A deal aimed at staving off dangerous climate change has been struck at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases.
The deal also presses for more urgent emission cuts and promises more money for developing countries – to help them adapt to climate impacts.
But the pledges don’t go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.
A commitment to phase out coal that was included in earlier negotiation drafts led to a dramatic finish after India led opposition to it.
India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav asked how developing countries could promise to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they “have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication”.
In the end countries agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal, amid expressions of disappointment by some. COP26 President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for how events had unfolded.
But he said it was vital to protect the agreement as a whole.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.
“It is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”
Swiss environment minister Simonetta Sommaruga said: “We would like to express our profound disappointment that the language we agreed on, on coal and fossil fuels subsidies has been further watered down as a result of an untransparent process.”
She added: “This will not bring us closer to 1.5C, but make it more difficult to reach it.”As part of the agreement, countries have pledged to meet next year to pledge further major carbon cuts so that the goal of 1.5C can be reached. Current pledges, if fulfilled, are only though to limit global warming to 2.4C.If global temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, scientists say the Earth is likely to experience severe effects such as millions more people being exposed to extreme heat.
Sara Shaw, from Friends of the Earth International, said: “It is nothing less than a scandal. Just saying the words 1.5 degrees is meaningless if there is nothing in the agreement to deliver it. COP26 will be remembered as a betrayal of global South countries.”
Developing nations were unhappy about the lack of progress on what’s known as “loss and damage”, the idea that richer countries should compensate poorer ones for climate change effects they can’t adapt to.
Despite the weakening of language around coal, some observers will still see the final deal as a victory, underlining that it is the first time coal is explicitly mentioned in UN documents of this type.
Coal is responsible for about 40% of CO2 emissions each year, making it central in efforts to keep within the 1.5C target. To meet this goal, agreed in Paris in 2015, global emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and to nearly zero by mid-century.
“They changed a word but they can’t change the signal coming out of this COP, that the era of coal is ending,” said Greenpeace international executive director Jennifer Morgan.
“It’s in the interests of all countries, including those who still burn coal, to transition to clean renewable energy.”
However Lars Koch, a policy director for charity ActionAid, said it was disappointing that only coal was mentioned.
“This gives a free pass to the rich countries who have been extracting and polluting for over a century to continue producing oil and gas,” he said.