World leaders given stark warnings on need to act on climate crisis

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Boris Johnson said leaders at Cop26 needed to get real about climate change (Yves Herman/PA) (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson said leaders at Cop26 needed to get real about climate change (Yves Herman/PA) (PA Wire)

World leaders have gathered at crunch climate talks in Glasgow where they were urged to take action to curb dangerous global warming for the sake of future generations.

Around 120 heads of state and government are attending the world leaders’ summit at the start of the Cop26 talks, where countries are under pressure to take more action this decade to cut the emissions driving rising temperatures.

There is also pressure on developed countries to deliver a long-promised 100 billion dollars (£73 billion) a year – and more – in climate finance to help poorer nations develop cleanly and deal with the inevitable impacts of a warming planet.

Some countries brought forward new targets to tackle global warming, including India which announced it would cut emissions to net zero by 2070.

It is significantly later than a global goal to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, which scientists say is necessary to avoid temperature rises above 1.5C and the worst impacts of climate change, and later than other countries, including China, which has said it will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

India also set out what were described as significant targets for 2030 to increase its clean capacity to 500 GW, get half of its energy from renewable resources, cut projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes between now and 2030, and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45%.

It also called for developed countries to deliver a trillion US dollars in climate finance for developing nations.

The announcements, which also included a net zero by 2050 commitment from Vietnam, came after stark speeches in the opening ceremony on the threat facing humanity.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres pointed to melting glaciers, relentless extreme weather events, sea level rise and overheating oceans, warning: “We are digging our own graves.”

He said while recent climate action announcements might give the impression the world was on track to turn things around, “this is an illusion” and that failure to act would be a death sentence for vulnerable countries.

The Prince of Wales greets the President of France Emmanuel Macron (right) (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)
The Prince of Wales greets the President of France Emmanuel Macron (right) (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

“On behalf of this and future generations, I urge you: Choose ambition. Choose solidarity. Choose to safeguard our future and save humanity,” he urged.

In his speech in the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the children who would judge today’s leaders are children not yet born, and their children, and warned that if leaders failed in Glasgow “they will not forgive us”.

“They will judge us with bitterness and with a resentment that eclipses any of the climate activists of today, and they will be right.”

Mr Johnson warned of the dangers of rising temperatures, jeopardising food supplies for hundreds of millions of people, more wildfires and eventually the loss of whole cities such as Miami, Alexandria and Shanghai.

He likened the plight of the planet to James Bond strapped to a doomsday device and hurtling towards destruction, warning “it was one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now”.

The anger and impatience of the world would be “uncontainable” unless Cop26 was the moment leaders got real about climate change, he said.

Channelling his hero Sir Winston Churchill Mr Johnson said: “While Cop26 would not be the end of climate change, it can and it must mark the beginning of the end.”

Naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough warned humanity is “already in trouble” due to burning fossil fuels, destroying nature and releasing carbon into the atmosphere, and said those least responsible were being hardest hit.

He said: “Perhaps the fact that the people affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generations but young people alive today, perhaps that will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story, to turn this tragedy into a triumph.”

Addressing the opening ceremony, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley urged world leaders to “try harder” on climate change in a bid to avoid a “death sentence” for developing countries.

In a blistering speech, she pushed those in attendance while launching a veiled attack at those who chose not to come to Glasgow for the key talks, which include China’s president Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The Prince of Wales urged the world to be on a “war-like footing” to tackle climate change, calling for a vast military-style campaign to marshal the strength of the global private sector and the trillions at its disposal to achieve the needed fundamental economic transition.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Among the world leaders attending the summit is US President Joe Biden, who used his speaking slot to call for Glasgow to “be the start of a decade of transformative action that preserves our planet and raises the quality of life for people everywhere”.

Acknowledging that those who were responsible for much of the problems faced had an “overwhelming obligation” to nations which were not, he said: “We can do this, we just have to make a choice to do it. So, let’s get to work.”

In the first of what is expected to be a number of announcements on tackling issues from restoring land to cutting emission from coal power and cars, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said he was set to pledge £732 million for land restoration in Africa.

Outside the summit, Greta Thunberg warned change would not come from the Cop26 conference as she criticised the “blah blah blah” of world leaders at the global gathering.

Other youth activists sailed into Glasgow on Greenpeace vessel the Rainbow Warrior, downriver from the Cop26 conference centre, to deliver a message to world leaders to stop failing on climate action.

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