Global leaders have been urged to up their climate targets and shift away from coal to limit the planet’s temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The call for renewed commitments comes ahead of the UN Cop26 climate summit, which will be hosted in Glasgow in November.
“We have very clearly not tried to hold anything back for Cop. We’ve tried to get commitments out early,” said Nick Bridge, the UK’s special representative for climate change.
“We’ve seen in East Asia the benefit of getting a long-term carbon neutrality commitment out of China, which incentivised Japan and Korea,” he told Chatham House’s climate change summit.
He said this had “helped with our coal messaging, which is now moving forward towards banning international coal. There’s really important domino effects here by getting in early.”
Last year China – responsible for around 28 per cent of global emissions – announced it would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, having previously steered away from long-term goals.
Mr Bridge said countries were being pushed to come forward by next month with their updated National Determined Contributions, which detail the steps each nation is taking to reduce their emissions.
But he said governments shouldn’t come up with NDCs that “just don’t cut it”.
“The headline goal is to keep 1.5 °C alive and in reach, and to do everything necessary to set out what that means in ambitious terms, what that means in investment terms but also what support is coming for the developing countries in that context.”
Jonathan Pershing, adviser to US climate envoy John Kerry, emphasised the global importance of transitioning from coal.
“We have not done a good job at talking about the transition, talking about how we support communities that are going to make that transition,” he said.
“It’s going to happen. It could happen in a disruptive manner – but if we plan, it could happen in a rather easy manner. We could find jobs for those communities. Many of the skilled workforce that we imagine currently working in extractive industry could in fact work in solar or in wind or in high-tech or in batteries – and the list goes on.”
But he also singled out China in particular.
”I look at a country like China, with millions of coal workers, and I’m not currently seeing an agenda or programme to transition those workers into an alternative and new 21st century economy,” he said. “In my mind, that’s going to be a hallmark of success.”
He said coal transition was firmly under way in the US but problems remained.
“At the moment coal is a more reliable 24/7 power source and that is partly a function of the inadequacy of the American grid,” he said.
Mr Pershing highlighted the insufficiency of battery storage capacity that provides back up during power cuts.
“That does not suggest that we do not still move in those directions We do,” he said. “But we’re seeing some real constraints around how to move there and what kind of context there is.”
Cop26 was originally to take place in November 2020 but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.