On landmark declarations against fossil fuel finance and coal at COP 26

During the first half of the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), global leaders made landmark declarations on channeling public support for a clean energy transition and hastening the global move away from coal. Nearly 50 countries expressed varying degrees of commitment to limit their support and dependence on coal power generation, while scaling up the same for clean energy. Meanwhile, more than 20 countries pledged to halt public financing for fossil fuels by the end of 2022.

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) perceive these commitments as a welcome indicator that global leaders are now hearing the deafening calls of communities, youth, civil society and faith-based groups, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and scientists for higher climate ambitions. There is growing recognition of the need to consign coal to history while advancing clean energy, and public finance is being steered away from the reach of fossil fuels and towards the correct direction of a more ambitious energy transition.

These commitments, however, cannot be celebrated for any more than what they are: an overdue first step in a climate race whose starting shot has long been fired, and it is apparent that there is much road left to cover to meet the 1.5°C imperative.

A lifeline for coal and fossil fuels; fellow Asia-Pacific nations risk fueling climate catastrophe

Loopholes in the “Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition” provide a lifeline to forms of support for fossil fuels, including through indirect financing and a need for clarity on “limited and clearly defined circumstances” that will merit exceptions. The “Global Coal to Clean Energy Statement”, meanwhile, dilutes the 2030 and 2040 deadlines it demands of signatories from major economies and the rest of the world, respectively, to phase coal out by giving them the option to do so “as soon as possible thereafter.”

The notable absence of key nations who ought to be among top signatories in the pledge against coal also significantly hurts its ability to assure a global consensus to get off the deadly fossil fuel. The United States of America, China, India, and Australia, all among the biggest consumers of coal in the world today, are nowhere to be found in the coal statement. Even as China, in particular, already committed to halt financing for any new coal project overseas weeks ahead the climate talks, it remains a climate culprit with over 1,000 GW of coal in operation and over 100 GW more in the pipeline. These fellow nations in the Asia-Pacific region house some of the most climate-vulnerable communities in the world, and must be challenged to demand and take part in ambitious action to prevent an offshoot from the 1.5°C threshold by the end of this century.

Philippines’ international pledge, an empty gesture

No better can be said about the Philippines which signed the “Global Coal to Clean Power Statement”, but endorsed only the commitments relating to clean power generation, energy efficiency, and just transition, and none of the commitments on ending coal–revealing this pledge for what it truly is: an empty gesture.

This reluctance in the energy transition comes as no surprise. It was seen just a few days ahead the climate conference, and on the first anniversary of a coal moratorium put in place by the Department of Energy (DOE), when several frontline coal-affected communities and climate and environmental justice advocates demanded that the DOE shelve remaining coal projects once and for all. They were met with silence.

In the same way that Secretary Alfonso Cusi refuses to put teeth to the coal moratorium, he also refuses to endorse Clauses 2 and 3. However, in the context of the climate negotiations, the DOE should also take responsibility for the larger consequence of its non-commitment. It risks the country’s position to demand for more financing and technological resources from developed and historically polluting nations that are necessary for a 1.5°C-aligned transition.

Even the DOE’s endorsement of Clauses 1 and 4 of the Statement deserves little praise and credence considering its recent contradicting actions and inactions. The Philippines’ commitment to rapidly scale up deployment of clean power generation and to support other countries to do the same (Clause 1) is belied by its unambitious renewable energy target of 35% by 2030 that was announced in the Philippine Energy Plan just a few weeks before the Philippine delegation flew to Glasgow. In 2008, prior to the enactment of the Renewable Energy Act, renewable energy already had a share of 34% in the country’s power generation mix. Meanwhile, its commitment to support affected workers, sectors and communities to make a just and inclusive transition away from unabated coal power (Clause 4) is controverted by the evident lack of any phase-out and just transition roadmap for the coal industry in the same 20-year Plan.

It is worth noting that, in contrast, Negros Oriental – a province in the island deemed to be a ‘hopespot’ for renewable energy – endorsed the same Statement in its entirety.

Consigning coal, fossil fuels to history

The landmark declarations at COP 26 leave much territory unchartered in terms of enjoining countries and sectors, such as private finance, to embark in a global energy transition at the unprecedented rate required by the climate emergency. With one week left, the climate negotiations need to produce more pledges that should have been taken long ago. Much action is left to be done for the world to declare that it has consigned, or has even begun to consign, coal and all other fossil fuels to history.

Until that is met, civil society, movements, and communities keep watch over our leaders and decision-makers globally and in our home countries. In the last days of this critical summit and beyond, the DOE and the rest of the Philippine delegation need to become the climate leaders Filipinos need and have long demanded for.