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By Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman

© The New York Times Co.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND »

More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, in a deal announced Thursday at the United Nations climate summit that prompted Alok Sharma, the head of the conference, to proclaim that “the end of coal is in sight.”

But several of the biggest coal consumers were notably absent from the accord, including China and India, which together burn about two-thirds of the world’s coal, as well as Australia, the world’s 11th-biggest user of coal and a major exporter.

The United States, which still generates about onefifth of its electricity from coal, also did not sign the pledge.

The new pact includes 23 countries that for the first time have promised to stop building and issuing permits for new coal plants at home and to shift away from using the fuel eventually.

Among them are five of the world’s top 20 powergenerating countries: Poland, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam and Ukraine.

The decision by the United States to abstain appeared to be driven by American politics.

President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda is split between two pieces of major legislation that have been pending on Capitol Hill and that hinge on the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Manchin’s state is rich in coal and gas, he has financial ties to the coal industry, and he is sharply opposed to any policy that would harm fossil fuels.

Two administration officials in Glasgow said discussions with the British government over the pledge to end coal stretched into Wednesday night, with the United States arguing in favor of an exception for coal plants that have technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. (Only one such plant has been built in the United States to date, and it ceased operating this year.)

Ultimately, though, U.S. officials decided that signing the pledge could anger Manchin, according to sources. A spokeswoman for Manchin did not respond to a request for comment.

The use of coal power in the United States peaked in 2007 and is declining fast, replaced by cheaper natural gas, wind and solar power.

Coal is the biggest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and ending its use is a major issue at the Glasgow summit.

Germany’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, said ending coal is “essential” to keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which many scientists say the planet will experience catastrophic effects from heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding. The planet has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius.

To meet that goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, wealthy countries would have to replace virtually all coal, oil and gas power plants with wind, solar or nuclear power by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency. And by 2040, all of the world’s remaining coal plants would have to be shuttered or fitted with technology to capture their carbon emissions and bury them underground, the agency said.

The Biden administration joined an agreement Thursday to end financing for “unabated” oil, gas and coal in other countries by the end of next year. Unabated refers to power plants that burn fossil fuels and discharge the pollution directly into the air, without any attempt to capture the emissions.

That agreement is expected to help steer public financing from multilateral development funders, such as the World Bank, away from fossil fuels.

The 25 countries and entities in that pact, which include Italy, Canada and Denmark, have promised to prioritize support for low and zero-carbon energy such as wind, solar and geothermal.

 

 

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