President Biden and other heads of state have wrapped up their big speeches at the international climate summit in Glasgow. Now, the tough negotiations begin, largely behind closed doors.
Over the remaining 10 days, as negotiators from nearly 200 countries discuss how to make further progress on climate change, one of the biggest sticking points remains money. On Wednesday, governments and private investors announced a series of initiatives aimed at helping poorer countries avert the dangers of rising temperatures.
A group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks announced a $10.5 billion fund to help emerging economies make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States would support a financing mechanism that aims to direct $500 million a year for similar efforts through bond sales. 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.
While those dollar amounts are eye-watering, the challenge is how exactly to use that money to transition energy systems and companies’ supply chains to net-zero targets.
“We must be honest about what this means,” Ben Caldecott, the director of the sustainable finance group at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “It does not mean that $130 trillion is in a war chest promised for deployment into a solutions to climate change today.”
“We urgently need to focus on the quality and integrity of promises made by financial institutions, not simply their quantity,” he added.
An estimated $100 trillion to $150 trillion in investments would be required over the next three decades to reach net zero, so Wednesday’s announcements could in theory provide the necessary financing. Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said the $130 trillion should not be a surprise, but cautioned that the funds would be spent slowly if the public and private sectors don’t work together.
“The realities are deploying that capital are going to be far harder than investing in a normal bond, a public equity, a treasury bond,” Mr. Fink said on a panel in Glasgow. To invest that money in a “safe and responsible way,” he said, there needs to be a better system than the one that exists today.
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.
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 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 greenhouse gases. But developing countries have said that is not nearly enough.
A group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks on Wednesday announced a $10.5 billion fund to help emerging economies with growing energy needs make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
The group, known as the Global Energy Alliance, aims to draw in more donors in the coming weeks. At the moment, it has pulled in $1.5 billion from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ikea Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund, along with $9 billion from international development banks such as the African Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation.
The announcement, on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, comes as the Biden administration is banking on trillions of dollars in private investment to move global energy systems away from coal, oil and gas.
Raj Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped set up the alliance, said that the new fund was necessary to jump-start investments in clean energy technologies that would not otherwise draw private investors that demand high rates of return.
“Accelerating climate transitions in developing countries will not happen if an immediate 20 percent return on every investment is necessary,” Mr. Shah said, adding that such an initiative would require public, philanthropic and private sectors coming together to “leverage innovative finance.”
The alliance says it aims to raise $100 billion in public and private capital to expand access to clean sources of electricity for a billion people in developing countries, create 150 million jobs and avoid the carbon emissions that would have been generated by power plants that run on coal.
The money will support initiatives such as the development of mini-electricity grids in parts of rural India, help Indonesia shut down some of its oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants, and develop a hydropower project in Sierra Leone.
Logistical complaints are mounting at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, where participants waiting in security lines for more than an hour were abruptly told on Wednesday afternoon that there was no room for them inside the venue.
At 12:15 p.m., conference organizers issued an alert notifying people that the 10,000-person capacity limit in the cavernous tented area where the summit is being held was close to being reached. Instead, they suggested, participants who could do so should watch the proceedings online.
It was the last straw for many attendees, especially environmentalists and delegates from developing countries who endured long journeys and logistical hurdles to get to Glasgow during the pandemic. The past few days, the conference limited the number of people allowed inside the venue from civil society groups. The online portals to watch the negotiations remotely have been faulty.
On Tuesday, conference organizers issued a letter of apology to participants for the long lines and video difficulties, saying that planning around Covid restrictions has been challenging. On Wednesday afternoon, Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the U.N. climate body, asked attendees to “bear with us” as organizers grappled with the complex arrangements — which include ensuring that all those entering the venue have tested negative for the coronavirus, and enforcing controls on the number of people in meeting rooms.
“This is a unique COP in quite extraordinary times,” added Alok Sharma, the British politician who is serving as host of the conference. He said organizers are “working to fix” logistical issues but did not offer details.
They also did not address criticisms over issuing accreditation for 39,509 people to access a venue whose the capacity is limited to 10,000.
One veteran of the annual summit — known as COP26 because it is the 26th “conference of the parties” to the U.N.’s climate body — called it the “poorest planed” to date. Alexandria Villaseñor, a youth activist from the United States, called the conference a “hellscape.”
“An exclusionary, racist, ableist, classist environment directly informs the decision making process that is placed in it!” Ms. Villaseñor wrote on Twitter.
Asad Rehman, director of a coalition of labor, youth, racial justice and other groups focused on climate change, derided the “shabbiest organizing” he’s seen in 15 years of attending U.N. climate conferences. He said that some negotiators told him they had to cancel bilateral meetings because they were unable to get inside in time.
