PPCA Summit serves as springboard for action on coal ahead of COP26

On 2-4 March 2021, Canada and the United Kingdom, co-chairs of the Powering Past Coal Alliance convened leaders from government, international organisations, business, and civil society for the first-ever virtual PPCA Global Summit to boost momentum and empower countries to accelerate the transition away from coal power in the lead up to the UN Climate Summit COP26 in November this year.

In a video message to the Summit, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on countries to “end the deadly addiction to coal”, by 2030 in the OECD, and by 2040 in the rest of the world. He singled out G7 nations, urging them to make that commitment at the June G7 Summit at the latest. He also underlined the need for immediate action to stop construction and financing of new coal power plants and jump-start a global effort to organize a just transition.

His powerful call to double down on efforts to power past coal and “embark immediately on a decade of transformation through a successful COP26 in Glasgow” set the tone for the Summit discussions. At the high-level plenary, UK Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who hosted the summit as the co-chairs of the PPCA, stressed that a rapid coal phase-out is the first step to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and meet the Paris Agreement objectives.

The Summit showcased many government and business leaders who are already stepping up their efforts. The Alliance welcomed 10 new members, including the countries Uruguay and Hungary, the city of Kyoto – first PPCA member in Japan, major electric utilities and global financial institutions representing US$1.6tn in assets and investments. This progress needs to accelerate if the world is truly going to power past coal in time. The co-chairs urged countries, regions, cities, banks, and utilities to increase ambition, present new commitments and join the Alliance at the earliest opportunity this year, to add to the momentum ahead of COP26.

The call to action on coal was echoed by COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney, several Ministers including from France and Germany, as well as representatives from labour, civil society, and the private sector from around the world. Leaders signalled commitment to accelerating the move away from coal at home and supporting others to do the same. To provide fresh impetus to governments’ efforts to transition away from coal power, the Alliance and Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the Bloomberg Global Coal Countdown - a new online data resource that tracks the retirement of coal plant units around the world.

With over 1000 attendees, the PPCA Summit was the largest gathering on coal phase out this year. Through a series of six thematic sessions, PPCA members and partners shared their extensive experience and knowledge on topics ranging from coal’s declining competitiveness to grid transformation, shifting private finance from coal to clean energy and financing early retirement of coal power plants. The event put strong emphasis on the need to ensure just transition for affected workers and communities: through investing in new, decent jobs, re-employment programmes and a continued social dialogue among government, employers, trade unions and civil society.

Over 50 panellists from across the world, including from countries where coal phase out represents a challenge such as India, Japan, Poland or South Africa, engaged in an open and in-depth dialogue on ways to speed up the energy transition. Speakers emphasised the need for cross-sectoral, holistic approaches, tackling the transition of the whole economy beyond just the energy sector and tailored to each country’s circumstances, as there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint. They also stressed the value of cooperation across different stakeholders, and within and across countries and regions, to exchange best practices and lessons learned.

By showcasing progress to date and concrete solutions to achieve coal phase-out commitments, the Summit forged a pathway forward for others to follow suit. The steady progress in the PPCA member countries, and more broadly in the OECD where nearly 60% of coal capacity has either retired since 2010 or is scheduled to retire by 2030, gives reassurance to others that they can rapidly phase out coal too.

The world needs to make 2021 a leap towards a fairer, safer, healthier world - that means every country needs to speed up the coal to clean transition, with increased support from local leaders and the private sector. While PPCA members are already moving forward, many more need to get on board to keep the 1.5-degree goal within reach.