Boris kicks off COP26 warning leaders it is a 'minute to midnight'

COP out? Desperate Boris welcomes leaders to Glasgow summit warning it is a ‘minute to midnight’ to stop climate disaster – but Xi Jinping will not even give ‘virtual’ speech after snub and Turkish President stays away

  • World leaders are arriving for the key COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow 
  • Boris Johnson will tell world leaders that it is ‘one minute to midnight’ in speech
  • Prime Minister will also pledge to put another billion pounds into green finance  
  • The aim of the summit is to strike a deal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees 
  • Mr Johnson warned world leaders their promises are starting to ‘sound hollow’

Boris Johnson is kicking off the COP26 summit today exhorting world leaders to back up their climate change talk with action – warning it is ‘one minute to midnight’.

The PM has been welcoming foreign premiers to the gathering in Glasgow as he desperately tries to get momentum – after securing only lukewarm commitments at the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend. 

However, hopes for the UN event have suffered more blows, as it emerged that China’s president Xi Jinping will not even give a ‘virtual’ speech, instead only submitting a written statement.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also announced he will not be coming, despite attending the G20. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, both in charge of big polluters, have declined to attend. 

In a speech later, Mr Johnson will pledge to put another billion pounds into green finance, as long as the UK economy performs as expected. 

The PM will repeat that he wants global leaders to unveil steps on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ – the things he believes will make the most different in limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. 

Mr Johnson is individually welcoming around 120 leaders to the summit – which will last a fortnight.  

He set the tone as the G20 wrapped up last night by reading the riot act to his fell, saying their promises on tackling climate change are starting to ‘sound hollow’. 

The PM said there are ‘no compelling excuses for our procrastination’ on reducing harmful emissions and action already taken amounts to ‘drops in a rapidly warming ocean’.

The warnings came as:

  • One of the biggest security operations ever mounted in Britain got underway in Glasgow, amid warnings that climate protesters plan serious disruption; 
  • A report by the UN’s weather agency warned that sea levels were now rising twice as fast as in the 1990s; 
  • The PM told French president Emmanuel Macron to drop threats to penalise Britain, as environmentalists warned a growing spat over fishing rights risked overshadowing the climate summit; 
  • Ministers are closing in on a deal to end deforestation by paying poorer countries not to fell trees; 
  • Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, warned that the Pacific archipelago could disappear underwater unless the Glasgow summit achieves its aims;
  • Climate poster girl Greta Thunberg backed direct action groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, saying it was necessary to ‘anger some people’ to get the message through.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (right) and Boris Johnson (left) welcomed Palestine’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh as he arrived at COP26 today

Mr Johnson greets Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani, left, and St Lucia’s Prime Minister Philip Joseph Pierre, right

Delegates queue to get into the summit in Glasgow today. Storms caused travel chaos for thousands yesterday  

Boris Johnson will warn world leaders that humanity has ‘run down the clock’ on climate change and must get serious about action in his speech to the COP26 summit

The PM has been welcoming foreign premiers to the gathering in Glasgow alongside the UN Secretary General as he desperately tries to get momentum – after securing only lukewarm commitments at the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend

What are the key aims at COP26? 

  • Secure commitments on cutting emissions by 2030 and reaching Net Zero as close to 2050 as possible.
  • Keep alive hopes of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.
  • Phase out unabated coal power stations, drum up investment in renewable energy.
  • Strike deals on reducing deforestation.  
  • Rack up $100billion in climate finance pledges.
  • Finalise rules to implement the Paris Agreement.   

In a round of interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK is ‘putting a lot of pressure’ on Mr Putin and President Xi regardless of their absence.

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘Both of those leaders are sending senior delegations to Glasgow so there will be representation in person here in Glasgow.

‘The Prime Minister has spoken to both Vladimir Putin and President Xi, we’re putting a lot of pressure on those countries.

‘Because in order to tackle climate change it needs to be global action and those countries are high emitters of carbon dioxide.’

Ms Truss also defended the huge carbon toll of world leaders – including US president Joe Biden – flying to Glasgow to talk in person.

‘I think everybody who has ever done a Zoom call knows that they are quite useful for some things but when you really get into crunch negotiations, when you want to look somebody in the eye and talk to them face-to-face you do need to meet in person, and this is really critical,’ she said.

‘World leaders are going to have to make some tough decisions about what’s going on in their own countries, they’re going to have to commit to things they didn’t necessarily want to when they arrived at the conference and that’s why it’s really important that we do have people face-to-face.’ 

Mr Johnson is expected to say later: ‘Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change.

