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COP26 Live Updates: Glasgow Climate Summit Enters Final Days

ImageDelegates and media watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain during his opening speech of COP26 summit, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Delegates and media watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain during his opening speech of COP26 summit, in Glasgow, Scotland.Credit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

The United Nations climate agency on Wednesday released a draft of an accord that urges countries to “revisit and strengthen” in the next year their plans for cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The document marks an initial agreement among some 200 nations that will be used as a template to strike a deal as the two-week global climate summit in Glasgow nears its end Friday.

In addition to calling on countries to set more aggressive goals for cutting emissions, it urges nations to “to accelerate the phasing out” of coal and to stop subsidizing other oil and gas. It also asks them to set policies to stop adding greenhouse gases “by or around mid-century” to help keep global warming at relatively safe levels.

Still, a lack of firm deadlines and enforcement mechanisms in the document pointed to the hurdles ahead as negotiators try to reach a consensus at the summit known as COP26, where a primary goal is to agree on stronger action to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to preindustrial levels.

Beyond that threshold, scientists say, the likelihood significantly increases of deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and species extinction. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius.

David Waskow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, said that the draft lacks a “clear sense” that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is a global target, and that the language urging countries to toughen their emissions goals is vague and nonbinding.

Still, he called it a positive step that is “very much in line” with the commitments that vulnerable nations have been seeking from heavily polluting countries.

The United States under President Biden has pledged to cut emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. China, the world’s largest climate polluter, has said its emissions will peak before 2030 and Russia has made a vague pledge to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2060 — but analysts say the goals of both countries are insufficient for getting the planet on a 1.5-degree trajectory.

On Tuesday, United Nations researchers released a report that found that under countries’ current pledges to reduce emissions, the Earth is on track to warm about 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), a full degree beyond the goal outlined in the draft.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, whose nation is hosting the summit, was expected to appear in Glasgow on Wednesday to urge ministers and negotiators to seize the moment and craft a final, ambitious agreement.

“Negotiating teams are doing the hard yards in these final days of COP26 to turn promises into action on climate change,” Mr. Johnson said before he arrived. “This is bigger than any one country and it is time for nations to put aside differences and come together for our planet and our people.”

He will be joined by the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who warned at the start of the conference that the world was “careening towards climate catastrophe.”

The Glasgow conference began with hopes of building on the accord struck in Paris in 2015, the first time nearly every country on the planet committed to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the severest effects of climate change.

The draft document released on Wednesday urges nations to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally-determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.”

While it calls for countries to phase out coal and fossil fuels, it does not offer any firm timelines. And it calls upon rich countries to “urgently scale up their provision of climate finance” to help developing nations adapt to global warming, without setting targets or enforcement mechanisms.

Tensions have flared over what sorts of financial aid richer countries should give poorer ones to deal with the rising damage from heat waves, floods, droughts and storms. And while there is broad agreement that most nations aren’t cutting their greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough, there’s far less consensus about how to get deeper reductions.

By tradition, a final agreement requires every party to sign on. If any one country objects, talks can deadlock. And each country brings its own set of often competing interests. Small island states like the Maldives, facing an imminent threat from rising seas, want all countries to slash emissions as fast as possible. Oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia note eager to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. And big developing countries like India are holding out for more help to shift to cleaner energy.

Cars driving in traffic on the 110 Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles.Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

At least six major automakers — including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo — and 31 national governments pledged on Wednesday to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”

But some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, including Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Nissan-Renault alliance did not join the pledge, which is not legally binding. And the governments of the United States, China and Japan, three of the largest car markets, also abstained.

The announcement, made during the COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow, was hailed by climate advocates as yet another sign that the days of the internal combustion engine could soon be numbered. Electric vehicles continue to set new global sales records each year and major car companies have recently begun investing tens of billions of dollars to retool their factories and churn out new battery-powered cars and light trucks.

