LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the U.N. climate summit as a “game-changing agreement” that sounded the “death knell for coal power” on Sunday — although he added that his delight at the progress on fighting climate change was “tinged with disappointment.”
Johnson said it was “beyond question” that the deal coming out of the Glasgow conference marks an important moment in the use of coal because most of western Europe and North America have agreed to pull the plug on financial support for all overseas fossil fuel projects by this time next year.
But in a major shift demanded by coal-dependent India and China, the Glasgow Climate pact used watered-down language about “phasing down” the use of coal instead of “phasing out” coal. Johnson, however, said the compromise did not make “that much of a difference.”
Ending coal is seen as the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which cause the Earth to warm up and produce rising seas and more extreme weather including droughts, storms and wildfires.
“It’s an immense thing to get a commitment from 190 countries to phase down or phase out coal,” Johnson told a press conference. “The direction of travel is pretty much the same.”
Still, he acknowledged that some countries did not live up to the ambition of the summit. He accepted that the Glasgow summit did not deliver the “full solution” to climate change, but said the world was “undeniably heading in the right direction.”
“We can lobby, we can cajole, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign nations to do what they do not wish to do,” he said. “It’s ultimately their decision to make and they must stand by it.”
He and conference President Alok Sharma both underlined that the Glasgow Climate Pact was the first time that coal had been mentioned in U.N. climate agreements. But Sharma said China and India would have to “justify” their actions.
“On the issue of coal, China and India are going to have to justify to some of the most climate vulnerable countries what happened,” he told Sky News on Sunday.