“There’s mounting anger about this issue of accessibility and inclusion, and huge, huge frustration not just from developing countries but also negotiators,” Mr. Rehman said. “It’s probably the poorest planned COP I’ve ever seen.”
As delegates inside the COP26 conference hall in Glasgow heard promises of new private-sector funding for climate change, protesters marched in the city on Wednesday in opposition to “greenwashing” — when companies claim to be protecting the environment while continuing to harm it.
More than 100 protesters, holding signs that read “Act now!” and “Stop Funding Fossil Fuels,” gathered outside a shopping mall to demand that companies take more substantial steps.
“For us, there’s very little hope,” said Akke Houtsoma, 20, an administrative worker who had traveled from the Netherlands to attend protests outside the climate conference. “I feel the most anxiety not about my future, but for the people right now who are suffering.”
A focus of the climate conference on Wednesday has been on how to pay for a global shift to cleaner energy sources. Even as a group of the world’s biggest investors, banks and insurers vowed to commit their more than $130 trillion in assets to pursuing climate goals, protesters were doubtful that the promises would be fulfilled.
“The promises coming out are quite good, but they are still just promises,” said Marilyn Spurr, 74, a retired high school teacher from Devon, England, who is a member of Extinction Rebellion, a British-based activist group. “If they step up to the mark, good for them, but so far we haven’t seen a lot of it.”
Activists said there needed to be stronger ways to hold companies to account for their promises, many of which never materialize. Of at least $1.1 trillion that private equity firms have invested in the energy sector since 2010, most went toward fossil fuels, according to data from Pitchbook, a company that tracks investment, and an analysis by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit that pushes for more disclosure about private equity deals.
Protests planned for Friday and Saturday in Glasgow are expected to draw tens of thousands. A youth-led strike organized by Fridays for Future, the international movement that has grown out of Greta Thunberg’s solo strike in 2018 in Sweden, will see thousands march from Kelvingrove Park to George’s Square.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that the United States would support a financing mechanism that aims to direct $500 million a year to move developing countries away from coal-based energy and toward wind, solar and other low- and zero-carbon energy sources.
Speaking at the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Ms. Yellen acknowledged that while wealthy countries have promised billions of dollars to tackle climate change, the real cost is in the trillions.
“I agree we all must do more, and the United States is stepping up,” Ms. Yellen said. But, she added, “the gap between what governments have and what the world needs is large, and the private sector needs to play a bigger role.”
Financing for climate change initiatives remains an enormous point of tension at the U.N. talks. Wealthy countries have not met a promise they made more than a decade ago to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor countries — which have contributed the least to climate change but are suffering some of the worst consequences — make the transition to cleaner energy and build resilience to fiercer storms, droughts and rising seas.
The Biden administration has promised $11.4 billion annually by 2024, but that is subject to congressional approval. Ms. Yellen said on Wednesday that the private sector also needed to provide more financing.
Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor, said that private funds to developing countries must “dramatically scale up.” This week, Mr. Carney led an initiative by financial groups to commit to using their $130 trillion in assets to help countries hit their targets of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
The separate financing program that Ms. Yellen described is designed to issue bonds and use the proceeds to support clean energy and sustainable infrastructure in developing economies. The bonds will be issued by the Climate Investment Funds, a multilateral fund based at the World Bank that invests money contributed by countries including the United States, Britain and Japan.
Many environmental groups and organizations that represent developing countries are skeptical of private finance. That is in part because most of that money tends to go toward energy projects that can turn quicker profits, rather than the less lucrative but critical work of building sea walls, planting mangroves and other efforts to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change.
Jörn Kalinski, a senior adviser at Oxfam, said in a statement that without time frames and specific dollar targets for adaptation, “poorer nations will continue to lack the resources they need to protect lives, homes and businesses from weather disasters.”
Australia, a major producer of fossil fuels that has long been criticized for dragging its feet on climate change, has done little this week to change that perception.
At the Glasgow climate summit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not join an international effort to curb global emissions of methane 30 percent by 2030, a commitment shared by more than 100 nations including the United States. Australia also declined to strengthen its 2030 target for reducing emissions or announce firm plans to transition away from its deep investment in fossil fuel production.
Mr. Morrison did sign on to an agreement to end deforestation by 2030, offered $500 million in new funding to help neighboring countries deal with the effects of climate change and last week committed to getting his country to net zero emissions by 2050. But critics argued that his government was not acting with enough urgency, or that it was making vague commitments.
