GLASGOW, Scotland — World leaders turned up the heat and resorted to end-of-the-world rhetoric Monday in an attempt to bring new urgency to sputtering international climate negotiations.
The metaphors were dramatic and mixed at the start of the talks, known as COP26. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described global warming as “a doomsday device” strapped to humanity. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told his colleagues that humans are “digging our own graves.”
And Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, speaking for vulnerable island nations, added moral thunder, warning leaders not to “allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.”
Amid the speeches, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his coal-dependent 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. Modi said the goal of reaching “net zero” by 2070 was one of five measures India planned to undertake to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel avoided soaring rhetoric and delved into policy.
“There’s no more time to sit back,” Biden said in a more measured warning that also apologized for his predecessor’s decision to temporarily pull the U.S. out of the historic 2015 Paris agreement. “Every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases.”
One of the United Nations’ biggest concerns is that some countries are more focused on amorphous long-term net-zero goals instead of seeking cuts this decade that could prevent temperature increases that would exceed the Paris goal.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen touted already announced efforts to make Europe “the first net-zero continent” in the long-term and cut emissions 55% in this decade. She pushed for other rich countries to aid poorer nations as much as Europe does and put a price on carbon emissions because “nature cannot pay that price anymore.”
Johnson pointed out that the 130-plus world leaders gathered for the leaders’ summit portion of the conference had an average age of over 60, while the generations most harmed by climate change aren’t yet born.
Outside the negotiations, youth climate activist Greta Thunberg accused world leaders of “pretending to take our future seriously.”
“Change is not going to come from inside there,” Thunberg said, “We say no more blah-blah-blah.”
President Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan of the Seychelles sounded a note of urgency in his remarks.
“We are already gasping for survival,” the island nation’s leader said. “Tomorrow is not an option for it will be too late.”
The U.N. secretary-general struck an equally gloomy note.
“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.”
Speeches continue through Tuesday after which other government officials will attempt to hammer out the details of an agreement.
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