Credit: DSM Demolition Ltd via Reuters

Humanity needs to ditch coal to save itself. It also needs to keep the lights on.

Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT) November 4, 2021

(CNN)On a quiet Sunday morning, an ear-splitting roar reverberated across the English village of Eggborough as four giant concrete cooling towers imploded and crashed to the ground, transformed to clouds of debris in a matter of seconds.

Just moments after their demolition, it became hard to imagine the structures were ever there, so out of place they were, jutting 90 meters into the sky among the green fields surrounding the River Aire.
The Eggborough power station is just one of 14 coal plants the United Kingdom has laid to rest over the past decade. In 2012, 40% of the UK's power came from coal. By 2020, it was below 2%. Last year, the country went for 67 days without using any coal for power at all.
Climate leaders at the COP26 talks in Glasgow, Scotland, will on Thursday intensify their efforts to put an end date on the use of coal, the biggest single contributor to the climate crisis.
At the G20 meeting in Rome over the weekend, leaders failed to specify how they would phase out coal. It will be a tough ask to convince developing countries to go further than the rich world.
The picture is fairly rosy in western Europe and even the United States, where it seems the fossil fuel is indeed on its last legs, save for some pockets of resistance.
Belgium, Austria and Sweden are among a growing number of European countries that no longer use coal to generate electricity. In the US, which technically has no coal phaseout plan, coal has wound down dramatically in favor of natural gas, which emits about half the carbon dioxide. A slow but steady increase in wind power is also helping put coal out of business.
Globally, proposed coal plants are rapidly being canceled. A report by climate think tank E3G found a 76% reduction in proposed coal power since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
But the trend is distributed unevenly. Coal plants are still on rise throughout much of Asia, and while power generation from coal technically peaked in 2013, it has basically plateaued since then. The current global energy crisis, triggered by a quicker-than-expected economic rebound amid the pandemic, has even given it a bump. Coal prices last month were at an all-time high.
For every Belgium, Austria and Sweden there is a China, India, and Indonesia, where coal is still king. Consigning coal to history is a requirement to rein in rapid climate change, but it may not happen as quickly as Western climate leaders may like.
Yet Alok Sharma, the British lawmaker chairing COP26, is hopeful it can still happen.
The G20 did agree to stop financing international coal projects by the end of the year, he pointed out. China made a similar commitment in September, which removed the biggest source of international coal financing on the planet.
"This has effectively ended public finance for overseas coal projects," Sharma told CNN.
"To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, all countries need to raise their ambition and act urgently to consign coal to history."
There has been some movement. The UK government on Thursday announced that 23 new countries -- including big coal users like Poland and Vietnam -- and dozens of organizations had committed to stop building new coal projects and to phase out the fossil fuel by the 2030s for developed nations, and 2040s for the developing world.
Despite all this progress, a true global transition from coal will only happen when China decides.

China consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined