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Climate leaders push to 'seize this moment'

The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland opened on Sunday for almost two weeks of critical negotiations on how to slow global warming.

Scotland's Glasgow Central Station before the start of COP26
Scotland's Glasgow Central Station before the start of COP26 (AN/Daniel Richardson)

A much-anticipated United Nations climate summit opened in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday with delegates from almost 200 nations starting nearly two weeks of negotiations over how to slow global warming and adapt to the harm already unfolding.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the event was expected to draw tens of thousands of participants and potentially even more demonstrators to press for concrete action. The world's top scientists and climate advocates say the stakes could not be higher.

Government leaders, researchers, youth activists and journalists gathered for the 26th annual U.N. conference on climate change, which is scheduled to end on November 12. As one of the biggest political gatherings since the pandemic began, the summit sponsored under the platform of the U.N. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, is meant to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement's promise to lower planet-warming emissions and slow climate change.

Large-scale cuts in carbon dioxide, methane and other climate-warming gases, mainly from fossil-fuel burning and other human activities, are essential to accomplishing the Paris deal that aims to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

But a key threshold of that deal — limiting temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible above pre-industrial levels — could be overrun as soon as 2024, the World Meteorological Organization warned last year.

"Paris was the engagement party. Now we’re at the wedding, waiting to see if the key countries and corporations are ready to say ‘I do,' " Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said. "Glasgow needs to see real commitment, ambition and action. If leaders are wise, they will seize this moment."

'The cry of the Earth'

With the summit looming, leaders of the Group of 20 major economies that are responsible for more than 75% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions met in Rome to discuss ending public financing for coal-fired power plants in other countries and seeking carbon neutrality by or around mid-2050.

Yet the G-20 gathering hosted by Italy set no clear targets for ending the domestic use of coal, while China and Russia disavowed the Western-led push to acheive zero net fossil fuel emissions by mid-century.

"We will accelerate our actions across mitigation, adaptation and finance, acknowledging the key relevance of achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by or around mid-century and the need to strengthen global efforts required to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement," the leaders said.

"We commit to mobilize international public and private finance to support green, inclusive and sustainable energy development," they said, "and we will put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021."

Pope Francis urged crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday to "pray so that the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” is heard at the Glasgow summit, which was postponed for a year due the pandemic.

Scientists have made clear that "the window to keep 1.5 degrees within reach is closing," said Alok Sharma, the U.K. government minister who is chairing the U.N. climate talks.

"Friends, in each of our countries we are seeing the devastating impact of a changing climate. Floods, cyclones, wildfires, record temperatures. We know that our shared planet is changing for the worse," he said. "And we can only address that together, through this international system. And we know what we need to do. Because six years ago, in Paris we agreed our shared goals."