The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubles down on coal after COP26

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1. (Ian Forsyth/Pool /Reuters)
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the coal industry will be operating in the country for “decades to come,” in response to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s remarks that the agreement reached at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, sounds “the death knell for coal power.”

“I don’t believe it did, and for all of those working in the coal industry in Australia, they will continue to be working in that industry for decades to come,” Morrison told a group of reporters Monday when asked whether he agreed with Johnson’s remarks. “Because there will be a transition that will occur over a long period of time.”

The agreement reached at COP26 prompts countries to move away from fossil fuels at a faster pace and to bolster climate targets. Coal became a point of contention when delegates from China and India requested a last-minute change to the language of the agreement, proposing to substitute “phase out” with “phase down unabated coal.”

Several countries opposed the last-minute change that they said watered down the commitment, The Post reported Saturday from Glasgow.

“This commitment on coal had been a bright spot in the package,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. She said she would accept the new version of the text because “there are critical elements of this package that people in my country need as a lifeline for their future.”

The final language of the summit agreement calls upon countries to accelerate the transition to low-emission energy systems “including accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”

The Glasgow climate pact, annotated

In a news conference Sunday, Johnson lauded the Glasgow agreement, calling it “game-changing.”

“Almost 200 countries have put their name to the Glasgow climate pact, marking a decisive shift in the world’s approach to tackling carbon emissions” and “marking the beginning of the end for coal power,” he said.

But Australia’s prime minister sounded a more cautious tone Monday. “I make no apologies for Australia’s standing up for our national interests, whether they be our security interests or economic interests. We have a balanced plan to achieve net zero by 2050, but we’re not going to make rural and regional Australians pay for that,” Morrison said.

Despite the progress made at COP26, optimism about the agreement hangs on whether countries will actually deliver on the promises made in Glasgow. Coal production in China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, has surged to the highest levels in years as the country addresses power outages.

Australia is the second-biggest coal exporter and fifth-biggest producer. The main countries that buy coal from Australia are Japan, India, China and Taiwan.