GLASGOW — The first day of climate talks got off to a rocky start.
Critics swiftly played down the hours-old agreement struck by world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Rome on Sunday as symbolic. The deal fell short, they said, making it harder for the next two weeks of climate talks, led by the United Nations, to yield meaningful results aimed at curbing climate disasters.
And organizers kept a close eye on flooding this weekend that forced people from their homes and disrupted travel in Britain for some of the 20,000 people arriving here in Glasgow, driving home the urgency of these talks.
“The climate is sending you a message,” Saleemul Huq, the director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said in a tweet.“Welcome” he said, to the era of constant devastation, “from human-induced climate change.”
The gathering in Scotland to try to avert even worse consequences of climate change was always going to be a challenge. For one thing, it is taking place during a pandemic.
A daily negative rapid coronavirus test, registered with the government, is required for entry, and delegates could be seen putting cotton swabs up their noses outside the tented U.N. hall. Masks are mandatory in the hallways, and British scientists have said they fear that the summit could become a superspreader event.
On top of that, countries have been known to fall short of reaching their goals at past conferences. The summit’s nickname, after all, is COP26, which refers to the 26th “conference of the parties” to the United Nations climate change convention.
That means the U.N. has been trying to help solve climate change for more than a quarter century.
The closest countries came to success was in 2015, when nearly 200 nations agreed in Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions and set a collective goal of ensuring that the rise in global temperatures remains “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Despite the promises, scientists say the planet is on a trajectory toward a dangerous 2.7-degree temperature rise by 2100.
Today, countries are being asked to help limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. It may seem like a small difference, but that additional heat could mean the disappearance of coral reefs, far lower global crop yields and water scarcity for millions of more people.
And wealthy countries will be asked to keep a promise they made more than a decade ago but never fulfilled: to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020 to poor countries to help them pivot away from fossil fuels and build resilience to climate change.
So here’s what to expect: Over the next two days, world leaders, including President Biden, will make speeches promising action.
But the real work begins after they leave, when deputy ministers and diplomats try to iron out the details of an agreement that scientists hope will keep the world on a 1.5-degree trajectory of rising temperatures.
“This is the last decade the world has to avoid the worst impacts of global warming,” Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, plans to say on Monday morning, according to excerpts from his prepared remarks. “I plead that we do not squander this crucial opportunity.”
The next two days of the United Nations-led climate talks in Glasgow will be an opportunity to hear from nearly 100 heads of state and governments on what steps they plan to take to tackle climate change.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain will be one of the first speakers, welcoming the more than 100 guests to the World Leaders Summit. He will be followed by the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, and other dignitaries, including Prince Charles, and David Attenborough, the nature documentarian. Standard fare for conferences, there will be a cultural performance.
In the afternoon, the leaders will give brief speeches that lay out “concrete actions and credible plans” through Tuesday, according to organizers. The presidents and prime ministers will then have time to break off into one-on-one meetings.
The focus will be on what the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations, known as the Group of 20, will say. On Sunday, they wrapped up a meeting in Rome, agreeing on language that they hoped would frame the talks in Glasgow. The speeches will be opportunities for them to outline real-world actions.
The speakers list includes President Biden, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and President Narendra Modi of India. Of note, President Xi Jinping of China will not make an appearance.
The speeches are a preamble to the nuts-and-bolt negotiations that diplomats and climate experts will engage in during the next two weeks, in the hope of making progress on an overall plan to confront climate change.
Shortly before traveling to the summit, Mr. Biden, who is also scheduled to make a statement on Monday, said that he would “be there with bells on.”
In Glasgow, President Biden will try to convince a gathering of world leaders that the United States, which has pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other nation, is finally serious about addressing climate change and that others should follow its lead.
But Mr. Biden is coming with a weaker hand than he had hoped.
