Heads of state and government are calling the doomsday warning to kickstart climate talks


The world’s heads of state and government turned up the heat and resorted to doomsday rhetoric on Monday to bring new urgency to the stuttering international climate negotiations.

The metaphors at the start of the conversations, known as COP26, were dramatic and mixed. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described global warming as “a doomsday device” tied to humanity. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told his colleagues that people are “digging our own graves”. And Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley spoke for island nations at risk, adding moral thunder and warning leaders “not to allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction”.

Amid the speeches, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his coal-dependent country would stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070 – two decades after the United States and at least 10 years later than China. Modi said the goal of “net zero” by 2070 is one of five measures India plans to take to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden and Chancellor Angela Merkel avoided high-flying rhetoric and delved into politics.

“There’s no time to sit back,” Biden said in a more cautious warning that also apologized for his predecessor’s decision to temporarily pull the US out of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, which the country is giving back in its efforts. “Every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases.”

In a taped greeting, Queen Elizabeth II said she hoped the conference “will be one of the rare occasions where everyone has the chance to rise above the politics of the moment”.

“History has shown that there is always room for hope when nations come together,” she said in the video filmed at Windsor Castle on Friday.

One of the United Nations’ biggest concerns is that some countries are focusing more on amorphous long-term net-zero targets rather than looking for cuts this decade that could prevent a rise in temperature that would exceed the Paris target.

Modi also outlined shorter-term goals for the world’s third largest emitter of CO2: increase its non-fossil fuel generation target, meet half of its energy needs with renewable sources, cut carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes compared to previous targets, and reduce carbon emissions. Intensity of its economy by 45% – all by 2030.

While 2070 sounds a long way off to India’s promise, four outside experts from think tanks and universities said India’s new short- and long-term goals are significant, if not huge, given the development status of that country. Ulka Kelkar, who leads India’s climate policy analysis for the World Resource Institute, said a lot depends on the details, but the 2070 target would be similar to the US and Europe that adopted net zero targets 20 years ago.

Still, European officials privately expressed disappointment with India’s late target but refused to speak publicly.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has already announced that she will make Europe the “first net zero continent” in the long term and reduce emissions by 55% in this decade. She urged that other rich countries help poorer countries like Europe and raise a price for carbon emissions because “nature can no longer pay that price”.

Bolivia’s President Luis Arce said the speeches by developed countries tried to portray them as leaders of climate change, “but that is far from the truth”. He said rich nations should face their historical responsibility for causing the warming problem, not fix it by imposing rules on poor countries. The real solution is “an alternative to capitalism” and “unlimited consumption”.

Johnson pointed out that the more than 130 heads of state and government who gathered for the summit portion of the conference had an average age of over 60, while the generations hardest hit by climate change have not yet been born.

Outside of the negotiations, the young climate activist Greta Thunberg accused the world leaders of “pretending that we take our future seriously”.

“Change will not come from within,” said Thunberg, “we no longer say blah, blah, blah.”

The conference aims to get governments to commit to curbing CO2 emissions fast enough to keep global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed up 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit). Current projections, based on planned emissions reductions for the next decade, assume it will reach 2.7 ° C (4.9 ° F) by 2100.

Increasing warming in the coming decades would melt much of the planet’s ice, raise global sea levels, and greatly increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather conditions, scientists say. It is said that the dangers increase faster with every tenth of a degree of warming.

The other goals of the meeting are for rich nations to give poor countries $ 100 billion a year in climate aid and an agreement to spend half of the money on adaptation to worsening climate impacts.

But Barbados Mottley warned that negotiators would be neglected.

“That’s immoral and unjust,” said Mottley. “Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the screams of humanity?”

“We are already struggling to survive,” agreed President Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan of the Seychelles, another island nation. “Tomorrow is not an option because it will be too late.”

Guterres adopted an equally gloomy tone.

“We are digging our own graves,” said the UN Secretary General. “Our planet is changing before our eyes – from the depths of the sea to mountain peaks, from melting glaciers to inexorable extreme weather events.”

The speeches will last until Tuesday, then the leaders will leave.

The idea is that they do the big political give and take, set rough agreements, and then let other government officials work out the details. That helped make the historic Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 a success, former UN climate minister Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press.

“For heads of state, it’s actually a much better use of their strategic thinking,” Figueres said.

Thousands stood in line in Glasgow on Monday with a chill wind to overcome a bottleneck at the entrance to the venue. What will stand out, however, are a handful of major absences.

Xi Jinping, president of the carbon-polluting nation of China, is not in Glasgow. Figueres said his absence was not that significant because he was not leaving the country during the pandemic and his climate officer was a seasoned negotiator.

Biden has blamed China and Russia for their unambitious efforts to contain emissions and blamed them for a disappointing statement on climate change at the end of the meeting of leaders of the group of 20 major economies in Rome this weekend.

Perhaps even more problematic for the UN summit is the absence of several small nations from the Pacific islands that couldn’t make it due to COVID-19 restrictions and logistics. It’s a big problem because their voices convey urgency, Figueres said.

In addition, the bosses of several major emerging economies outside of China are also skipping Scotland, including those from Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa. This means that Modi remains the only leader present from the so-called BRICS states, which are responsible for more than 40% of global emissions.

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