‘It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now.

‘If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.’ 

He will add: ‘We have to move from talk and debate and discussion to concerted, real-world action on coal, cars, cash and trees.

‘Not more hopes and targets and aspirations, valuable though they are, but clear commitments and concrete timetables for change.

‘We need to get real about climate change and the world needs to know when that’s going to happen.’ 

The PM will be backed by Prince Charles, who will also speak at the opening, telling leaders: ‘We have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.’

He will go on to urge nations to systematically engage with business to solve the climate problems we face, adding: ‘We need a vast military-style campaign to marshal the strength of the global private sector, with trillions at its disposal.’ 

Many leaders were travelling from the G20 summit in Rome. These countries are responsible for an estimated 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Mr Johnson had hoped for a ‘G20 bounce’ as a stepping stone to a deal in Glasgow. 

But leaders rejected his call to commit to going carbon neutral by 2050. A bid to ban the construction of new coal-fired power stations was also blocked. 

Speaking at the G20 summit in Rome, the PM said that only 12 of the club’s members have committed to reaching a target of net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. 

Dramatically raising the stakes, he said that if the forthcoming gathering in Glasgow fails to secure a major breakthrough ‘then the whole thing fails’. 

Mr Johnson said world leaders must now flesh out the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, warning that failing to do so will leave ‘the world’s only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change… holed beneath the water line’. 

The premier escalated his rhetoric amid fears the summit in Glasgow will be a flop after the G20 watered down its Net Zero ambition to ‘by or around mid-century’.

The PM has been trying to use the Rome summit of powerful nations including China and Russia to build momentum ahead of COP26, which formally got underway this afternoon and will see world leaders meet for talks tomorrow.  

But although the communique from the G20 backed urgent action, it gave more wriggle-room for emissions to continue, with an original goal of ‘2050’ replaced by looser language. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the G20 summit had not gone far enough in advancing climate goals but he still believed in the leaders heading to Scotland.

‘While I welcome the G20’s recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled – but at least they are not buried,’ he said.

More than 120 leaders are expected to attend today’s summit in Glasgow, which kicks off a fortnight of intense negotiations designed to secure a global deal on cutting emissions. 

Mr Biden and Indian PM Narendra Modi are among the major figures due to take part.

But, in a sign of the global divisions on the issue, the leaders of several major polluting nations have turned down invitations.  

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov yesterday publicly rejected Mr Johnson’s bid to get the entire world to commit to becoming ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050.

Mr Johnson has already admitted that he was stonewalled by China’s Xi Jinping in a call when he suggested the giant economy should aim for carbon output to peak by 2025 instead of 2030. 

Speaking at the G20 summit, Mr Lavrov said Moscow was targeting a 2060 date, adding: ‘No one has proved to us that 2050 is something we must all subscribe to.’ 

China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, is also resisting pressure to go carbon neutral before 2060, with president Xi rebutting a personal plea from Mr Johnson last week.

And a hoped-for deal to phase out the construction of new coal-fired power stations by 2030 fell apart. Major coal users including China, India, Australia and Russia are said to have blocked the deal.

Asked about the chances of success at Cop26 last night, the PM said: ‘I think it’s sort of six out of ten. It’s a bit of nip and tuck and touch and go. We could do it or we could fail by the middle of November.’  

Meanwhile, the start of COP26 has been disrupted by storms in the UK that have blocked train services north from London – leaving thousands of delegates unable to make it to Glasgow.   

In interviews over the weekend, COP26 President Alok Sharma dampened hopes of a significant breakthrough at the summit by saying it is going to be ‘really, really tough’ for world leaders to strike a deal. 

Mr Sharma said there are now two weeks to get an agreement ‘over the line’ as thousands of delegates from across the globe arrive in Glasgow for the gathering.    

The UN summit is aiming to persuade countries around the world to agree action to restrict global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. 

Mr Sharma has urged world leaders to ‘leave the ghosts of the past’ behind them as he said ‘they have to deliver’ on the promises they have made to cut harmful emissions.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Xi are both snubbing the COP26 summit by not attending in person – although they will contribute virtually. 

Addressing reporters in Rome this afternoon, Mr Johnson said that after ‘hundreds of summits, speeches, press conferences’ the promises made by world leaders are ‘starting to sound, frankly, hollow’.

He said: ‘The science is clear that we need to act now to halve emissions by 2030 and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.

‘There are no compelling excuses for our procrastination. Not only have we acknowledged the problem we are already seeing first hand the devastation climate change causes, from heat waves and droughts to wild fires and hurricanes.

