COP26 leaders warned of 'doomsday' as India vows to reduce emissions to net zero by 2070

World leaders, environmental experts and activists are pleading for decisive action to halt the global warming that threatens the future of the planet at the start of the two-week COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Biden apologizes for Trump's pulling out of Paris accord

Climate change a doomsday device, Boris Johnson says

3 months ago
Duration 3:22
'If we don't get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,' said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the opening of COP26 in Glasgow. He compared climate change to a doomsday device, saying it's one minute to midnight. (Credit: pool via Reuters/Jeff J Mitchell) 3:22

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

World leaders, environmental experts and activists all pleaded for decisive action to halt the global warming which 
threatens the future of the planet at the start of the two-week COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Monday.

But the high aspirations and apocalyptic imagery at the start of the summit were soon met with a cold dose of reality. India's prime minister said his country will aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070 — two decades after the United States and at least 10 years later than China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the goal of reaching "net zero" by 2070 was one of five measures India, as the world's third-biggest emitter, planned to undertake to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord.

In his opening address, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared the world is strapped to a "ticking doomsday device," likening an ever-warming Earth's position to that of fictional secret agent James Bond — strapped to a bomb that will destroy the planet and trying to work out how to defuse it by reducing the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

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Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden offered a more measured warning, in which he also apologized for his predecessor Donald Trump's temporarily pulling the U.S. out of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, something Biden said put the country "behind the eight ball" in its efforts.

"There's no more time to sit back,"  Biden told the summit on Monday. "Every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases."

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, speaking at a rally outside the summit, accused leaders inside the event of "pretending to take our futures seriously." 

"Change is not going to come from inside there," she told supporters. "That is not leadership, this is leadership. This is what leadership looks like. We say no more blah blah blah. No more exploitation of people and nature and the planet.

"We are sick and tired of it and we are going to make the change whether they like it or not."

WATCH | Politicians at COP26 only 'pretending' to take future seriously, says Thunberg: 

Politicians at COP26 only 'pretending' to take future seriously, says Thunberg

3 months ago
Duration 0:29
Climate activist Greta Thunberg says real leadership on climate change will not come from politicians attending the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, because they are only 'pretending to take our futures seriously.' (Andrew Milligan/The Associated Press) 0:29

The world leaders' summit portion of the Conference of Parties (COP), as it's known, meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in the early 1990s, and subsequent climate agreements.

The conference is aimed at getting agreement to curb carbon emissions fast enough to keep global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed 1.1 C. Current projections based on planned emissions cuts over the next decade are for it to hit 2.7 C by the year 2100.

'We are digging our own graves'

The gloomy note by Britain's leader came after leaders from the Group of 20 major economies made only modest climate commitments at their summit in Rome this weekend.

And that mood got only darker when United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres followed him.

"We are digging our own graves," Guterres said. "Our planet is changing before our eyes — from the ocean depths to mountaintops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events."

Johnson and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, right, greet Honduras's President Juan Orlando Hernandez at the conference on Monday. (Alastair Grant/Reuters)

For its part, Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, as he called on other resource-rich countries to dramatically curb their own emissions.

"The science is clear — we must do more, faster," he said during his two-minute speech at the summit. 

WATCH | Trudeau say Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector: 

Trudeau delivers Canada's national statement at COP26 summit

3 months ago
Duration 4:59
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector during his remarks at COP26 summit in Glasgow. 4:59

French President Emmanuel Macron, in addition to coaxing big carbon-polluting nations to promise more stringent emission cuts, said European nations now have to shift from promises to action.

The idea is that they will do the big political give-and-take, setting out broad outlines of agreement, and then have other government officials hammer out the nagging but crucial details. That's what worked to make the historic 2015 Paris climate deal a success, former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press.

"For heads of state, it is actually a much better use of their strategic thinking," Figueres said.

In Paris, the two signature goals — the 1.5 C limit and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — were created by this leaders-first process, Figueres said. In the unsuccessful 2009 Copenhagen meeting, the leaders swooped in at the end.

Who's not there

But it was the handful of leaders who were absent from the Glasgow summit that stood out most.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the opening ceremony of COP26 in Glasgow on Monday. Modi says his country will aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Xi Jinping, president of top carbon-polluting country China, won't be in Glasgow. Figueres said his absence isn't that big a deal because he isn't leaving the country during the pandemic and his climate envoy is a veteran negotiator.

In a written statement delivered at the summit on Monday, Xi called on all parties to take stronger action to jointly tackle the climate challenge, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Chinese president also urged developed countries to not only do more but also support developing nations to do 
better on climate change, Xinhua said. 

Biden has chided China and Russia for their less-than-ambitious efforts to curb emissions and blamed them for a disappointing G20 statement on climate change.

The heads of several major emerging economies beyond China are also skipping the summit, including those from Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. That leaves India's Modi the only leader present from the so-called BRICS countries, which account for more than 40 per cent of global emissions.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over more than two years of deforestation, announced his country would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, compared with a previous pledge of 43 per cent in that period.
However, the cuts are calculated against emissions levels in 2005, a baseline which was retroactively revised last year, 
making it easier for Brazil's targets to be met.

$100B in climate aid eyed

Increased warming over coming decades would melt much of the planet's ice, raise global sea levels and greatly increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather, scientists say. With every tenth of a degree of warming, the dangers soar faster, they say.

The other goals for the meeting are for rich nations to give poor nations $100 billion US a year in climate aid and to reach an agreement to spend half of the money to adapt to worsening climate impacts.

But Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, speaking for vulnerable island nations, warned on Monday negotiators are falling short.

"This is immoral and it is unjust," Mottley said. "Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?"

Before the UN climate summit, the G20 leaders, at the close of their meeting, offered vague climate pledges instead of commitments of firm action, saying they would seek carbon neutrality "by or around mid-century." The countries also agreed to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad, but set no target for phasing out coal domestically — a clear nod to China and India.

The G20 countries represent more than three-quarters of the world's climate-damaging emissions and G20 summit host Italy, and Britain, which is hosting the Glasgow conference, had been hoping for more ambitious targets coming out of Rome.


  • This story has been updated to correct that the goal is to keep global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, not below.
    Nov 01, 2021 11:52 AM ET

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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