He has been forced to abandon the most powerful mechanism in his climate agenda: a program that would have quickly cleaned up the electricity sector by rewarding power companies that migrated away from fossil fuels and penalizing those that did not. His fallback strategy is a bill that would provide $555 billion in clean energy tax credits and incentives. It would be the largest amount ever spent by the United States to tackle global warming but would cut only about half as much pollution.
And that proposal is still pending; Mr. Biden was unable to bridge divisions between progressives and moderates in his own party to cement a deal before leaving for Glasgow. If the legislation passes, he hopes to pair it with new environmental regulations, although they have yet to be completed and could be undone by a future president.
By making climate action a central theme of his presidency, Mr. Biden won praise from diplomats and other leaders, who expressed relief after President Donald J. Trump scoffed at climate science and withdrew the United States from global efforts to address the crisis.
But they remain skeptical, having seen other American presidents promise ambitious action to confront climate change, only to fall short.
After President Biden arrives in Glasgow on Monday, he will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, along with the leaders of more than 100 other countries to try to slow the pace of climate change.
But the U.N. climate summit has some notable expected no-shows. They include Xi Jinping of China, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the presidents of three countries seen as crucial for the success of the talks.
The presence of heads of state and government at the talks is not just symbolic. Real work gets done among leaders that can’t happen among lower-level diplomats. During the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, President Barack Obama barged in to a secret meeting being held by the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The discussions that came after helped clinch a deal, albeit a weak one.
So the high-profile absences this time have dismayed some experts.
“Even as most democracies are making ambitious climate commitments, the world’s most powerful autocrats in Beijing, Moscow and elsewhere are thumbing their noses, refusing to cut their emissions and even to show up at climate negotiations,” said Paul Bledsoe, who advised the Clinton White House on climate change and is now with the Progressive Policy Institute.
Mr. Putin said more than a week ago that he would not attend the summit. He had earlier signaled that he was reluctant to attend because of the coronavirus. His spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, emphasized that climate change remained high on Russia’s agenda. “The issues that will be discussed in Glasgow right now form one of the priorities of our foreign policy,” Mr. Peskov said.
Russia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases but has been seen as dragging its feet on policies to curb pollution. It is also a major exporter of oil, coal and natural gas, the fossil fuels that are the main culprits in climate change.
Mr. Bolsonaro, under fire for his environmental policies, has not given a reason for his absence. He attended the Group of 20 talks in Rome over the weekend, and he is visiting an Italian town that plans to award him honorary citizenship instead of going to the climate conference.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pledged to make fighting climate change a priority, was also expected to travel to Glasgow after the G20 summit, but instead flew back to Istanbul, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Monday. The reason for skipping the climate talks was a protocol issue involving his delegation in Glasgow, an official told reporters. Turkey’s environment minister is expected to attend the conference in his place.
Mr. Xi is expected to issue a statement to the Glasgow summit. He has not publicly left the country since the coronavirus spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Queen Elizabeth II was advised by her doctors to rest and will not attend the summit. The queen, who at age 95 is the oldest and longest-serving monarch in British history, had been scheduled to attend and will instead address delegates via a video message, Buckingham Palace said. Pope Francis, 84, has also decided not to attend the summit.
Greta Thunberg’s arrival in Glasgow on Saturday for the United Nations climate conference quickly unfolded into a scene of chaos as the activist was mobbed by dozens of people.
Ms. Thunberg, 18, was not scheduled to speak at the 12-day summit, which started on Sunday, but she arrived anyway by train into Glasgow. She was among the many activists who have descended on the COP26 summit to demand that world leaders take measures to slow down catastrophic climate change.
Ms. Thunberg, whose solo climate strikes in 2018 helped fuel a global youth climate movement, was quickly surrounded by a raucous crowd after stepping out of a gate at Glasgow Central Station, according to videos of the scene posted on social media.
She did not appear to speak to anyone who had surrounded her after they greeted her with a mix of cheers and yells, according to the videos. She kept her head down and followed the police officers who were escorting her through the crowd, which appeared to include photographers, young people and one heated man who admonished the people gathered.
