November 1, 2021|Updated November 1, 2021 at 5:39 p.m. EDT
A global summit convened in Glasgow, Scotland, widely seen as the most important international climate negotiations since the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, began on Monday with speeches by world leaders, including President Biden, who warned that climate change is “ravaging the world.” In remarks at a smaller meeting just after his formal speech, he apologized for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord under former president Donald Trump. “I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize,” he said.
Here’s what to know
The overarching goal of the summit, known as COP26, is to put the world on a path to aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow Earth’s warming. Negotiations will take place over two weeks, but the two-day leaders’ summit begins Monday, with about 120 heads of state and government scheduled to attend.
In a show of force — after the Trump administration was virtually invisible at international climate talks — the vast majority of Biden’s Cabinet is in Glasgow, along with a sizable delegation of career officials.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping offered no new commitments in a written statement. Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are not attending the negotiations in person.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in remarks delivered Monday, committed India to “net zero” emissions by 2070, two decades later than many advocates had hoped.
GLASGOW, Scotland — Queen Elizabeth II appealed to world leaders gathered at the climate conference to engage in “true statesmanship” and work together as “the time for words has now moved to the time for action.”
In an video address played at an evening reception for presidents and prime ministers, the monarch said she hoped the summit would be “one of those rare occasions where everyone will have the chance to rise above the politics of the moment and achieve true statesmanship.”
Elizabeth said she hoped leaders would leave the summit with “a determination, a desire and a plan to address the impact of climate change and to recognize that the time for words has now moved to the time for action.”
The 95-year-old monarch had planned to attend the reception in person but was ordered to rest by doctors.
The speech was recorded at Windsor Castle, where she is living, on Friday afternoon.
The queen paid tribute to “my dear late husband,” Prince Philip, quoting from a speech he gave in 1969 voicing concern about the levels of pollution. She also singled out her son Prince Charles, who addressed world leaders on Monday, and her grandson Prince William, who is at the summit with some of the finalists from his Earthshot Prize.
“I could not be more proud of them,” she said.
The queen specifically referenced young activists, saying, “I have drawn great comfort and inspiration from the relentless enthusiasm of people of all ages — especially the young — in calling for everyone to play their part.”
“None of us will live forever,” she said in closing. “But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.”
Updates continue below advertisement
South Africa has one of the most coal-intensive economies in the world. Can it change?
South Africa is negotiating with a handful of wealthy nations about how to overhaul its ailing electricity sector in what could become a model of climate finance for other countries heavily dependent upon coal plants.
The showcase plan, which could cost as much as $15 billion, would not only provide financial support for the state-owned utility, but also backing for broader economic and social change — known as a “just transition” — in a deeply divided and unequal society. The plan could help persuade other developing nations, mostly in Asia, to shelve plans to build as much as 243 gigawatts of new coal plants.
“We think it could be a very important feather in the cap of this COP if broad outlines are announced that could provide a template for other country-scale transactions,” said Mike Muldoon, managing director for innovative finance at the Rockefeller Foundation. “We think this is one of the only solutions that meets the scale of the challenge.”
South Africa, whose economy is one of the most coal-intensive in the world, wants to steer investment into renewables and start shutting down its aging fleet of 15 coal-fired, carbon-spewing power plants, which supply 84 percent of the nation’s electricity.
President Biden will work with Congress to set aside $3 billion a year by 2024 in financing for adaptation to climate change in developing countries, the White House said Monday.
The sum, which will go to protecting the world’s poorer citizens from rising seas and temperatures, is part of the $11.4 billion Biden already requested at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
The White House said the $3 billion set aside would reduce the impacts of climate change on people most vulnerable to its effects. “These impacts are already being felt, making investments in developing countries’ climate resilience more urgent than ever,” the White House said.
“President Biden recognized the need to increase support for adaptation, which is already costing developing countries an estimated $70 billion a year,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, a research nonprofit organization. “However, the $3 billion in support for adaptation is not additional to the $11.4 billion already pledged by the Biden administration.”
