Nearly 200 countries at the United Nations COP26 summit in Scotland agreed to a deal to contain the climate crisis.
The final text of the two-week Glasgow talks was finally adopted on Saturday, a day after the talks had initially been scheduled to end and following a last-minute proposed change by India.
The change called on parties to accelerate “efforts to phase down” rather than “phase out” coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Several countries said they were deeply disappointed by the watering down of the crucial language but had no choice than go along with it.
COP26 President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for how the summit ended.
“May I just say to all delegates I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry.
“I also understand the deep disappointment but I think as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres called the global deal “an important step” but said “it’s not enough. It’s time to go into emergency mode.”
“The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today,” he added.
“They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”
Negotiators say the agreement is aimed at keeping alive the overarching 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
The agreement in effect acknowledged that commitments made so far to cut emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases are nowhere near enough, and asked nations to set tougher climate pledges next year, rather than every five years, as they are currently required to do.
Scientists say that to go beyond a rise of 1.5C would unleash extreme sea level rise and catastrophes including crippling droughts, monstrous storms and wildfires far worse than those the world is already suffering. But national pledges made so far to cut greenhouse emissions would only cap the average global temperature rise at 2.4 Celsius.
India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision on coal was needed to reflect the “national circumstances of emerging economies”.
“We are becoming the voice of the developing countries,” he told the Reuters news agency, adding that coal had been “singled out” during the COP26 talks while there was no similar call to phase out oil or natural gas.
“We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice,” he said, alluding to the fact that rich nations historically have emitted the largest share of greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, prominent Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg said the talks had achieved nothing but “blah, blah, blah”.
“The real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever,” the figurehead of the Fridays for Future movement posted on Twitter.