesday of last week

The fight against President Trump’s support for coal also received domestic opposition: the former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg announced that he would be putting $50 million behind grass-roots anti-coal campaigns in Europe.

There was also a rival US “People’s Delegation” at Bonn, which included mayors, governors, businesses, and civil-society groups, who brought the message that vast swaths of the US were committed to tackling climate change, and would work to deliver on the country’s Paris Agreement pledges, irrespective of backing from the White House.

The talks produced three main outcomes: one was an appetite for already developed nations to do more to reduce emissions before 2020, the year in which the Paris Agreement comes into force. The second was the creation of the Talanoa Dialogue: a Fijian word for engaging in an inclusive and participatory dialogue for the common good.

This dialogue will feature prominently next year, as 2018 is the year in which nations are expected to review and step up their initial plans as outlined in the Paris Agreement, which, combined, currently seek to keep global temperature risesto only 3°C, more than the 2° now seen as necessary (News, 18 December 2015).

The third outcome was a lack of the promised financial support for developing countries to cope with climate impacts, and avoid following the dirty-development path previously trodden by countries such as the UK.

CAFOD’s climate-policy analyst, Sally Tyldesley, said: “Developing countries need to see that richer nations are doing more than just expressing sympathy and empathy, and instead are stepping up to their responsibilities.”

The global fight to tackle climate change has moved to Montreal this week. It is the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol: the treaty signed in 1987 to cut the use of ozone-depleting chemicals that created the hole in the ozone layer. The replacement chemicals, used primarily in air conditioners and fridges, do not deplete the ozone layer, but they are a potent greenhouse gas, and so they, too, need to be phased out and replaced with less harmful alternatives.

This was successfully agreed last year, but rolling out the newer technology as quickly as possible is especially important, as global heating will drive up demand for air conditioning around the world.

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