Dasgupta said “we hope the United States will work toward increasing and balancing adaptation and mitigation finance as called for in the Paris agreement.”
The White House said the $3 billion would go to a new umbrella program called President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, or PREPARE, which will work with several different agencies, including the Agency for International Development, multilateral development banks, the Development Finance Corp., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Updates continue below advertisement
Chinese President Xi offers no new commitments in written comments to COP26 conference
GLASGOW — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday offered no new commitments to the U.N. conference to combat climate change, submitting only a terse written statement for the record as he skipped an in-person visit to the gathering in Glasgow.
“China will continue to prioritize ecological conservation and pursue a green and low-carbon path to development,” Xi wrote, offering no specifics other than a promise to release concrete plans for peaking his country’s emissions in 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
“I hope all parties will take stronger actions to jointly tackle the climate challenge and protect the planet, the shared home for us all,” he said.
Xi’s absence was a disappointment for many of the policymakers who have gathered from around the world for two weeks of negotiations, a sign of limited Chinese ambitions for the conference, known as COP26. And since China, the world’s factory, is the biggest source of greenhouse gases, the outcome of the climate conference may not live up to its ambitions as one of the final chances to avert warming before it spirals out of control.
The Chinese president has not traveled outside of the country since early 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Updates continue below advertisement
India vows to boost renewables, hit ‘net zero’ emissions by 2070
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday committed his nation — the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — to massive investments in renewable energy by the end of the decade in an effort to move away from its reliance on fossil fuels.
Modi pledged that the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people would install 500 gigawatts of non-fossil energy by 2030, and that India would meet half of its energy demands from renewable sources by the same time.
The prime minister, as expected, also committed India to a target of “net zero” emissions by 2070 — two decades later than the mid-century goal that many advocates had hoped the country would pursue.
Modi used part of his statement to underscore that India had fulfilled its promises under the 2015 Paris climate accord and that it would continue to shift to more climate-friendly policies going forward.
“Today, the entire world acknowledges that India is the only big economy in the world that has delivered both in letter and in spirit on its Paris commitments,” Modi said in remarks at the opening of COP26.
But he said the nation’s continued shift away from fossil fuels — like that of other developing countries — would require significant amounts of financing and technical support from the developing world.
Updates continue below advertisement
Marshall Islands pleads with world leaders to save country from rising seas
Rising sea levels could sink buildings and flood much of the Marshall Islands, but the country’s climate envoy refuses to accept the scenario experts describe as a looming reality: She wants world leaders to step up.
Her country does not have the luxury of waiting. The central Pacific island nation, home to nearly 60,000 people, is already reeling from droughts and flooding while it prepares what she calls “a survival plan.”
But like many of the countries hardest hit by climate change, the Marshall Islands needs help and money. While developed nations had pledged more than a decade ago to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer ones cope with climate impacts, they have fallen short, according to the United Nations.
President Biden on Monday apologized for President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, saying it had set the world back.
“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States and the last administration pulled out of the Paris accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” said Biden, speaking briefly at a side meeting of world leaders at the COP26 climate summit.
Biden had pledged that his administration would attempt to make up for the Trump administration’s four years spent turning away from policies meant to address climate change.
He made the remarks just after his opening address, at a meeting titled “Action and Solidarity — the Critical Decade.” He said that the United States has a special responsibility to lead on climate, noting that the country is responsible for a huge part of the problem. “I want to emphasize again, those of us who have deforested a long time ago, those of us who have taken actions a long time ago to cause the problems we have, we have to be ready to step up,” he said.
Biden said he has a sales job to do among some voters back home about the importance of reducing emissions. “That’s the next big case I have to make,” he said.
Updates continue below advertisement
David Attenborough calls on world leaders to “rewrite our story”
GLASGOW, Scotland — British naturalist Sir David Attenborough made a passionate plea for world leaders to “rewrite our story,” warning that those who could be impacted by catastrophic climate change were not “some imagined generation” but “young people alive today.”