Addressing the conference on Monday, Mr. Morrison said that Australia’s emissions would fall 35 percent by 2030, exceeding an earlier goal of 26 to 28 percent but still well below the targets set by other industrialized nations. And it is one of the last developed nations to make a zero-emissions commitment.
Mr. Morrison had agreed to attend the summit only after criticism from Queen Elizabeth II and a crowd-funded billboard in Times Square in New York that mocked his reluctance to address climate change, calling him “Coal-o-phile Dundee.”
Australia’s inertia points to a pressing challenge for the world: how to get places that profit from a dangerous product to transition before it is too late. With the threat of even more damaging storms and fires looming if temperatures continue to rise, fossil fuel users and producers both need to kick the habit.
A U.N. report released last month found that coal, oil and gas production will keep growing at least until 2040, reaching levels more than double what is needed to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
Australia is a major contributor to the problem. Coal is still king, and natural gas is celebrated.
The Great Barrier Reef may be bleaching from the heat and acidity caused by climate change, and towns and families burned out by the Black Summer fires of 2019 and 2020 have yet to fully recover. Yet in the last month alone, three new coal mining projects have been approved.
A coalition of the world’s biggest investors, banks and insurers that collectively control $130 trillion in assets said on Wednesday 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.
The group, called the United Nations Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, is made up of 450 banks, insurers and asset managers in 45 countries. It said the pledge amounted to a transformation of the global financial system and would help businesses, financial firms and entire industries undergo fundamental restructuring for a carbon-neutral future.
“We now have the essential plumbing in place to move climate change from the fringes to the forefront of finance so that every financial decision takes climate change into account,” Mark Carney, the former head of the Bank of England, who is leading the alliance, said in a statement.
The agreements are largely voluntary. But they show a commitment by a broad range of financial institutions — banks, insurers, pension funds, asset managers, export credit agencies, stock exchanges, credit rating agencies, index providers and audit firms — to have emissions slashed in the companies in which they invest, and to have their lending aligned toward the target of restricting a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
The companies agreed to undergo a review every five years to measure how well they are hitting these targets. They also said they would report the emissions they finance ever year.
But critics said the pledges fell short because they don’t commit investors to stop placing money in fossil fuels.
“This announcement yet again ignores the biggest elephant in the room: fossil fuel companies,” Richard Brooks, the climate finance director of STAND.earth, an environmental group, said in a statement. “We cannot keep under 1.5 degrees if financial institutions don’t stop funding coal, oil and gas companies.”
The coalition, which was created in April, is chaired by Mr. Carney, the United Nations’ climate finance envoy. Among its members are the investment management company BlackRock, HSBC Holdings, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.
Critically, the initiative would create a new body to hold investors and companies to account on climate-related goals.
The alliance also said that nearly 40 central banks in countries generating two-thirds of the world’s emissions would introduce stress tests to gauge how financial firms are handling climate-related risks. Some, including the European Central Bank and Bank of England, plan to administer the stress tests to the banks they supervise early next year.
The alliance also pledged to scale more private capital flows to emerging and developing economies, which are among those facing the most brutal costs of climate change.
Mr. Carney said on Tuesday at the Climate Horizon Summit in Glasgow that the finance industry was moving away from just seeing global warming as a risk to their business, and instead considering how the industry could be part of the solution.
The United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow is considered a crucial moment for efforts to address the threat of global warming.
Thousands of heads of state, diplomats and activists are meeting to set new targets for cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas that are heating the planet. The conference is held annually, but this year is critical because scientists say that nations must make an immediate, sharp pivot away from fossil fuels if they hope to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
What is the goal?
The goal is to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with levels before the Industrial Revolution. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say the dangers of global warming — such as deadly heat waves, water shortages, crop failures and ecosystem collapse — grow immensely.
What does COP stand for?
The gathering’s name, COP, stands for Conference of the Parties, with “parties” referring in diplomatic parlance to the 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. That year, the United States and some other countries ratified the treaty to address “dangerous human interference with the climate system” and stabilize levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
This is the 26th time countries have gathered under the convention — hence COP26.
What happened at previous talks?
The first COP was in Berlin in 1995, after a critical mass of nations ratified the climate convention. It was a milestone and set the stage two years later for the Kyoto Protocol, which required wealthy, industrialized nations to curb emissions.
That accord had its problems. Among them, the United States under President George W. Bush rejected it, noting that it did not require China, India and other major emerging economies to reduce their greenhouse gases.
Fast-forward to 2015. After more than two decades of disputes over which nations bear the most responsibility for tackling climate change, leaders of nearly 200 countries signed the Paris climate agreement. That deal was considered groundbreaking. For the first time, rich and poor countries agreed to act, albeit at different paces, to tackle climate change.
