'One minute to midnight': Glasgow climate conference kicks off with addresses from world leaders

·Senior Editor
·3-min read

GLASGOW, Scotland — More than 120 world leaders are expected to speak Monday on the first day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, an event that has been billed as the “last, best hope” to keep global temperatures in check and avert the dire consequences of global warming. 

“It’s one minute to midnight, and we need to act now,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the delegates, according to prepared remarks shared with journalists. “We have to move from talk and debate and discussion to concerted, real-world action on coal, cars, cash and trees. Not more hopes and targets and aspirations, valuable though they are, but clear commitments and concrete timetables for change.”

But at the G-20 meeting that wrapped up on Sunday in Rome, the world’s leading economic powers failed to enact the kinds of sweeping new pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions that will be needed at Glasgow in order to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius in the coming decades. The leaders did agree to stop funding the construction of coal-fired power plants in developing nations. 

“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 António Guterres wrote on Twitter. “Onwards to #COP26 in Glasgow.”

Still, the leaders at the G-20 released a statement at the conclusion of their meeting declaring their intention to stand by the commitments already made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement. 

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Palestine's Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh as they arrive to attend the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. - COP26, running from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow will be the biggest climate conference since the 2015 Paris summit and is seen as crucial in setting worldwide emission targets to slow global warming, as well as firming up other key commitments. (Photo by Christopher Furlong / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, greets Palestine’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at the U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday. (Christopher Furlong/AFP via Getty Images)

“We remain committed to the Paris Agreement goal to hold the global average temperature increase well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels,” the statement read. 

While Glasgow will attract an impressive roster of world leaders, one notable absence is that of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will simply address the conference with a written statement. China, of course, is by far the leading emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and has so far refused to bolster its emissions targets despite the fact that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that current pledges have the world on course for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming. 

At the G-20, President Biden singled out China and Russia as not doing enough on climate change. 

“The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia and … China basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,” he told reporters.

Biden, who has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, will address the delegates Monday afternoon. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the conference. 

The conference kicks off in a year that has seen a dizzying number of extreme weather events that scientists have linked to climate change. Over the weekend, heavy rains hit Scotland, the host country for the climate conference, disrupting rail service, knocking down trees and flooding towns. Inundating rains flooded the Italian island of Sicily late last week, and videos of the flooding were just the latest examples of how extreme rainfall can quickly overwhelm urban infrastructure

“If Glasgow fails, the whole thing fails,” Johnson told reporters in Rome, saying the commitments made this year by the G-20 nations were “drops in a rapidly warming ocean.”

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades, step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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