GLASGOW — President Biden capped two days of climate talks with fellow world leaders by hailing new international commitments to curb warming, knocking China and Russia for not participating, and expressing confidence that his domestic climate agenda will clear the House and Senate.
The president said he felt certain that Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic holdout on the $1.85 trillion climate change and social safety net bill that Democrats are debating in Congress, would ultimately vote for the bill.
“I believe that Joe will be there,” Mr. Biden said. “I think we’ll get this done.”
Mr. Biden drew a sharp contrast between American leadership and the efforts of China and Russia, whose leaders did not travel to the United Nations summit on climate change, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I think it’s been a big mistake for China” not to show up at the conference, he said. “They’ve lost their ability to influence people around the world, and people here at COP.”
“It just is a gigantic issue and they walked away,” Mr. Biden said of the Chinese leadership. “How do you do that and claim to have any leadership mantle?”
Mr. Biden had similarly sharp words for President Vladimir Putin of Russia. “His tundra is burning,” Mr. Biden said. “Literally, his tundra is burning. He has serious climate problems. And he has been mum on his willingness to do anything.”
He was asked in the news conference why the United States should make commitments that China and other major producers of greenhouse gases have not.
“Because we want to be able to breathe and we want to be able to lead the world,” Mr. Biden said.
He said of the agreements at the summit, “I can’t think of any two days when more has been accomplished.”
As Mr. Biden prepared to head home on Tuesday, there were growing signs of intraparty discord over his agenda in Washington: Mr. Manchin said that he would not vote on the social plan until he knew more about what it would cost, a move that threatened to undermine Mr. Biden’s sense of optimism abroad and complicate a path to the quick vote the president wants when he gets back home.
“While I have worked hard to find a path to compromise, it is obvious compromise is not good enough for some in Congress,” Mr. Manchin said on Monday, reading from prepared remarks. “It’s all or nothing, and their position doesn’t seem to change unless we agree to everything. Enough is enough.”
Mr. Manchin was apparently referring to liberals in the House, who have put up their own roadblocks on a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
He warned, “I’m open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward, but I’m equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country.”
While in Glasgow, Mr. Biden was asked throughout the day about Mr. Manchin’s comments, but avoided answering until his evening news conference. In his remarks and his answers to reporters, he said the world must do more to meet the climate challenge, but he stressed what he said were words of thanks he had received from other leaders for bringing the United States back to negotiations after disengagement under former President Donald J. Trump.
“We showed up,” Mr. Biden said. “And by showing up, we’ve had a profound impact.”
President Biden and other world leaders left the United Nations climate change summit on Tuesday with agreements to curb emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and to end deforestation by 2030.
But while the progress was notable, it still fell well short of the big prize: securing aggressive commitments to reach net-zero carbon emissions globally, to slow the rising temperatures that have led to lethal fires, floods, droughts and heat waves around the world.
It also remains to be seen whether richer, polluting countries will follow through on their promises to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries to fight global warming — a goal that John Kerry, the U.S. special climate envoy, said on Tuesday was within reach.
Whether countries can achieve those aims will play out in the coming days, after the heads of state and government have left town, during tough negotiations among their officials who will stay behind at the summit, known as COP26.
Addressing world leaders poised to leave the conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain expressed cautious optimism about Tuesday’s progress. But he warned that the world still has a “long way to go.”
Mr. Biden said before heading home, “I can’t think of any two days when more has been accomplished” on climate change.
On Tuesday, countries promised to curb emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that spews from oil and natural gas operations, livestock production and landfills, and, in the short term, is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The White House said that 105 countries, and counting, had signed the Global Methane Pledge, a commitment to reducing methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, including half of the world’s top 30 methane emitters. But some major polluters, like China, Russia and India, have not joined.
Mr. Biden called the methane agreement a “game-changing commitment,” also announced that for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency intends to limit the methane released by existing oil and gas rigs across the United States.
The federal government previously had rules that aimed to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas wells built since 2015, but the Trump administration rescinded them.
Congress restored the rule this year, and Mr. Biden has said he will strengthen it. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed a new regulation to curb methane from thousands of existing oil and gas wells in the United States.
The president has set an aggressive target of cutting United States carbon emissions by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, but legislation to help meet that goal is stalled in Congress. That leaves the administration relying on regulations and other executive actions.
In addition to the pledge on methane, leaders of more than 100 countries vowed on Tuesday to end deforestation by 2030, agreeing to a sweeping accord aimed at protecting the world’s forests, which are crucial to absorbing carbon dioxide and slowing the rise in global warming. President Biden said the United States would contribute billions to the effort.
The pact — which includes countries such as Brazil, Russia and China — encompasses about 85 percent of the world’s forests, officials said.
But some environmentalists were skeptical. In 2014, an accord was reached to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it entirely by 2030. Five years after the pledge, according to one estimate, the area of forest destroyed annually had grown dramatically worse.
“It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding,” said Carolina Pasquali, the executive director of Greenpeace Brazil. “Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and can’t survive years more deforestation.”
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.
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 →
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.”
John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, said he expected new financial commitments to fulfill a long-delayed promise to provide $100 billion a year in aid for developing countries to fight and adapt to global warming.
The latest diplomatic effort, led by Germany and Canada, aims to pull together that amount from wealthier donor countries by 2023 — three years behind the timetable set in 2015 under the Paris Agreement.
“I believe today, hopefully, that will be augmented,” Mr. Kerry said on the sidelines of a meeting of a group of countries known as the High Ambition Coalition, at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The United States has rejoined that coalition, Mr. Kerry announced Tuesday. That’s important because that bloc has historically pushed for the toughest targets at international climate talks and was instrumental in clinching the final deal on the Paris Agreement. The United States had dropped from the coalition when Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew from the Paris accord.
