Cop26 hears Biden's call for a decade of climate action

US President apologises for his country's withdrawal from 2015 Paris Agreement

President Joe Biden told world leaders gathered at the global climate summit in Glasgow that catastrophic change could be averted for the next decade, but there was no time to waste.

In a call to set aside delay and inaction, the US leader said an ambitious response to climate change would generate opportunities for jobs and growth around the world.

“Glasgow must be the kick-off of a decade of ambition,” he told the meeting in the Scottish city that was a major world port after the Industrial Revolution.

“We meet with the eyes of history upon us. Every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases, so let this be the moment when we answer history's call, here in Glasgow.”

Mr Biden recalled Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and offered his apologies for this setback. “I shouldn’t apologise, but I do apologise for the fact the United States, the last administration, pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” he said.

“We're standing at an inflection point in world history. Climate change is already ravaging the world. It's not hypothetical. It's destroying people's lives and livelihoods.”

It was possible that the work to avert Climate Change could lead to more prosperity, Mr Biden stressed as he sought to motivate the nearly 200 nations at the Cop26 meeting.

“Within the growing catastrophe I believe there's an incredible opportunity – not just for the United States, but for all of us,” he said.

The US has offered $3 billion a year of US finance for vulnerable nations adapt to rising seas, droughts and other consequences of global warming, part of its $11.4 billion climate finance annual offer from 2024.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, chided the meeting for the lack of progress on pushing back the global temperature rise. He struck a strident tone, saying that humanity was digging its grave.

“It's time to say: enough,” Mr Guterres said. “Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the host's prerogative to invoke the heroic intervention that fictional spy James Bond might make to avert disaster.

“We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond, today,” Mr Johnson said. “The tragedy is that this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real.”

Having “long since run down the clock on climate change” the only real hope was that technology exists to “deactivate that doomsday device”.

“We have the technology, we can find the finance, and the question for all of us today is whether we have the will,” he said. “All those promises will be nothing but ‘blah blah blah’, to coin a phrase, and the anger and the impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make this Cop26 in Glasgow the moment we get real about climate change, and we can,” Mr Johnson said in his opening speech.

The remarks recalled the pronouncement of Greta Thunberg, who mocked the sound bites of world leaders, saying: “There is no Planet B, there is no planet Blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah.”

In what is likely to a be parting shot at a global meeting, departing German Chancellor Angel Merkel said societies, not governments, could save the earth.

“We’re not in the place where we need to be,” Mrs Merkel said. “Action by the state won’t move us forward on its own. Rather, it will take a comprehensive transformation of the way we live, work and our economic activity.”

Activitists and campaigners told the meeting of first-hand experience of climate pressures.

Kenyan environment and climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti said: “We need you to respond with courage to the climate and ecological crisis for these next two weeks, which are so critical for the children, for our species, for so many other living beings. Let us step into our hearts.”

The World Leaders Summit on Monday and Tuesday is designed to send signals to negotiators to set their sights on ambitious targets for accelerated action. Its organisers hope to demonstrate the Paris Agreement framework can deliver increased commitments on finance, emissions and adaptation.

“You all have the power here today to be better. You wield the weapons that can save us or sell us out,” said Brianna Fruean, a Samoan climate activist.

The most likely outcomes are commitments on consigning coal to history, promoting electric cars, reducing deforestation and addressing methane emissions.

Sir David Attenborough, the British broadcaster and climate specialist, urged delegates to put in the effort to bring about a historic breakthrough.

“As you spend the next two weeks debating, negotiating, persuading and compromising as you surely must, it’s easy to forget that ultimately the emergency climate comes down to a single number – the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere,” he said.

“The measure that greatly determines global temperature and the changes in that one number is the clearest way to chart our own story. For it defines our relationship with our world.

“A new industrial revolution powered by millions of sustainable innovations is essential and is indeed already beginning. We will all share in the benefits affordable clean energy, healthy air and enough food to sustain us all. Nature is a key ally. Wherever we restore the wild, it will recapture carbon and help us bring back balance to our planet.”

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 7:20 AM
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