The United States withdrew from the Paris accord under President Donald J. Trump but rejoined under President Biden.
Although leaders made big promises in Paris, countries have not made sufficient moves to stave off the worst effects of climate change. At the Glasgow conference, which runs through Nov. 12, leaders are under pressure to be more ambitious.
The COP26 climate summit comes at a moment of crisis. Despite years of climate talks and treaties, carbon emissions have worsened and extreme weather events have become more frequent.
Many say this may be the last chance to avoid disaster. Will anything change this time?
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.
President Biden has sharply criticized China’s leader, Xi Jinping, for being a no-show at the Glasgow climate talks. On Wednesday, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and a longtime China expert, called such comments “political atmospherics.”
More worrisome than Mr. Xi’s absence from the talks was his failure to tighten China’s goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, said Mr. Rudd, who had his own salty exchanges with Chinese officials at a round of climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009.
Mr. Rudd, who is now president of the Asia Society, noted in an interview that China’s climate commitments, submitted to the United Nations before the start of the talks, stuck to Mr. Xi’s earlier pledge that China would reach a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.
Mr. Xi has not been seen traveling outside China since the start of the pandemic. On Monday, he issued a written statement to the climate talks in which he reiterated China’s goals “to prioritize ecological conservation and pursue a green and low-carbon path to development.”
Despite Mr. Xi’s absence from the talks, China’s chief negotiator in Glasgow, Xie Zhenhua, is an experienced hand trusted by top leaders, Mr. Rudd said.
Even so, China’s lumbering policy process and its insecurities about energy supply mean that any changes will take time, Mr. Rudd said.
“They will announce further cuts when they’re good and ready to do so,” he said, “and they will not do so in any manner which is perceived to be in response to U.S. or anyone else’s pressure.”
Mr. Rudd made his comments after Mr. Biden and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, chided Mr. Xi. On Tuesday, the president called Mr. Xi’s absence from the summit “a big mistake” that undermined his claims to being a leader on climate change.
That prompted a rejoinder from China’s foreign ministry, where a spokesman said on Wednesday that the U.S. criticism amounted to “empty words.”
“I would have thought laying off the political atmospherics would have been perhaps a better way through,” Mr. Rudd said of the comments from the Biden administration. “I can only assume that President Biden’s language on this reflects the prevailing macro political sentiment in Washington.”
President Biden’s major goal for his second foreign trip since taking office was to reassert America’s ability to lead the world on climate change before it is too late. But he also wanted to reassert Joe Biden.
From the moment he landed in Rome on Friday for a Group of 20 meeting, and then traveled to the climate summit in Glasgow, Mr. Biden exulted in the backslapping, personalized politics that he believes can translate into substantive deal making.
“It never ceases to amaze me when you’re looking at someone straight in the eye when you’re trying to get something done,” he said in a news conference in Rome. “They know me. I know them. We can get things done together.”
The president did take some wins back to Washington with him, including a new global minimum tax for companies, and climate agreements to reduce methane emissions and deforestation. But if those deals were significant, they were largely finalized before his trip.
Confronted with a lack of consensus among world leaders on how to move forward globally, and with his climate agenda hanging in the balance in Congress, Mr. Biden’s time in Glasgow laid bare the reality that his personal style has not helped him close the gulf between his ambition and what he has been able to achieve.
“All the charm in the world is not going to bring Brazil around on the rain forests, or Australia around on coal, or China or Russia around on much of anything,” said Richard Haass, a former senior State Department and national security official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Diplomacy will only get him so far.”
As world leaders gathered at the Glasgow climate summit secured a new agreement to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, Democrats in Washington struggled on Tuesday to salvage a major initiative to address climate change amid opposition from Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic holdout.
Mr. Manchin, a centrist from one of the top coal- and gas-producing states, has pushed to remove or weaken a provision in the party’s sweeping social and environmental policy bill that would impose a fee on emissions of methane, a pollutant that leaks from oil and gas wells. He has already effectively succeeded in stripping the bill of its most powerful climate change provision, a program that would have replaced coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind and solar power.
“Senator Manchin has expressed reservations” about the methane fee, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “We want to mitigate methane, but we’ll see.”
With House leaders pressing for a vote as soon as Thursday on the sweeping $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate measure, Democrats were rushing to resolve their remaining disputes on the bill and ensure that it would have the votes necessary to pass. Given the evenly divided Senate, the legislation needs the support of every Democrat, making Mr. Manchin’s objections potentially fatal to the package.
Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and it is responsible for more than a quarter of the warming the planet is currently experiencing.