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Expand chart
Data: BP; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Let's leave to history to see whether the COP26 deal to "phase down" coal instead of "phase out" makes any real-world difference, but what's clear is that any meaningful "phasing" at all is hard.

Why it matters: Coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel. Any pathway to meeting the Paris Agreement goals will require huge reductions in global demand that are nowhere in evidence yet.

The big picture: Global coal consumption fell in 2020 due to the pandemic, but it's rebounding this year amid the recovery.

  • The International Energy Agency's flagship outlook in October projected that under nations' existing policies at the time, global demand doesn't begin falling again for several years.
  • Then it declines — but it's still around 70% of today's levels in 2050. Compare that to IEA's roadmap for reaching net-zero global emissions by midcentury, which requires a 55% decline by 2030.
  • We're talking about long-term projections here so take it all with chunks of salt, but still, that's a big gap.

Yes, but: The United Nations climate summit — and the runup to it —brought a burst of pledges and initiatives that could alter the current trajectory if countries follow through.

  • One of them was a pledge by 45 nations and the EU to phase out coal-fired power in the 2030s in "major" economies and in the 2040s globally. However, it did not include China, India, Japan or the U.S.
  • Still, some other large users did sign-on, and more broadly it was among a suite of overlapping, ad-hoc efforts at the summit that could help speed up the transition away from coal in power and industry.

What they're saying: Nikos Tsafos of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has a helpful look at both the challenges and possibilities around accelerating the shift to alternatives.

  • I won't capture it all here, but this section gets to the challenge side of things in emerging economies, where power demand is rising.
  • "Even if coal is more expensive to operate than competing sources, and even if it is cheaper to build a new wind farm or solar array than it is to run an existing coal plant, it is hard to shut down coal facilities because few countries have sufficient spare capacity in their electricity systems to be able to do so," Tsafos said.

Go deeper: COP26 climate deal calls for historic shift from fossil fuels

Go deeper

Study casts doubt on climate emissions pledge estimates

In an aerial view, floodwaters surround homes and farms on Nov. 20 in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new analysis casts doubt on whether scientists can precisely estimate how much nations' combined emissions-cutting pledges will stem global warming, instead showing a wide range of potential outcomes.

Why it matters: World leaders need to know if emissions targets currently on the table would meet the Paris Agreement's temperature goals or if more stringent commitments are needed. The new study shows they may be placing too much faith in temperature projections.

Americans are super-sizing their holiday travel

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are rushing back into holiday travel, and many are taking even longer trips now than they did before the pandemic began.

The big picture: After skipping Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings last year, many people are eager to maximize this year's celebrations with friends and family. And flexible remote working arrangements make that easier than ever.

Updated 16 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.