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World Leaders to Focus on Climate Change as Major Conference Opens

President Joe Biden arrives at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021.
President Joe Biden arrives at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021.

More than 100 world leaders gathered for a summit Monday as work begins at a two-week U.N. climate conference, with areas of focus expected to include pledges for emissions targets and funding to help developing nations cope with impacts from climate change.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is serving as host of the conference in Glasgow, Scotland, stressed the urgency of acting, saying humanity has waited for too long.

"If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow," Johnson said.

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, told reporters ahead of Monday’s summit that goals for the conference include raising “global ambition very significantly,” and for countries to commit to what he called a “decade of action” in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Kerry also highlighted the need to deal with the financial aspect of climate change, both the deployment of committed funds and helping developing nations with the damage they suffer.

“We also know that there’s real loss and damage out there, that there are nation-states that are talking about where their people are going to move because the sea level is rising. There are areas where people can no longer live. And there are migrants moving around the planet as a consequence of the destruction of habitat,” Kerry said. “I don’t think you can galvanize the kind of global action that you need to be able to accomplish our goals if we're not being sensitive and thoughtful about people up and down the economic food chain and people who have done nothing, in most cases, to contribute to the problem.”

The climate summit follows a meeting of G-20 leaders in Rome where they agreed to work to reach carbon neutrality “by around mid-century" and pledged to end financing for coal plants abroad by the end of this year, but failed to agree on phasing out coal domestically.

“While I welcome the #G20’s recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter.

The leaders issued their final communique Sunday at the end of a two-day summit.

They also addressed efforts to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with a global commitment made in 2015 with the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,” the communique said.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking at a press conference in Rome on Sunday, said while people were disappointed that Russia and China leaders didn’t “show up” with commitments about climate change, the leaders who did attend made “significant progress.”

“I think you are going to see we have made significant progress and more has to be done,” he said. “It’s going to require us to continue to focus on what China’s not doing, what Russia is not doing and what Saudi Arabia is not doing.”

The grouping of 19 countries and the European Union accounts for more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In October, two dozen countries joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Coal, though, is a bigger point of contention. G-20 members China and India have resisted attempts to produce a declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

G-20 Ends Without Agreement to Phase Out Coal
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Climate financing, namely pledges from wealthy nations to provide $100 billion a year to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is another key concern. Indonesia, a large greenhouse gas emitter that will take over the G-20 presidency in December, urged developed countries to fulfill their financing commitments both in Rome and in Glasgow.

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.