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Leaders of major polluters China and Russia notably absent from climate confab

As things stand ‘there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,’ warns UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, calling reports of progress ‘an illusion’

Leaders of the G20 pose for a photo by the Trevi Fountain during an event for the G20 summit in Rome, October 31, 2021, laying the groundwork for the climate conference opening the same day in Glasgow. (Jeff J Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)
Leaders of the G20 pose for a photo by the Trevi Fountain during an event for the G20 summit in Rome, October 31, 2021, laying the groundwork for the climate conference opening the same day in Glasgow. (Jeff J Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)

More than 120 heads of state and government are gathering in Glasgow this week for the Global COP26 United Nations climate conference, including US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi and Israel’s Naftali Bennett.

But President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter, has not left his country during the COVID-19 pandemic and will not be traveling to Scotland to join his global counterparts.

Vladimir Putin of Russia, another major polluter, will also be a no-show.

The Glasgow gathering, which started Sunday and runs to November 12, comes as an accelerating onslaught of extreme weather events across the world underscores the devastating impacts of climate change from 150 years of burning fossil fuels.

As things stand “there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,” warned United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in comments to the G20 meeting in Rome on Saturday.

“Several recent climate announcements might leave the impression of a rosier picture,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is an illusion.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) toast before the fifth regular foreign ministers’ meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe on June 15, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / AFP)

Nations under pressure to reboot their COVID-lashed economies continue to subsidize fossil fuels, even as they tout renewables.

Much rests on commitment from G20 leaders of richer nations whose economies account for about 80 percent of carbon pollution.

They have collectively endorsed the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a final draft summit statement obtained by AFP on Sunday.

Some key G20 countries have not submitted their updated plans yet, including India. Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Russia have filed plans that are not in line with the Paris Agreement.

Details of how China will achieve its climate goals are now emerging, and the world is poring over them to see how China will strengthen its 2030 emissions reduction target, which currently involves cutting emissions 65% per unit of gross domestic product, moving up the date when the country’s emissions growth will peak, and setting industrial production targets for other greenhouse gases, such as methane.

A delicate dance between the United States and China, and deft diplomacy by France, was critical to reaching the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Six years later, a growing rivalry threatens to spiral down what had been a race to the top.

Britain’s President for COP26 Alok Sharma makes his opening speech at The Procedural Opening of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31, 2021, the first day of the conference (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

And with poorer nations least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions hit hardest by its impacts, inequality overshadows the negotiations.

The failure of rich countries to cough up $100 billion a year starting in 2020 to help developing nations lower emissions and adapt — a pledge first made in 2009 — will complicate the already fraught talks.

Opening the Glasgow gathering Sunday, summit president Alok Sharma said that the COP26 negotiations were the “last, best hope” to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive.

“We know that our shared planet is changing for the worse,” said Sharma at the opening ceremony.

Experts warn that only transformative action in the next ten years will help stave off far more cataclysmic impacts.

And the warming of the planet did not pause for the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the UN meeting to be delayed by a year.

COP26 inherits its central goal from the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, which saw countries agree to cap global warming at “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and 1.5°C if possible.

Delegates and officials take their seats for the Procedural Opening of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 31, 2021 (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)

That deal left many crucial details to be worked out, while emissions reductions remain woefully insufficient to avert global warming.

In August a bombshell “code red” report from the world’s top climate science body warned that Earth’s average temperature will hit the 1.5°C threshold around 2030, a decade earlier than projected only three years ago.

And last week a UN report said even the latest, most ambitious carbon-cutting commitments would still lead to “catastrophic” warming of 2.7°C.

COP26 now marks the “last, best hope to keep 1.5°C in reach,” said Sharma.

“If we act now and we act together we can protect our precious planet,” he said.

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