Attenborough is a beloved figure in Britain — and beyond — who has entranced generations with his globally popular natural history documentaries.
He has been dubbed the “people’s advocate” for COP26.
Attenborough began his speech to assembled world leaders in Glasgow with a history lesson. For the last 10,000 years, he said, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has been relatively stable, offering humanity predictable seasons and reliable weather.
This meant that “civilization was possible, and we wasted no time in taking advantage of that,” he said. “The global temperature has not wavered over this period by more plus or minus one degrees Celsius — until now.”
He said that humanity was in “trouble” and the story was not merely one of instability, it was also about inequality. “Those who’ve done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit,” he said.
There was still time to turn “tragedy into triumph,” however. “We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem. We knew how to stop the number [of carbon emissions] rising and put it in reverse.”
“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline," said the 95-year-old documentary maker, peering out at the crowd. "In yours, you could, and should, witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope — ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies — is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.”
Updates continue below advertisement
White House official not worried about looming Supreme Court climate case
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said on Monday that she was not worried by the Supreme Court’s decision to take up a case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants.
“I mean, the Supreme Court takes up a lot of cases, and we’ll have to wait and see. But as you know, the Clean Air Act is pretty flexible. And there’s many opportunities for us to get at … pollutants like greenhouse gases,” McCarthy told reporters at COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Part of the value, I think, of the Build Back Better framework and those resources is that regulations are important, but they’re not the only way to get a home run here. And so I fully expect we’ll have regulatory tools, and we’ll be able to use them,” she added.
The Supreme Court on Friday granted a request from 19 Republican-led states and the coal industry to consider their challenge to the EPA’s authority to curb greenhouse gases from power plants, which could threaten a key plank of President Biden’s climate agenda.
The Republican-led states are trying to prevent Biden’s EPA from issuing the type of sweeping emissions controls that were proposed by the Obama administration.
The Supreme Court put former president Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan on hold in 2016, and it was never implemented. The Trump administration’s attempt to repeal and replace the plan — known as the Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE, rule — was rejected by a federal appeals court in Washington.
“We have to wait a while to have the Supreme Court speak to this. But I have a lot of confidence,” McCarthy said. “You know, the ACE rule is no longer around because the courts made it defunct. Perhaps that will have an impact on the decision-making of the Supreme Court.”
McCarthy was addressing reporters after an event at the U.S. Center, a physical space in the COP26 conference venue where the Biden administration is hosting panels.
During the event, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) noted that her state has taken aggressive steps to rein in planet-warming pollution, such as by imposing a fee on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Democrats in Congress are considering including a methane fee in their $1.75 trillion social spending bill, despite opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
LaToya Cantrell, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, said she awoke to the dangers of global warming in 2018, when a single heavy rain event dumped five inches of water on the city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I knew then that the impact of climate change would truly be the framing of my term as mayor of New Orleans,” she said.
"The eyes of history are upon us,” Biden tells summit
In brief opening remarks at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, President Biden told world leaders that the Earth is at an inflection point, with limited time left to prevent significant warming to the planet.
“This is the decisive decade.” he said.
Biden’s presence alone signals a major change in U.S. policy after four years under former president Donald Trump’s turn away from climate issues.
The president touted his legislative agenda, saying that it would provide the resources and legal framework to make good on the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent in the next decade. But while Biden had hoped to come to Glasgow with his agenda approved, but its fate remains uncertain.
Biden also sought to frame the global increase in energy prices — which has prompted him to push for more oil production in the short term — as a reason countries need to move to renewable energy sources in the long term.
“We must view it as a call to action,” Biden said.
While he did not mention Trump by name, Biden did reference his predecessor, who pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate accord.
“The United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example,” Biden said. “I know it hasn’t been the case and that’s why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words.”
The president also stressed the need to provide financial support to less-developed nations, which are bearing much of the burden of the effects of climate change.
He concluded his remarks: “God bless you all, and may God save the planet.”
