World leaders must act to “save humanity”, UN chief Antonio Guterres said yesterday as they met for the historic COP26 climate summit with code-red warnings from scientists ringing in their ears.
More than 120 heads of state and government are gathering in Glasgow for a two-day summit at the start of the UN’s COP26 conference, which organisers say is crucial for charting humanity’s path away from catastrophic global warming.
“It’s one minute to midnight...and we need to act now,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to start proceedings on an at-times chaotic opening day.
COP26 is being billed as vital for the continued viability of the Paris Agreement, which countries signed in 2015 by promising to limit global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius, and to work for a safer 1.5C cap.
With a little over 1C of warming since the Industrial Revolution, Earth is being battered by ever more extreme heatwaves, flooding and tropical storms supercharged by rising seas.
US President Joe Biden, addressing delegates, said that the current age of climate disaster was “an inflection point in world history”. Pressure is on governments to redouble their emissions-cutting commitments to bring them in line with the Paris goals, and to stump up long-promised cash to help developing nations green their grids and protect themselves against future disasters.
“It’s time to say: enough,” Guterres said. “Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”
Thousands of delegates queued around the block to get into the summit yesterday, negotiating airport-style security in the locked-down city centre.
On nearby streets, protesters began lively demonstrations to keep up the pressure.
Activists from Oxfam communicated their displeasure through music, with a Scottish pipe band, the “COP26 Hot Air Band”, wearing masks that caricatured world leaders. Johnson spoke of the “uncontainable” public anger if the conference falls flat.
Echoing 18-year-old climate campaigner Greta Thunberg — who is in Glasgow with thousands of other protesters — urged the summit against indulging in “blah blah blah”. If the leaders “fluff our lines or miss our cue”, generations as-yet unborn “will not forgive us”, the prime minister said.
“They will know that Glasgow was the historic turning point when history failed to turn.”
Biden said that the response to the climate crisis should be seen as an opportunity for the world’s economies.
“Within the growing catastrophe I believe there’s an incredible opportunity — not just for the US, but for all of us,” he told delegates.
The G20 including China, India and Western nations committed on Sunday to the Paris goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C. They also agreed to end funding for new coal plants abroad without carbon capturing technology by the end of 2021. But the precise pathway to 1.5C was left largely undefined and campaigners expressed disappointment with the group, which collectively emits nearly 80% of global carbon emissions.
Preparations for the high-level summit had been dampened by a number of high-profile no shows.
Both Chinese President Xi Jinping — who has not left his country during the Covid-19 pandemic — and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will not be in Glasgow.
Observers say the Glasgow gathering, which runs until November 12, will be tough going.
Most nations have already submitted their renewed emissions cutting plans — known as “nationally determined contributions”, or NDCs — in advance of COP26.
India targets net zero emissions by 2070
India’s prime minister yesterday used the COP26 climate talks to announce 2070 as the target for his country to reach net zero carbon emissions, two decades beyond what scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts. Narendra Modi defended India, however, as having stuck to its climate pledges “in spirit and letter” and noted that his country contained 17% of the world’s population but was responsible for only 5% of global emissions. Modi told other world leaders that India would increase the share of renewables in its energy mix from about 38% last year to 50% by 2030. A COP official welcomed the 2030 pledge but expressed surprise at the 2070 goal, which is beyond China’s net zero target of 2060.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was hope India might bring 2070 forward.
US President Joe Biden presents his national statement as part of the World Leaders’ Summit of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, yesterday.