‘Unlike many other global challenges, the solution to climate change is clear, it lies in consigning dirty fossil fuels like coal to history, ditching gas guzzling modes of transport and recognising the role that nature plays in preserving life on this planet.

‘And harnessing the power of nature through renewable energy rather than orchestrating its destruction.

‘If we don’t act now, the Paris Agreement will be looked at in the future not as the moment that humanity opened its eyes to the problem but the moment we flinched and turned away.’

Mr Johnson listed a number of promises made by nations to address climate change but said none of them went far enough. 

‘These commitments, welcome as they are, are drops in a rapidly warming ocean when we consider the challenge we have all admitted is ahead of us,’ he said. 

Delegates, campaigners and journalists travelling by train to the Glasgow climate conference fell victim to a weather chaos today after a fallen tree on a railway line. Pictured: London Euston is exit only due to overcrowding and suspended services

‘Just 12 G20 members have committed to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier. Barely half of us have submitted improved plans for how we will cut carbon emissions since the Paris summit in 2015.

‘We have also failed to meet our commitments to provide $100billion a year to support development countries to grow in a clean and sustainable way.

‘The UN says emissions will rise by 15 per cent by 2030 and they need to halve by then. The countries most responsible for historic and present day emissions are not yet doing their fair share of the work.

‘If we are going to prevent COP26 from being a failure then that must change. And I must be clear that if Glasgow fails then the whole thing fails.

‘The Paris Agreement will have crumpled at the first reckoning. The world’s only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change will be holed beneath the water line.’ 

Leaders at the G20 agreed on carbon neutrality ‘by or around mid-century’ as the conference came to a close just ahead of COP.

Politicians attending the event in Rome also pledged to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad.

But they set no target for phasing out domestic coal. 

According to the final communique from the summit, the G20 reaffirmed past commitments by rich countries to provide 100 billion US dollars annually to help poorer countries cope with climate change.

Leaders agreed to ‘put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021’.

G20 leaders said they 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’.

Downing Street said COP26 will be one of the biggest events the UK has ever hosted, with 25,000 delegates expected from 196 countries and the European Union.

Ministers, climate negotiators, civil society and business leaders are set to take part in talks and debates over the course of the two-week conference.

Mr Johnson said last week it will be ‘touch and go’ if the gathering will be a success having previously been bullish on the chances of a breakthrough.  

He replied: ‘As you said in your introduction, my job is effectively to act as shepherd in chief. This is on leaders.

‘It was leaders who made the commitment in Paris. It is leaders of the biggest economies meeting now at the G20 and they need to come forward and collectively we need to agree how we are going to address this gap.’ 

Mr Sharma said he expected COP26 to be ‘in many ways tougher than Paris’ because the 2015 pact was a ‘framework agreement’ and ‘some of the most difficult rules are still outstanding after six years’. 

‘That makes it really challenging and, of course, we know that the geopolitics is more difficult than it was at the time of Paris,’ he said.  

He said: ‘We need as many people as possible to agree go to net zero so that they are not producing too much carbon dioxide by the middle of the century.

‘Now, I think it can be done. It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit.

‘And I’m very worried, because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need. It’s touch and go.’ 

Mr Johnson said in comments released last night that he hopes world leaders will arrive in Glasgow ready to agree ‘decisive action’. 

He said: ‘Cop26 will be the world’s moment of truth. The question everyone is asking is whether we seize this moment or let it slip away.

‘I hope world leaders will hear them and come to Glasgow ready to answer them with decisive action. 

‘Together, we can mark the beginning of the end of climate change – and end the uncertainty once and for all.’

It was claimed earlier this month that Mr Sharma was angry at Mr Johnson for building up expectations ahead of the summit amid Cabinet fears it will be a ‘damp squib’.

Mr Sharma was said to be ‘raging’ at the PM for ‘ramping up’ hopes of a breakthrough in Glasgow. 

Some ministers believe the Government’s messaging ahead of the summit has been too bullish and is ‘completely out of control’. Allies of Mr Sharma denied that he was angry with the PM.

The Cop26 summit is a successor to the 2015 Paris Summit, when leaders agreed to limit the global increase in temperatures to below 1.5 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. 

Last month, Mr Johnson published a controversial £1trillion plan to meet the ‘net zero’ commitments, including a ban on gas boilers and a switch to electric vehicles. 

But yesterday he said ‘barely half’ of G20 countries have so far said how they will meet the commitment they made in Paris in 2015. The summit is due to last for a fortnight, with world leaders attending for the first two days. 

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