FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 08, 2021
A 12-day United Nations climate conference that continues through this Friday in Glasgow, Scotland, has a sweeping focus with high stakes. Representatives of over 190 countries and organizations are talking about how to slow climate change that contributes to more intense and more frequent hurricanes, droughts, floods and wildfires. In his formal remarks, President Biden warned of an "existential threat to human existence as we know it." (See video below.)
The gathering's formal name is the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or Cop26 for short. It was delayed a year by Covid-19. The main goal is to get countries to commit to more ambitious, detailed plans to cut their planet-warming emissions. It opened with a two-day "leaders' summit" last week, when heads of state outlined their positions. Most then flew home, leaving energy and environmental officials from each country to negotiate terms of a hoped-for new agreement.
Discussions involve fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), the rise of renewable energy sources (wind, hydro, solar, biomass) and the speed of clean energy transitions. Also on the agenda are the rights of Indigenous people and the obligations of rich countries to less wealthy ones. All of that is framed by a sense of urgency to protect people, wildlife, oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and cropland from steadily rising temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans. Melting glaciers and ice caps, dying corals and rising sea levels are linked to emissions from factories, traditional vehicles and planes, and other carbon-burning sources.
Wherever they live, conference participants can see and feel the impact of climate change. Just this year, extraordinary storms, heat and wind-whipped wildfires have broken records and destroyed lives. "This was a really extreme year," said Radley Horton, a research professor at Columbia University in New York City. "Right now we're seeing the climate extremes changing so fast." But the absence of leaders from Russia, China and Brazil from the Glasgow meeting shows the difficulty of achieving global unity on environmental goals that would have significant costs and impacts on industries such as mining, energy drilling, transportation and manufacturing.
President Biden says: "Climate change is already ravaging the world. We are standing at an inflection point in world history." – Nov. 1 remarks at conference
UN leader says: "Sea level rise has doubled from 30 years ago. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves." – Secretary-General António Guterres
British prime minister says: "This is not a movie and the doomsday device is real. Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It is one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock, and we need to act now." – Boris Johnson