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COP26 Live Updates: Leaders Leave Glasgow, Focus Turns to Finance

ImageA meeting room at the main summit venue in Glasgow. 
A meeting room at the main summit venue in Glasgow. Credit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

President Biden and other heads of state have wrapped up their big speeches at the international climate summit in Glasgow. Now, the tough negotiations will begin, largely behind closed doors.

The first two days of the talks, known as the “World Leaders Summit,” featured some high-profile announcements on deforestation and cutting emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, although scientists say that far more work remains to be done if the world hopes to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Over the remaining 10 days, negotiators from nearly 200 countries will begin discussing what other steps they can take to make further progress on climate change.

One of the biggest sticking points remains money. Poorer countries have long demanded more aid from wealthier ones, whose emissions are principally responsible for temperature rises so far, both to accelerate the shift to cleaner sources of energy and to help them adapt to the dangers of climate change.

On Wednesday, a group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks announced a $10.5 billion fund to help emerging economies with growing energy needs make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the United States would join a new financing mechanism that aims to direct $500 million a year for similar efforts.

And a coalition of the world’s biggest investors, banks and insurers that together control $130 trillion in assets said that they were committing to use that capital to hit net zero emissions targets in their investments by 2050, in a push that would make limiting climate change a central focus of most major financial decisions for decades to come.

Tensions over funding for climate change initiatives remain high. A decade ago, the world’s richest nations, including the United States and the European Union countries, pledged $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2020. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they are falling short by tens of billions per year.

Last month, rich countries outlined a plan to step up financing and make good on their pledge by 2023. And on Tuesday Japan pledged an additional $10 billion in new financing to help countries in Asia slash their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But developing countries have said that is not nearly enough and that wealthy countries need to take more concrete action to make up the shortfall.

This week, India called for a $1 trillion commitment from wealthy countries to help developing nations make the transition to renewable energy. Small island nations threatened by rising seas petitioned an international court to force the richest parts of the world to pay them for damages caused by climate change.

In the days ahead, countries are also expected to discuss ways to step up actions on emissions to keep alive the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a threshold beyond which dangers from heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires grow immensely.

One proposal is to have countries come back every year after Glasgow with increasingly ambitious climate pledges, rather than every five years as called for under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The Think Tank at the New York Times Climate Hub in Glasgow.Credit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

As world leaders gather, a range of activists and experts are using the COP26 setting to make their cases to a global audience. A number of prominent climate activists, including Al Gore and Greta Thunberg, will speak as part of a series of events at The New York Times’s Climate Hub, an event running alongside the conference.

The event is free to watch online. Ms. Thunberg, the environmental activist, will speak at 4 p.m. local time (noon Eastern) about the media’s role in covering climate change. Mr. Gore, the former vice president, will speak at 3 p.m. about the data needed for climate solutions and what can be done to make climate data more accessible and more transparent.

Ban Ki-moon, the former U.N. secretary general, in September.Credit…Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Global leaders must create jobs in the renewable energy sector so that the costs of transitioning from fossil fuels do not exacerbate economic inequalities, Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

“What is absolutely necessary at this time — it is critical now — is for governments to increase their ambition level, not only in clean energy, but creating millions of new green jobs for the people,” Mr. Ban, the U.N. leader from 2007 to 2016, said at the opening of a Times event series running alongside the conference.

“I believe that we need to be more realistic about the winners and losers of globalization,” he said, “and take more decisive action in addressing inequality both within and between countries.”

Around the world, and especially in Europe, leaders are focused on the risks that a shift to a greener economy could lead to a backlash, particularly if working-class and middle-class people bear the brunt of the cost. Mr. Ban said there was a need to address the risks of the “underlying currents of populist skepticism.”

He called on industrialized countries to follow through on their pledge to give $100 billion a year to poorer countries to address climate change.

“They must be serious, because we have no time to lose,” he said.

Only some of that money, which industrialized countries agreed to last year, has been delivered.

Last week, diplomats from Canada and Germany said they expected the $100 billion to be delivered by 2023, three years late. Experts have said the amount will not be enough to help poorer countries with the costs of moving their economies away from fossil fuels and coping with damages brought on by extreme weather.

Mr. Ban said that he was disappointed that President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, was not attending COP26, but that he was encouraged by Mr. Xi’s vow in September that China would stop building coal-burning power plants overseas.

It is time, Mr. Ban said, for China, the United States and other countries to bridge “the gap between rhetoric and commitment.”

“The time for talk,” he said, “is over now.”

The crush of people waiting to enter the United Nations climate change summit snakes down the street. Police officers call out asking the cold, grumbling delegates not to take photos, yet virtually everyone does.

Successfully passing that checkpoint leads to a second, equally long security line.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

This week and next, I’m in Glasgow with my colleagues for the United Nations climate summit known as COP26. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain called it “the moment when we get real about climate change.”

Here’s what it’s like inside →

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

This year’s COP looks a lot different.

Everyone entering the venue has to take a coronavirus test, masks are required almost everywhere and there are strict limits on the number of people allowed at gatherings.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Alain Jocard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Getting through security can take more than an hour.

