Ditch coal to avert ‘catastrophe’, UK’s climate tsar says

British MP Alok Sharma was to warn that the summit was "our last hope" of keeping temperature rises below 1.5 deg C. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - World leaders must agree to make coal a thing of the past at November's summit or there will be climate catastrophe due to global warming, Britain's climate tsar said on Friday (May 14).

Britain, which is hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, has said leaders should go far beyond "hot air" to mitigate the effects of climate change for both rich and poor countries.

COP26 President Alok Sharma, a British minister in charge of preparations for the Glasgow summit, said that in order to meet the global climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world would need to ditch coal altogether.

"If we do not act now, the science tells us these effects will become more frequent and more brutal; that we will witness a scale of global catastrophe the likes of which the world has not seen," Sharma said.

"Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal to history," The world's biggest coal producers are China, India, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, Russia and the European Union. China is also the world's biggest consumer, using more than half of the world's coal produced, according to the International Energy Agency.

President Xi Jinping has said he expects carbon emissions to continue rising until 2030.

'Pick the planet'

Sharma, a 53-year-old business minister, said he asked his daughters what he should say to the world. "Their response was simple: 'please, tell them to pick the planet,'" Sharma said.

"That's the message I want to leave you with today: A message from my daughters. A message from future generations."

Still, updated plans to reduce emissions, submitted so far by about 75 nations ahead of the COP26 summit, barely make a dent in the huge cuts needed to meet global climate goals, the UN climate chief said earlier this year.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said global emissions must fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels.

Britain currently generates 2 per cent of its electricity from coal, down from 40 per cent in 2012 and it plans to phase out coal as a power source completely by 2024.

But environmental campaigners say British financial institutions play a major role in funding coal mines and coal-fired power stations elsewhere in the world.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to lower the country's greenhouse gas emissions to 78 per cent of their level in 1990 by 2035, and to cut net emissions to zero by 2050.

And last month the United States, the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China, said it would seek to halve its emissions from their 2005 level by 2030.

In person event

COP26 will gather climate negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union, along with businesses, experts and world leaders in the Scottish city between November 1-12.

There has been growing speculation the landmark summit - the biggest climate talks since the 2015 Paris negotiation - could be held virtually as coronavirus continues to ravage countries around the world. Some fear swathes of delegates may be unable to attend in person due to outbreaks.

But Sharma said the British government would persevere with holding a physical gathering.

"The desire for one is what I've been hearing loud and clear from governments and communities around the world," he said from a windfarm near Glasgow.

"So, we are planning for a physical summit, where ensuring the safety of delegates in the local community will be paramount."

Sharma added that organisers were exploring "every possible Covid security measure" - including testing and vaccines - and would share its plans "in due course".

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