With German Chancellor Angela Merkel skirting the crucial coal issue at the high-level opening of the UN Climate Change conference, a coalition of nations comprising Britain, Canada and France and even a US state on Thursday announced commitments to move away from the fossil fuel, a major source of air pollution.
Canada and Britain jointly launched at the COP23 climate summit here the Powering Past Coal Alliance with more than 20 partners, including Mexico, Finland, New Zealand, Italy and Angola. as well as US states and Canadian provinces.
A climate expert said that this a first-of-its-kind attempt to phase out the traditional coal power on such a massive scale after the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement that aims to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius by cutting greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
Phasing out coal is a necessary first step for many climate action strategies, including the decarbonisation of transportation and the electrification of industrial activities, which will depend on access to growing amounts of electricity generated from non-emitting renewable sources, the expert said.
"The energy transition we need to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement is already underway, but we need to move with greater speed and scale. Moving away from coal, the most polluting of traditional energy sources, has to be a priority in the energy plans of those who have joined the Paris Agreement," Rachel Kyte, CEO of advocacy group Sustainable Energy for All, said.
"In this way we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on time."
With 40 per cent of the world's electricity still generated from coal, phasing this out is one of the most important steps countries can take to meet their Paris Agreement commitments.
The partners in the Powering Past Coal Alliance are working together to accelerate clean growth and climate protection through the rapid phase-out of traditional coal power, the Canadian government said in a statement.
Along with other partners, Canada will work to grow the alliance to at least 50 partners by next fall's United Nations Climate Change conference.
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"Coal is literally choking our cities, with close to a million people dying every year from coal pollution. I'm thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy and this is only the beginning," an official statement quoted Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna as saying.
Describing the global alliance as an important step toward building a coal-free future, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, leader of WWF's global climate and energy programme, said: "Phasing out coal is as much about stronger climate action as it is about ushering in better public health and well-being for the people."
British charity Christian Aid's International Climate Lead Mohamed Adow said: "It is powerful to see not just rich countries such as the UK and Canada but also Angola, Chile and Mexico making the promise that coal has no future in their countries."
Saying this global alliance a rebuke to US President Donald Trump, he said: "People were worried that this summit would see Trump assaulting the Paris Agreement with his coal lobbyists."
"But his actions have actually galvanised other nations into action, with a new alliance making it clear that coal's climate change threat must be taken seriously," he added.
Meanwhile, anti-coal demonstrators are protesting at the UN Climate Change conference venue and at a nearby mining site, asking Merkel to "stop dirty mining in Germany".
"The biggest coal mine in Europe is located just outside Bonn, visible from the UN tower. Germany could shut down the lignite mine immediately as much of the coal electricity gets exported and storage is still hardly used," a leaflet said.
A giant black mark on Germany's environmental record is scarred on the land an hour's drive from the venue of the Bonn talks, The Guardian said.
Stretching across 85 sq km and around 370 metres deep, the opencast coalmine near Hambach forest is the biggest hole in Europe and one of the biggest single sources of carbon on the continent.
It also a frontline for a growing band of environmental defenders who -- believing it is better to break the law than the climate -- are engaged in direct action campaigns against the fossil fuel industry, the newpaper noted.