At COP26, world leaders turn attention to clean-energy transition

Kerry says China must be part of any agreement to achieve climate goals

GLASGOW, United Kingdom – Leaders from more than 200 nations gathered at COP26 focused their attention Thursday on how best to transition the world to clean energy.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicked off in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this week with leaders laying out their plans for how their countries will address climate change.

On Day 5 of the summit, attention turned to when and how to phase out coal being used as a power source. Officials in the United Kingdom said that transition needs to be happening about five times faster than the current rate if 2030 goals are to be reached.

"We’ve made consigning coal to history a key aim, a key principle, of this summit," said U.K. Secretary of State for Energy Kwasi Kwarteng. "We’re asking developed countries to end unabated coal power by 2030 with the rest of the world following by 2040.

Chile, Singapore and Ukraine are just some of the countries that joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, pledging to stop building new coal-fired power plants and phase out coal production. The world’s three biggest coal burners – China, India and the U.S. -- have not signed the agreement.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and former Secretary of State, John Kerry said any agreement would be useless without China being a part of it.

"We’re still holding out hope we can negotiate and bring China to the table, because China is three times the emissions of the U.S. and we’re No. 2, and China’s currently got plans to build 260 gigawatts of coal-fired power," Kerry said.

According to the Energy Information Administration, about 74% of carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. come from the burning of fossil fuels. Of that, about 19% of those emissions come from coal.

About 19% of the power in the U.S. came from coal-fired plants in 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That’s the lowest it has been since 1972.