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End of coal? COP26 summit deal takes aim at dirtiest fossil fuel

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GLASGOW -

Indonesia, Poland, Vietnam and other nations on Thursday pledged to phase out their use of coal-fired power and stop building plants, a deal the COP26 climate summit host Britain described as putting the end of the fuel "in sight."

Underpinned by commitments from 20 governments to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, Britain hopes to deliver one of its main aims for the United Nations summit of "consigning coal power to history."

But the deal to end domestic use of the most polluting fossil fuel leaves out some of the world's biggest coal-dependent nations, such as Australia, China and India.

Some climate experts said it fell "spectacularly short" of what was needed to tackle climate change by focusing only on coal, an industry that is already entering "terminal decline," and for not targetting CO2-emitting oil and gas.

"Today I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight," Britain's COP26 president, Alok Sharma, told the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow.

He spoke about progress since 2019, saying "who'd have thought back then that today we are able to say that we are choking off international coal financing or that we would see a shift away from domestic coal power."

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from burning it are the single biggest contributor to climate change. Weaning the world off coal is considered vital to achieving globally agreed climate targets.

Signatories of the COP26 agreement would commit on Thursday to shun investments in new coal plants at home and abroad, and phase out coal-fueled power generation in the 2030s in richer countries, and the 2040s for poorer nations, Britain said.

The commitments are not binding, and some of the signatories have said they will not be able to phase out coal without sufficient financial help from other countries.

"We need to have funding to retire coal earlier and to build the new capacity of renewable energy," Indonesian finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told Reuters on Wednesday.

FALLING SHORT

Britain hopes the summit in Glasgow will adopt plans to help move closer to the target of limiting the rise in the average global temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius 2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The country has largely eliminated coal from power generation, but has yet to make a final decision on proposals for a new coal mine in Cumbria, northwest England, which will extract coking used for steel production.

London has hailed the various deals at the summit in Glasgow, particularly on coal and methane, but it is unclear how the piecemeal initiatives will combine to lower temperature rises.

A spokesman for the Polish government said the country's commitment would see it end coal use in the 2040s. While climate campaigners called the move a step forward, they said the non-binding pledge would need to be backed up by firm policies.

"Poland must set a clear and concrete plan to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest," Joanna Flisowska of Greenpeace Poland said.

Others said the deal ignored other fossil fuels.

Murray Worthy, campaign leader at group Global Witness, said the announcement "doesn't even solve half the problem - emissions from oil and gas already far outstrip coal and are booming, while coal is already entering a terminal decline."

In a separate deal, the Powering Past Coal Alliance - an international campaign aimed at phasing out the fuel - said it had secured 28 new members, including Ukraine, which pledged to quit the fuel by 2035. Coal produced roughly a third of Ukraine's power last year.

In 2019, coal produced around 37% of the world's electricity, the International Energy Agency has said.

Cheap, abundant and local supplies mean the fuel dominates power production in countries including India, Poland and South Africa, which will require huge investments to shift their industries and energy sectors to cleaner sources.

The global pipeline for new coal power projects has shriveled, although China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam are among those planning to build new coal plants.

Indonesia is the world's fourth-most populous country and eighth biggest emitter of greenhouse gas, with coal making up about 65% of its energy mix. It is also the world's biggest thermal coal exporter.

The deal's fine print commits to phasing out coal power generation, but not to ending financing for new plants.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels, Elizabeth Piper and Simon Jessop in Glasgow; additional reporting by Susanna Twidale in London; Editing by David Gregorio and Barbara Lewis)

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