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COP26 Climate Summit: What Happened During the First Days

Glasgow – Presidents and prime ministers have left town. Now the hard work begins, as diplomats gather in a cavernous tent complex for the week-and-a-half United Nations climate talks here to try to strike deals to cut global warming emissions.

More countries than ever are pledging to cut emissions, move away from coal, eliminate deforestation, and give money to help poor countries adapt. Environmental groups and poor countries are not as optimistic. They’ve seen promises come and go before.

Here are five observations from the tumultuous early days of the climate conference:

More than 39,000 people have registered at the summit. One problem: Capacity in the main venue is limited to 10,000 people due to Covid restrictions.

This led to bottlenecks, long security queues, and frustration, especially among civil society groups that were already angry that the United Nations had crowned its presence inside the negotiating halls.

Everyone entering the venue, known as the “blue zone”, is required to take a daily rapid coronavirus test. But despite all the talk of strict controls, participants simply report themselves on their results. It is basically an honor system.

For nearly four years, the United States has worked to undermine the progress of climate talks. Former President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and vowed to burn more, not less, gas, oil, and coal.

President Biden arrived in Glasgow and flipped the script. He promised to show the world that the United States is “strongly leading our example.”

Asked which leaders of other countries, particularly those of China and Russia, were not attending, Mr. Biden said, “We did.”

The absences of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro were remarkable.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already appeared – but with an emissions target that experts have said is well below what is needed. Brazil has pledged to end deforestation by 2028. Activists doubt Mr. Bolsonaro will go ahead.

Both Russia and China have goals that experts say are not enough to keep the planet on a relatively safe path. After leaving Glasgow, Biden scolded Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin for not attending. Officials in Beijing responded, noting that Biden had been unable to persuade his party to vote on climate legislation necessary to advance the United States’ aggressive goals.

Controversy will not solve the climate crisis. It remains unclear whether the two largest emitters, China and the United States, can move past tensions over trade and human rights to work together.

Banks and other lenders said they have $130 trillion to fund projects aimed at making companies and countries zero-emissions. This number, which is more than five times the size of the US economy, grabbed the headlines.

Environmentalists quickly threw cold water on them, arguing that scant details were provided and that banks still invest hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuels every year.

Poland, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile and Morocco are among 18 countries that will pledge Thursday to phase out coal power generation and stop building new plants. The British hosts of the UN conference want to make their mark by ensuring that the end of coal is “in sight”.

However, the issue is fiercely controversial. At the start of the summit, the Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, told Mr Morrison of Australia that “coal has no place in this century”. Mr. Morrison has made it clear that he will not discuss fossil fuel mandates or bans.

Expect further regression in the coming days from Australia, as well as China, India and Russia, to any official language to phase out coal in any final decision from the summit.

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