“Have some compassion. You’re not entitled to her,” he told a photographer in one of the videos.
Another man said: “Give her some space. This is not right.”
Ms. Thunberg told the BBC in an interview last week that she had not been “officially” invited to speak at the summit. She added that she thought the summit organizers had not invited a lot of young speakers because they “might be scared that if they invite too many ‘radical’ young people then that might make them look bad,” she said, using air quotations.
It was unclear how long Ms. Thunberg planned to stay in Glasgow. She was scheduled to join a Fridays for Future climate strike in the city on Friday.
In the Glasgow train station, after leaving most of the crowd behind her, she descended an escalator and raised her fist in the air. She then gave a thumbs up to those who had gathered.
It was hard to read Ms. Thunberg under her mask, but it appears that she appreciated the reception in the train station. She said on Twitter on Saturday, “Finally in Glasgow for the #COP26! And thank you for the very warm welcome.”
Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City, intends to announce on Monday an effort to shut down coal in 25 countries.
The pledge comes as world leaders arrive in Glasgow for a United Nations climate change summit where persuading countries to phase out coal, the burning of which is a leading driver of climate change, will be a key issue. The ultimate goal: galvanizing leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to stave off the worst consequences of global warming.
Mr. Bloomberg, whose 2020 Democratic presidential bid focused heavily on climate change and who now serves as a special envoy for climate ambition to the United Nations, has worked to shutter coal plants in the United States since 2011, and two years ago devoted $500 million to the effort. It has been linked with hastening the retirement of about 280 coal plants in the United States.
The new effort is aimed at closing a quarter of the world’s 2,445 coal plants as well as stopping efforts underway to build 519 new coal plants by 2025.
“Coal is enemy No. 1 in the battle over climate change because it causes one-third of all carbon emissions,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. He did not say how much money he intended to devote to the plan, but he spends about $150 million annually on efforts to shut down coal in the United States and Europe, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The United Nations secretary general has called to phase out coal power by 2030 in wealthy countries and by 2040 everywhere else.
The effort won’t be an easy one. At the Group of 20 summit in Rome on Sunday, leaders of the world’s wealthiest economies agreed to end financing for coal-fired power plants overseas by the end of this year, according to the final text of their communiqué.
But they stopped short of agreeing to stop using coal power in their own countries, with Australia, India, China and Russia pushing back hard against a target date.
“We are not engaged in those sort of mandates and bans,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said in Rome. “That’s not the Australian government’s policy; it won’t be the Australian government’s policy.”
China, meanwhile, has plans to build 247 gigawatts of new coal power. That is nearly six times Germany’s entire coal power capacity.
Antonios Papaspiropoulos, a spokesman for the World Coal Association said in a statement that coal was a critical source of energy for hundreds of millions of people across the world.
“We believe it is important for those calling for any phaseout of coal use to appreciate that coal is part of the climate change solution through the phase-in of clean coal technologies,” he said.
Prince Charles addressed world leaders before the COP26 summit on climate change, saying that the conference was “the last-chance saloon” to avoid the most severe impact from climate change.
“The future of humanity and nature herself is at stake,” said Charles, who is known as the Prince of Wales and is the heir to the British throne.
“It is also impossible not to hear the despairing voices of young people who see you, ladies and gentlemen, as the stewards of the planet holding the viability of their future in your hands,” he told world leaders assembled at the Group of 20 summit in Rome on Sunday. He reminded them that they had an “overwhelming responsibility to generations yet unborn.”
He said that adequately addressing climate change would require “trillions of dollars of investment every year to create the necessary new infrastructure and meet the vital 1.5-degree climate target that will save our forests and farms, our oceans and wildlife.”
“Now,” he said, “after I suppose nearly 50 years of trying to raise awareness of the growing climate and environmental crisis, I am at last sensing a changing of attitude and a building up of positive momentum.”
The prince’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was initially scheduled to attend the climate meeting but is skipping it after being advised by her doctors to rest.