By Oliver Toohey, International Climate Program Manager, WWF-Australia
Late Saturday evening in Glasgow, COP26 officially closed following a final push by India to water down language around phasing out coal. However, the moment was also marked by countries taking to the plenary floor, expressing disappointment in this turn of events and pledging a phase out of coal for their own purposes.
In many ways this moment encapsulated COP26 as a whole; while it didn’t meet its loftier promises and goals, it did represent clear steps in the right direction. We have work to do, but that work can achieve real climate impacts.
One thing that was clear from the final outcome was that Australia will be under increasing pressure to increase its ambition and deliver greater cuts to its emissions, with the final text calling for a new emissions target and plan for COP27 in November 2022.
Identifying and achieving this target will need a concerted focus at the sectoral level. Most countries understand this; there are now numerous pledges, declarations and mechanisms through which Australia, and Australian business, can engage to reduce emissions in electricity, transport, deforestation, finance, industry including shipping, steel and hydrogen. Seizing these opportunities will be key in seeing a green future.
The watered down commitment by countries to phase down coal should not be viewed as a global stamp of approval for continued fossil fuel extraction. Indeed the palpable anger and disappointment from the bulk of the world pulsed through the closing hours of the COP and made it clear that regardless of the hopes of a few outlying nations, there is little hope for the longevity of the fossil fuel industry. The market will shrink, that is certain under either the ‘phase-out’ or ‘phase-down’ language, and with significant coalitions forming to remove coal from energy mixes in major economies, such as South Africa, the writing is on the wall. This leaves open a vast space for renewable energy to step into; the opportunity is clear, the state of global energy geopolitics is in flux and the opportunity for nations to step in and seize market access and delivery has never had more potential.
Australia itself was comparably quiet throughout most of the COP, satisfied to allow Saudi Arabia, India and Russia to lead the charge for the climate laggards. However, the space for the Government to continue in this fashion is shrinking, and they know it. We could see this demonstrated through the increasingly desperate attempts to formulate non-emissions cuts into meaningful climate action.
There is an opportunity here to push them further and force commitments to ambitious renewables expansion – capitalising on the ‘technology first’ approach.
WWF-Australia will continue to work over the coming years to achieve real climate action that supports business, the economy, and builds Australia into a global renewables superpower.