GLASGOW – World leaders opened a crucial climate summit in Scotland on Monday with apocalyptic warnings about how little time is left to avert catastrophic global warming, but offered few new commitments to more aggressively cut gas emissions at greenhouse effect.
The rally, called in hopes the world can finally agree on meaningful steps to get back on track on a rapidly warming planet, is expected to last nearly two weeks, but it only took a few hours for the first bumps appear.
Long-standing fault lines in the global debate over who should be more responsible for reducing emissions emerged in the opening speeches of the assembled heads of state. The same goes for the spikes targeting two major emitters of greenhouse gases, China and Russia, whose leaders were not present. And so are the tensions between the rich and the poor of the world, as less developed countries demand more aid and faster action from the richer.
His administration, under pressure at home and abroad because of its climate plans, was to announce a series of new initiatives on Tuesday. Most important: a plan to tightly regulate methane, a potent greenhouse gas that comes from oil and gas operations and can heat the atmosphere 80 times faster than carbon dioxide in the short term.
But it is clear that much more will have to be done.
Addressing the leaders of the more than 120 countries represented at the summit on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the effects of global warming were being felt “from the depths of the oceans to the peaks of the mountains.”
“Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper,” Mr. Guterres said. “We are digging our own graves. “
The oceans are warmer than ever, parts of the Amazon rainforest emit more carbon than they take in, and over the past decade an estimated four billion people have been affected by climate change-related events. Last year alone, deadly floods hit Germany and China, heat waves killed nearly 200 people in the Pacific Northwest, and zombie forest fires raged across the Arctic.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared the race to stop global warming to a spy thriller, warning that “a red digital clock is ringing mercilessly at a bang that will end human life as we know it”.
“We are in much the same position, my fellow world leaders, as James Bond today,” Mr Johnson said. “The tragedy is that this is not a movie, and the apocalyptic device is real.”
But despite all of Monday’s terrible warnings, there were few specific proposals on how to cut emissions in the immediate future.
India, which has contributed relatively little to global emissions so far but is a growing source, has announced new targets that will keep coal at the heart of its power sector for at least a decade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India will also increase its 2030 target for the use of renewable energies, such as solar power.
Mr Biden urged countries to cooperate in the fight, highlighting the potential creation of millions of jobs globally linked to low-emission technologies.
“We’re still not up to the task,” Biden said. “There is no more time to stay behind, sit on the fence or argue with each other. It is a challenge of our collective life.
The underlying tension at the summit is the glaring mismatch between what the leaders of the world’s biggest warming have promised so far and what scientists and civic leaders say needs to be done.
There is also a disconnect between what was promised and what was actually delivered. Developing country leaders reminded at the summit, for example, that the poorest countries have yet to receive the $ 100 billion in annual climate assistance by 2020 that had already been pledged.
Several leaders, including Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, strongly insisted on a discussion on the loss and damage. They are indeed asking for some sort of reparation for countries that bear little responsibility for emissions that warm the earth – but which are already suffering the effects.
Late Monday, leaders of more than 100 countries, including Brazil and China, pledged to end deforestation by 2030, and a series of measures aim to make that goal a reality. Governments have committed $ 12 billion and private companies $ 7 billion to protect and restore forests in a variety of ways, including $ 1.7 billion for indigenous peoples.
But experts say the commitments countries have made to cut emissions fall short of what’s needed. And the question remains whether even these limited commitments can be met.
In the United States, Biden is struggling to meet his ambitious climate goals. He spent much of Monday talking about his ‘Build Better’ social and climate policy proposals. But in fact, his administration had already been forced to abandon the central policy of this bill – a move that would spur the electricity sector to switch from fossil fuels to renewables – due to objections from Senator Joe Manchin III. of West Virginia dependent on coal.
Mr Biden slashed his bill and instead offered to spend $ 550 billion on tax credits for renewables, electric vehicles and other efforts to tackle climate change. It would have helped the United States halfway to Mr Biden’s target of cutting emissions by up to 52% from 2005 by the end of the decade.
Mr. Biden’s national struggles have not gone unnoticed by leaders and activists around the world, especially in light of America’s history of abandoning global climate efforts, including the Paris Accords, that l The Obama administration signed, the Trump administration abandoned, and the Biden administration joined.
“You know, the United States has lost five years,” Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, said in an interview.
Mr. Biden addressed the issue directly at the summit.
“I guess I shouldn’t apologize,” he said, “but I apologize for the fact that the United States, in the last administration, withdrew from the Paris Accords and took us away. somehow put behind the eight ball. “
Mr Nasheed, whose low-lying island nation in the Indian Ocean is existentially threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change, said Mr Biden had a higher bar to meet due to actions of the Trump administration.
“They are back, but their ambition has to be much higher,” Nasheed said. “The United States is the richest country on the planet. They of course emitted more carbon than anyone else. And so there is a historical responsibility to do it right. “
American activists also denounced Mr. Biden’s speech.
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led nonprofit on climate change, called the president’s exhortation to other countries to cut emissions “humiliating” given his failure to adopt a climate legislation in his country.
Mr. Biden tried to make the United States a leader, and his aides sought to deflect international climate anger against China. Telling reporters on Air Force One, its national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the Chinese “significant outliers” and said Beijing has “an obligation to step up its ambitions as we move forward.”
The absence at the top of the leaders of Russia and China has cast doubts on the unity of the world in the struggle.
China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has proposed a new emissions target that is largely indistinguishable from the one it set six years ago. Russia has made no new commitments to reduce climate pollution this decade.
At the U.S. summit pavilion, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said she believed the world understood America’s legislative struggles and said she was confident a project legislation containing strong climate provisions would be adopted.
“I hope they will understand,” she said. “The president wants to pass it very soon, and I think he expects that.”
Catrin Einhorn contributed reporting from New York.