Once inside, we’re greeted by sculptures of polar bears in life jackets and imperiled penguins at the pavilion of Tuvalu, a small island nation.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

World leaders and their entourages scurry between meetings, but one thing noticeably missing is the voice of civil society groups. Many activists from developing countries had difficulty obtaining vaccinations and affordable accommodations.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

As a result, their presence inside the venue is muted, which makes a difference. Environmental activists are the beating heart of these climate conferences, holding leaders’ feet to the fire and showing diplomats the effects of their decisions.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For now, protests are relegated to the streets of Glasgow. On Monday, Greta Thunberg said that leaders inside COP were “pretending to take our future seriously.

The largest protests are expected on Saturday.

What It’s Like to Cover Global Climate Talks

Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman📍Reporting from my 10th COP

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Biden and other world leaders will be gone by Wednesday. Right now it’s a real question whether nations will meet the urgency of the climate crisis and set policies that will hold global warming to relatively safe levels.

Read more coverage of the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

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On Tuesday the United Nations climate change body issued a formal apology to the nearly 30,000 people attending the summit in Glasgow for what it called the “inconveniences” of accessing the conference.

In addition to long lines in Glasgow, technology glitches have made it difficult for people trying to monitor the talks online.

“In many ways, the first few days of the COP26 have been a learning process” particularly in complying with Covid-related restrictions, the conference organizers wrote, adding, “we are doing our utmost to continuously learn and adapt.”

Members of the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous group inspected a forest area invaded by illegal loggers in Rondônia State, Brazil.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil, a global climate leader turned environmental offender under President Jair Bolsonaro, approached the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow ready to prove that it was changing course, with commitments to create green jobs, cut carbon emissions and curb deforestation.

But even as John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said on Twitter that those steps added “crucial momentum” to addressing climate change, environmentalists said the plans lacked the scope and detail to make them credible. And Mr. Bolsonaro’s absence from the summit raised questions about his commitment to the reversal.

Days before the conference, Brazil’s government announced a policy to create green jobs while preserving the country’s vast forests. Then, on Monday, Brazil committed to cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and ending illegal deforestation by 2028.

Yet environmentalists and political opponents in Brazil were quick to poke holes in the announcements. The green growth plan lacked details to make it credible, they said, and the commitment on emissions is essentially unchanged from the one Brazil made in 2015.

Then there is Brazil’s track record. By law, the country was supposed to have already started slashing its emissions. Instead, Brazil is one of the few nations where emissions rose during the pandemic, an increase that was largely driven by a surge in deforestation.

From August 2020 to July 2021, Brazil’s portion of the Amazon lost 4,200 square miles of tree cover, according to the latest numbers published by the National Institute of Space Research.

The coal-fired Kusile Power Station in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, in 2019.Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

For years at global climate talks, developing countries have said that they need more financial help from wealthy nations to speed up their shift away from fossil fuels.

Now the world is about to get a major test of how that might work in practice.

At the Glasgow climate summit on Tuesday, South Africa announced that it had secured commitments for $8.5 billion in financing over the next five years from Britain, France, Germany, the United States and European Union to help install more clean energy, accelerate the country’s transition away from coal power and cushion the blow for workers who may be affected by the shift.

“This is a big deal,” said Jesse Burton, an energy policy researcher and senior associate at the University of Cape Town and E3G, a research group that focuses on climate change. “It’s a major test of whether wealthy nations can help developing countries embark on a just transition away from coal.”

South Africa, the world’s 15th-largest emitter, relies overwhelmingly on coal, which supplies 87 percent of the nation’s electricity. While the country has pledged to reduce its overall carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2030 as part of global efforts to tackle climate change, it faces enormous obstacles in doing so.

South Africa’s state-owned utility, Eskom, is drowning in more than $27 billion in debt, in part because of investments in coal plants, and the utility has struggled to supply reliable power, often resorting to rolling blackouts to meet demand.

For South Africa to meet its most ambitious climate goals by 2030, analysts have said, the country will most likely need to speed up the retirement of existing coal plants while building large amounts of renewable energy generation and transmission lines to meet growing demand.

Making the task even tougher, the country’s fragile economy remains dependent on coal jobs, with more than 120,000 people working at power plants and mines. Past discussions over when and how to shift away from coal have been politically contentious.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said on Tuesday that the $8.5 billion in loans and grants pledged by wealthy countries could help the country finesse that transition by accelerating investment in renewable energy while ensuring that Eskom can access resources to repurpose old coal stations slated for retirement over the next 15 years.

The country would also explore initiatives to create new jobs for former coal miners.

“It is proof that we can take ambitious climate action while increasing our energy security, creating jobs and harnessing new opportunities for investment, with support from developed economies,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.

Still, plenty of questions remain about how the partnership will work in practice. Details are still forthcoming about how much new clean energy will be built, and how much coal will be phased out.

There are also questions, analysts said, about whether donor countries will follow through on their commitments, whether there will be transparency in how the funds are used and whether they will benefit local communities.

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