COP26 Deal Fails to Impress Environmentalists After Coal Compromise: 'Blah, Blah, Blah'

Nearly 200 countries accepted an agreement to combat climate change on Saturday in Glasgow, Scotland, marking an end to weeks of negotiation at the United Nations' COP26 meeting. But many environmentalists warned it does not go far enough—especially with a last-minute compromise on coal power.

The plan includes a flurry of provisions aimed to mitigate the worst of climate change impacts, including a goal to limit global temperature increases to only 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, a pledge to halt and reverse forest loss and a vow to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.

But both world leaders and activists have condemned a late change supported by India that would "phase down" rather than "phase out" coal, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the Associated Press reported.

Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav argued that a plan to completely phase out coal would be unfair to many developing countries "entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels." Instead, he pointed to "unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns" in rich countries.

Several countries, including small island states that face some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change, opposed the measure.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan called the plan "meek" but still offered measured optimism.

"It's meek, it's weak and the 1.5 C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters," she said.

Morgan was not the only environmentalist underwhelmed by the deal. Famed climate activist Greta Thunberg took to Twitter to share her criticisms.

"Now as #COP26 is coming to an end, beware of a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome as 'good', 'progress', 'hopeful' or 'a step in the right direction,' she wrote.

In another tweet, she added, "Here's a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever."

Now as #COP26 is coming to an end, beware of a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome as "good", "progress", "hopeful" or "a step in the right direction".

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 13, 2021

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video posted to Twitter that while the outcome is a compromise and an important step, it is not enough.

"It's time to go into emergency mode," he said, adding that coal needs to be phased out.

COP26 President Alok Sharma offered an emotional apology for the last-minute change.

"I also understand the deep disappointment but I think as you have noted, it's also vital that we protect this package," he said, according to The Independent.

The United Kingdom's Green Party wrote in a statement that the agreement "failed every one of our five tests designed to show clearly whether the final version goes far enough."

"While the deal for the first time acknowledges the central role of fossil fuels as causing the climate crisis, and the loss and damage agenda is finally being taken seriously, like so many others who have campaigned so long for climate justice, we are left with a sense of grief and anxiety about what has been agreed overall," the party's co-leader Adrian Ramsay said in the statement.

Still, others defended the deal, including U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"It's a good deal for the world. It's got a few problems, but it's all in all a very good deal," he said.

Climate Protest
Environmentalists blasted the outcome of the COP26 summit following a last-minute language change that would “phase down” instead of “phase out” coal. Here, a protester holds a sign at a climate march in Manhattan on Saturday. KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images