“Having these major players making these commitments, though we need to make sure that they follow through, is really significant,” said Margo Oge, a former senior U.S. air quality official who now advises both environmental groups and auto companies. “It really tells us that these companies, and their boards, accept that the future is electric.”

The automakers that signed the pledge accounted for roughly one-quarter of global sales in 2019.

Countries that joined the coalition included Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Sweden. The addition of India was especially notable, since it is the world’s fourth-largest auto market and has not previously committed to eliminating emissions from its cars on a specific timeline.

California and Washington State also signed the pledge. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order saying that only new zero-emissions vehicles would be sold in the state by 2035, though regulators have not yet issued rules to make that happen. Washington had not previously made such a formal pledge.

A Tesla Model Y electric vehicle on a showroom floor in Miami, last month.Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The theme of Wednesday at the Glasgow climate summit is transportation. Around the world, governments and automakers are promoting electric vehicles as a key technology to curb oil use and fight climate change.

But as electric cars and trucks go mainstream, they have faced a persistent question: Are they really as green as advertised?

While experts broadly agree that plug-in vehicles are a more climate-friendly option than traditional one, they can still have their own environmental impacts, depending on how they’re charged up and manufactured.

Here’s a guide to some of the biggest worries — and how they might be addressed:

A Tesla at a charging point in Beijing, China, in 2018.Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

Electric vehicles are better for the climate than gas-powered cars, yet many Americans are still reluctant to buy them. One reason: The larger upfront cost.

But data published in January showed that despite the higher sticker price, electric cars may actually save drivers money in the long run.

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated both the carbon dioxide emissions and full lifetime cost — including purchase price, maintenance and fuel — for nearly every new car model on the market.

They found that electric cars were easily more climate friendly than gas-burning ones. Over a lifetime, they were often cheaper, too.

Read the full article below:

The Nature+Zone pavilion in the COP26 summit, in Glasgow, Scotland.Credit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

We asked New York Times readers to submit questions to our journalists in Glasgow who are covering the COP26 climate talks. This year’s conference is seen as crucial for efforts to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

Here are a few of the questions from readers, and responses from our journalists:

Question: How do we know the average global temperature before the Industrial Revolution?

World leaders often talk about holding the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above “preindustrial levels.” But, surprisingly, there’s some debate on how to define preindustrial.

Many studies use the period between 1850 and 1900 as a starting point to measure global warming, since records from thermometers started to become widespread then, and that was before fossil-fuel burning took off on a massive global scale. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global surface temperatures were about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher over the past decade than they were between 1850 and 1900.

But the actual Industrial Revolution began well before then, so other scientists say we should use 1720 to 1800 as a baseline. Going back that far can be a little trickier: Some instrumental records do exist from places like Europe, but researchers also have to reconstruct global temperatures by using various proxies, like ice cores or tree rings, that provide evidence of how Earth’s climate changed over time.

Different baselines don’t seem to effect the big picture: Earth has gotten a lot hotter as industrialization took off and is on track to get hotter without big changes.

Brad Plumer

Question: Environmental goals are at the center of the talks, but why isn’t the conference focusing on educating people on how to make it in a “greener” economy?

You’re right, teaching about climate change and preparing young people to work in a low-carbon economy is not on the formal agenda at COP26. But it is being discussed. Last week, Britain’s secretary of education, Nadhim Zahawi, set out a plan for integrating climate change and sustainability into the classroom.

Outside the summit, young activists are discussing it too. Malala Yousafzai said last week that investing in girls’ education is critical so they have the skills to help lead the transitions to greener economies. She and Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, said that the effects of climate change have disproportionately disrupted the education of girls in developing countries, who are often the first to drop out of school to help their mothers recover crops or collect water during droughts or floods.

“Climate, gender equality and girls’ education are not separate issues,” Ms. Yousafzai said in a panel discussion at a Times event in Glasgow. “They are all interlinked.”

Lisa Friedman

Question: What or who will enforce the pledges made at COP26?

