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At COP26, nations strike a climate deal with coal compromise

Alok Sharma (left), president of the COP26 summit, attends a stocktaking plenary session in Glasgow, Scotland, on Saturday.
Alok Sharma (left), president of the COP26 summit, attends a stocktaking plenary session in Glasgow, Scotland, on Saturday.

Updated November 13, 2021 at 3:30 PM ET

GLASGOW, Scotland — Almost 200 nations accepted a contentious climate compromise Saturday aimed at keeping a key global warming target alive, but it contained a last-minute change that some high officials called a watering down of crucial language about coal.

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change put forward by India to "phase down," rather than "phase out" coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Nation after nation had complained earlier on the final day of two weeks of U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, about how the deal isn't enough, but they said it was better than nothing and provides incremental progress, if not success.

Negotiators from Switzerland and Mexico called the coal language change against the rules because it came so late. However, they said they had no choice but to hold their noses and go along with it.

Swiss environment minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the change will make it harder to achieve the international goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. Before the change on coal, negotiators had said the deal barely preserved that overarching. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

"India's last-minute change to the language to phase down but not phase out coal is quite shocking," Australian climate scientist Bill Hare, who tracks world emission pledges for the science-based Climate Action Tracker. "India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly."

In addition to the revised coal language, the Glasgow Climate Pact includes enough financial incentives to almost satisfy poorer nations and solves a long-standing problem to pave the way for carbon trading.

The draft agreement says big carbon polluting nations have to come back and submit stronger emission cutting pledges by the end of 2022.

Conference President Alok Sharma said the deal drives "progress on coal, cars cash and trees'' and is "something meaningful for our people and our planet.''

Environmental activists were measured in their not-quite-glowing assessments, issued before India's last minute change.

"It's meek, it's weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters," Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said.

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