ROME – A group of coal users and exporters blocks G20 efforts to call for an end to coal use – what organizers hoped to send a powerful signal ahead of COP26 climate talks to begin Sunday.
Diplomats from the UK and mainland Europe are pushing for major economies to pledge to phase out coal, a fuel responsible for around 44% of human-made CO2 emissions.
But Australia, India, China and Russia are holding on, said a European diplomat.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has arrived in Rome after a bloody struggle to set a national net zero emissions target for 2050 – a target that is clearly not intended to stop the country’s lucrative coal exports.
“We are not engaged in these kinds of mandates and bans. It is not the policy of the Australian government, it will not be the policy of the Australian government,” Morrision said after speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked him to commit to ending production. and coal consumption at home and abroad.
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said UK hosts of the COP26 climate summit will continue to push Morrison: “We believe Australia can do more in areas such as coal.”
G20 leaders will discuss climate change and energy on Sunday morning. The draft agreements examined by POLITICO also included agreements to end international financing of coal, step up action in the 2020s, achieve net zero emissions “by the middle of the century” and halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants âin the 2030s.â Negotiations continued on Saturday evening and none of the specific terms had been settled.
The economic and political interests of the coal mining and combustion regions are proving to be an obstacle for the organizers of the G20 and the next COP26.
Under the influence of coal
Some G20 countries – like China and India – owe their invitation to the global club of economic giants largely to coal-fueled economic development and fear the high price of changing their energy mix.
Russia is a major exporter of coal, particularly to China, and also uses the fuel in its country. Australia earns around A $ 50 billion annually from coal exports.
Chris Littlecott, associate director of think tank E3G, said: âThe key dynamic I see is the tactical alliance between coal exporter Australia – desperately trying to maintain export markets and keen to promote more new ones. coal constructions – and major coal users China and India, who have the greatest challenge to phase out the use of coal. But he said the fact that pressure to end coal had reached the G20 leaders’ meeting was a significant signal.
Johnson told reporters he had been “evangelical” about “the potential to move away from coal” during a Friday appeal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, trying to persuade him that quitting coal was not not as difficult as it seemed.
According to Johnson, Xi told him, âChina depends on it for our national economy. But Johnson was adamant that China, an economy more than five times the size of the UK, should look to the example of Britain, which switched from coal generating 40% of its electricity to almost zero in a decade.
âIt shows how quickly you can make the transition,â Johnson said.
China, which has huge reserves of coal but little oil and gas, is worried about depending on others for its energy supplies, said Yan Qin, analyst at Refinitiv.
In a statement on Saturday, Xi underlined the “exceptional difficulties and concerns of developing countries” – including China – and urged developed countries to do more to combat climate change.
These countries are not the only ones struggling to cut fuel. US President Joe Biden arrived in Rome bruised from a battle in Congress where Senator Joe Manchin of the coal-producing West Virginia was delaying his key infrastructure and climate package.
As the United States pushes for a broad climate effort at the G20, it is publicly silent on coal. The United States has blocked a push at this year’s G7 to set an end date for a coal phase-out.
Although the EU’s position calls for an end to the use of coal, it is internally divided, with some countries like Poland balking at the cost of a rapid exit from coal.
On the way to COP26
Hopes that the G20 can further stimulate the COP26 in Glasgow rest on the fact that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is torn from other coal mining countries. Modi is actually in Rome, unlike Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been personally approached by Western officials over the past year.
“He understood it and he is more visionary than his negotiators”, declared the European diplomat.
But that’s a big demand for India, which has set no targets for achieving net zero emissions and relies on coal to fuel its industrialization.
“In India, coal is considered the bulwark of the power industry and fundamental for livelihoods, state revenues and sustainable development,” said Rajani Ranjan Rashmi, former chief negotiator of India. on climate and program director at the Energy & Resources Institute, New Delhi. “Seeing it as a mere source of emissions and pollution would be counterproductive.”
If the anti-coal campaign fails in Rome, the fight will shift to Glasgow.
Johnson told parliament last week that Indonesian President Joko Widodo plans to announce a coal phase-out date in 2040, which would be a big step forward for one of the world’s largest and most dependent economies coal to the world.
The organizers of COP26 hope that by the end of the conference they can portray coal as a sector in terminal decline and a bad investment. But while Johnson might be evangelical about the need to give up coal, others are just as religiously clinging to a different future.
âThe Australian way is our way and that’s what I’m here to talk about and be true to,â Morrison said.
Stuart Lau and David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.