Prince Charles takes his environmental bona fides to COP26
GLASGOW, Scotland — Britain’s future king, Prince Charles, told world leaders at the U.N. climate summit on Monday that they should seek solutions to global warming in nature.
“After billions of years of evolution, nature is our best teacher,” the Prince of Wales said. “In this regard, restoring natural capital, accelerating nature-based solutions and leveraging the circular bio-economy will be vital to our efforts.”
Unlike the presidents and premiers who will be speaking at the Scottish Event Campus, the prince has spent his life developing deep thoughts about sustainability, organic farming, biodiversity — and the sanctity of Nature, which the prince always capitalizes in print.
Unlike the others, Charles has no real power over laws or budgets. But the 72-year-old, ruddy-cheeked royal in the immaculately tailored pinstripes is a potentially powerful voice on climate change — now, and when the heir apparent takes the throne some day as the 21st century’s first eco-king.
Top officials from the Biden administration on Monday announced the launch of the U.S. Center at COP26, as the White House released a long-term strategy for eliminating America’s carbon emissions by mid-century.
John F. Kerry, President Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, told a crowd of diplomats, journalists and others that the U.S. Center did not exist at previous United Nations climate summits under former president Donald Trump.
Kerry said the science is clear on the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, the more ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris agreement.
“The scientists have made it clear as a matter not of politics, not of ideology … but as a matter of mathematics and physics,” he said.
Kerry noted that the Biden administration on Monday unveiled a long-term strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. He said the document was a “companion” to the United States’ previously released commitment under the Paris agreement, known as a nationally determined contribution, or NDC.
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy drew applause and laughter from the crowd when she cracked jokes in her characteristic thick Boston accent.
McCarthy said Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by “well over” a gigaton. “And for all those whispering, ‘Well how much is that,’ I’ll tell you it’s well over a billion tons,” she said.
McCarthy said that even though the Trump administration “didn’t particularly like to talk about climate change,” America has continued to reduce its planet-warming pollution. She added later: “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re kicking butt on offshore wind.”
Boris Johnson spells out what 2, 3 and 4 degrees of global warming look like — and it’s not pretty
GLASGOW, Scotland — In an attempt to stir world leaders into action,British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vividly outlined the difference that a seemingly small rise in global temperatures could make.
The landmark eco-summit in Glasgow is widely seen as a crucial moment when countries must deliver on the Paris agreement in 2015, when leaders agreed to pursue efforts to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius than in preindustrial times.
“Two degrees more, and we jeopardize the food supply for hundreds of millions of people, crops wither, locusts swarm,” he said.
One degree more, and the extreme weather patterns the world is already seeing will get a whole lot worse.
“Three degrees, and you can add more wildfires and cyclones, twice as many. Five times as many droughts, and 36 times as many heat waves,” he said.
He continued, “Four degrees and we say goodbye to whole cities — Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai, all lost beneath the waves.”
Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, has said that the Glasgow summit is the “last, best hope” to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.
Boris Johnson compares climate crisis to a James Bond film
GLASGOW, Scotland — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared the world’s climate crisis to a James Bond movie, arguing that the planet is "one minute to midnight” on the doomsday clock — a situation with which the fictional spy is very familiar.
“We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today — except that the tragedy is this is not a movie, and the doomsday device is real,” he said at the start of his address to 120 leaders from around the world.
“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change,” he said, “it’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock, and we need to act now.”
Johnson also referenced climate activist Greta Thunberg, though not by name, when he said that all the promises made at previous COP conferences, “will be nothing but blah blah blah, to coin a phrase” unless the Cop26 in Glasgow is “the moment we get real about climate change.”
Johnson urged leaders to make specific pledges on “coal, cars, cash and trees” — his oft-repeated slogan for top climate priorities for the summit — and said that leaders should not “fluff our lines,” warning that the younger generations will “not forgive us.”
“If we fail, they will not forgive us. They will know that Glasgow was the historic turning point when history failed to turn.”