Cop26 analysis: Energy day loses its spark

4 November 2021, 22:01 | Updated: 4 November 2021, 22:20

Cop26 has continued despite many leaders departing for talks to continue
Cop26 has continued despite many leaders departing for talks to continue. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Old King Coal is on his way out. He has mined his last. He is a deceased industry.

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Well maybe not quite yet, but the message at Cop26 on the UN summit's fifth day was that coal is on its last legs.

It was energy day, but it didn't feel there was much of it about. The vim and vigour of the last few days with their ground-breaking announcements had somehow seeped away and despite the news about more countries signing up to get rid of the sooty stuff, it all felt a bit flat.

Perhaps it was because this was one announcement which felt reconstituted but also had a number of question marks still hanging around it. While countries such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile, which rely heavily on coal, have said they will move away from it, some of the biggest users - and the biggest emitters of CO2 - have not. We’re looking at you China, the US, Australia and India.

Overall there are 40 countries and 150 other organisations pledging to stop using coal, but the announcement on halting the international funding of new coal was made at the weekend at the G20.

There was also no agreement about phasing out oil and gas, which now account for more carbon emissions than coal. 

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Perhaps it was because of the news that global carbon dioxide emissions are set to rebound to near the levels they were at before Covid. While they fell by 5.4% last year, as a result of the pandemic, a scientific report by the Global Carbon Project predicts CO2 emissions will rise by 4.9% this year, putting the move to restrict global warming to 1.5C under more pressure.

Perhaps it was the report on Madagascar, the Indian Ocean island much beloved of Sir David Attenborough for its biodiversity. It has experienced years of climate change-driven drought and its people are on the brink of famine. 

Altogether it was a sober day, and the announcement on coal underwhelmed the delegates and climate organisations who described it as a small step forward when what was needed was a giant leap.

Complaints about the way the summit is being run are also mounting. The queues to get in have become legendary but they have also meant that delegates have been unable to get in quickly enough to attend early events and meetings. 

Yesterday was Farmers' Day and Welsh policy officer of the Landworkers' Alliance Holly Tomlinson said their event was disrupted as a result. Meanwhile, later events they had hoped to attend "were only available online, and the poor WiFi made them very difficult to watch". 

"Other events were full when we arrived," she said. "Events I was able to access invited audience questions and then then made no attempt to respond, restricted as they were by time. So much for an inclusive COP 26."

It was also revealed that security staff are being housed in an ageing cruise ship but describe it more as a "prison ship", and with berths being shared there are concerns about Covid transmission. 

Read more: UK claims 'end is in sight' for coal as countries commit to abandoning fossil fuel

Speaking of which, there are also questions being raised about the lateral flow tests everyone entering the summit has to take each day - and prove they are negative for Covid. It turned out LA's mayor, Eric Garcetti, tested positive despite taking the daily tests - he took a PCR with the aim of heading home today which came back positive.

So he is now spending much more time in his Glasgow hotel than he expected. Hope he has a good view of tomorrow's massive march by climate activists through the city.