This week at the COP26—the climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland—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, something he said put the country behind in its efforts. “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.
Modi also outlined shorter-term goals for the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter: Raising its goal for non-fossil energy production, meeting half of its energy needs with renewable sources, cutting carbon emissions by 1 billion tons compared with previous targets and reducing the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 percent—all by 2030.
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.”
The conference aims to get governments to commit to curbing carbon emissions fast enough to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.