The short answer is no one. The longer answer is slightly more complicated.

Under the 2015 Paris agreement, every nation agreed to craft its own plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and to regularly update those pledges. The agreement didn’t force anyone to set specific targets and there are no penalties for missing goals — the fear was that countries like China and the United States would never sign a treaty like that.

Instead, the agreement aims to work through global peer pressure, by requiring countries to be transparent about what they are planning to do and measuring their progress. There are some signs this is working: Since Paris, countries have enacted a bunch of new climate policies and increased cooperation on issues like funding clean energy around the world.

That said, countries still aren’t doing nearly enough to avoid severe temperature increases. And ultimately, it’s up to policymakers, civil society groups, activists and voters in each country to pressure governments to follow through on the promises they’ve made.

Brad Plumer

California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Monterey, Calif., on Tuesday, his first appearance at a public event since he abruptly cancelled his trip to the Glasgow climate summit.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who has advanced some of the most ambitious climate policies in the United States, announced he would be leading a delegation to the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow. Four days later, his office abruptly announced he had changed his mind.

“Family obligations” was all his office would say, refusing to publicly elaborate in a decision that, times being what they are, unleashed a barrage of conspiracy theories. Was the governor having a bad reaction to the Covid-19 booster shot he had just gotten? Were any of his children — he has four ages 12 and under — infected again with the coronavirus? No and no, Capitol sources said.

Mr. Newsom’s allies noted that most parents would understand why a couple with four small children might not want to take an extended trip to Glasgow over Halloween. California environmentalists also suggested that he might not be so wrong to skip the annual climate conference, which many of them view as a jet-fuel-wasting spectacle.

In any case, the governor stayed home, working at his Capitol office, according to his spokeswoman, Erin Mellon. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, led the California delegation instead.

Nevertheless, as days passed with no public appearances, chatter persisted.

“I don’t know where Gavin Newsom is and won’t speculate,” Kiley tweeted on Sunday. “But it’s pretty strange for the Governor to disappear for 11 days without explanation.”

“Where’s Gavin?” demanded Charlie Kirk, the head of the right-wing activist group Turning Point U.S.A.

“It’s funny how certain folks can’t handle truth,” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the governor’s wife, shot back in a tweet that was subsequently deleted. “When someone cancels something, maybe they’re just in the office working; maybe in their free time they’re at home with their family, at their kids’ sports matches, or dining out with their wife. Please stop hating and get a life.”

By Monday, “Gavin Newsom” was trending on Twitter, even after Vogue posted a photo spread from the lavish San Francisco wedding of the heiress Ivy Getty, with a masked Mr. Newsom appearing in the background.

During a call with reporters, California senators at the Glasgow summit became increasingly frustrated with questions about the governor’s absence. “There is nobody in California who wanted to be at this conference more than Gavin Newsom,” Robert Hertzberg, a Democratic senator from Van Nuys, said on Monday. “But we’re all human beings, man, we’re all human beings — something clearly — he’s with his family. I don’t think it’s appropriate to further dig into it. I take him at face value.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Newsom reappeared at a public event in Monterey, Calif., and explained that he had skipped the summit because his recent schedule — including a hard-fought victory over a recall campaign — had taken a toll on his family.

A coal-fired power looming over the town of Poca, W.Va., this year.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Wealthy nations have promised to “pursue efforts” to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. But meeting that goal means that all countries must commit to cutting emissions faster and deeper than they are already doing.

For every fraction of a degree of warming, scientists say, the world will experience more intense heat waves and drought, and more deadly floods and wildfires. Humans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century.

Countries have less than 10 years to reduce emissions enough to keep the planet below 1.5 degrees of warming. So if leaders don’t commit to bold steps now, when so much global attention is focused on the Glasgow climate talks, many fear that the world will barrel toward dangerous levels of warming.

Read the article below to see how far the world has, and hasn’t, come.

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