In a statement, the High Ambition Coalition rang the alarm that the world was far off track from the goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of this century, compared to the start of the industrial age. That’s the temperature threshold beyond which the most severe climate impacts become significantly more likely.
The group said its countries “note with deep concern the gap between existing commitments and a 1.5°C pathway, stress the urgent need to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this decisive decade, and recognize the importance of ambitious action” by the 20 nations with the world’s biggest economies, known as the Group of 20, which are also the world’s 20 biggest polluters.
At the moment, even if all countries achieve their voluntarily set climate plans, the average global temperature would go far past a 1.5-degree increase, raising the prospect of much more frequent and intense heat waves, fires and floods.
The statement calls on countries to submit more ambitious climate targets in order to collectively reach the target and halt what they called “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies “as soon as possible,” and signaled the need to “increase resources” for addressing loss and damage from climate impacts.
Mr. Kerry said he was optimistic that private banks would mobilize far bigger pots of money for countries trying to shift their energy systems away from fossil fuels.
“$100 billion doesn’t do it,” he said. “The only way we’re going to get it done is if trillions of dollars are forthcoming, and they are.”
Nations around the world joined together Tuesday to promise to curb emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that spews from oil and natural gas operations, livestock production and landfills and can warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide in the short term.
President Biden, calling the agreement a “game-changing commitment,” also announced that for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency intended to limit the methane coming from existing oil and gas rigs across the United States.
The federal government previously had rules that aimed to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas wells built since 2015, but the Trump administration rescinded them. President Biden intends to restore and strengthen them, administration aides said.
The announcement, at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, came as Mr. Biden faces intense pressure internationally and at home to show that the United States, the nation that has historically pumped the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is serious about mitigating climate change.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said cutting methane emissions was “one of the most effective things we can do” to slow global warming.
“We cannot wait for 2050 — we have to cut emissions fast,” she said, calling methane “the lowest-hanging fruit.”
Mr. Biden has set an aggressive target of cutting the country’s emissions this decade about 50 percent below 2005 levels, but legislation to help meet that goal is stalled in Congress. That leaves the administration relying on regulations and other executive actions.
The White House said that more than 90 countries had signed the Global Methane Pledge, a commitment to reducing methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, including half of the world’s top 30 methane emitters. The United States, European Union, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria are among those that have signed on. Some major polluters, like China, India and Russia, have not joined.
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas warming the planet, after carbon dioxide, which is produced when countries burn oil, coal and natural gas for energy. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and when it leaks out of wells and pipelines and into the atmosphere before being burned, it creates methane emissions. Livestock and landfills also produce methane.
The European Union announced the formation of the International Methane Emissions Observatory to ensure accountability. It will focus first on tracking the fossil fuel industry, which is responsible for one-third of anthropogenic emissions, and will then move on to other sectors like agriculture and waste.
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.
In a sweeping accord aimed at protecting the world’s forests, which are crucial to absorbing carbon dioxide and slowing the rise in global warming, leaders of more than 100 countries gathered in Glasgow vowed on Tuesday to end deforestation by 2030.
President Biden said the United States would contribute billions to the global effort to protect the ecosystems that are vital for cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink, and keeping the Earth’s climate in balance.
The pact — which also includes countries such as Brazil, Russia and China — encompasses about 85 percent of the world’s forests, officials said. It is one of the first major accords to emerge from the United Nations climate summit known as COP26, which is seen as a crucial moment in efforts to address climate change.
“These great teeming ecosystems — these cathedrals of nature,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said in announcing the agreement, “are the lungs of our planet.”
President Biden said he would work with Congress to deploy up to $9 billion to the global effort through 2030. Additionally, governments committed $12 billion through 2025, and private companies pledged $7 billion to protect and restore forests in a variety of ways, including $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples. More than 30 financial institutions also vowed to stop investing in companies responsible for deforestation.
It was not the first time world leaders have announced a grand accord to address the critical issue.
In 2014, an accord was reached to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it entirely by 2030. But five years after the pledge, according to one estimate, the area of forest destroyed annually had grown dramatically worse.
Some environmentalists predicted that the same will happen this time.
“It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding,” said Carolina Pasquali, the executive director of Greenpeace Brazil. “Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and can’t survive years more deforestation.”
Supporters of the new pledge note that it expands the number of countries and comes with specific steps to save forests.
“What we’re doing here is trying to change the economics on the ground to make forests worth more alive than dead,” said Eron Bloomgarden, whose group, Emergent, helps match public and private investors with forested countries and provinces looking to receive payments for reducing deforestation.
The new commitment comes amid growing awareness of the role of nature in tackling the climate crisis. Intact forests and peatlands are natural storehouses of carbon, keeping it sealed away from the atmosphere. But when these areas are logged, burned or drained, the ecosystems switch to releasing greenhouse gases.
If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, according to the World Resources Institute, after China and the United States. Much of the world’s deforestation is driven by commodity agriculture as people fell trees to make room for cattle, soy, cocoa and palm oil.
In an emotional speech on Tuesday at the summit, President Ali Bongo of Gabon said other leaders had failed to see how the world undervalued Africa’s critical ecosystems.
“The Congo basin is the heart and lungs of the African continent,” he said. “Our forests send rain to the Sahel and the Ethiopian highlands. They are critical to the African continent.”
Gabon is one of the few nations that absorb more carbon than they emit, with a forest that spans most of the country.
“It is my hope,” Mr. Bongo said, “that Glasgow will mark a turning point.”
With nations struggling to craft plans for shifting rapidly away from fossil fuels, world leaders at the Glasgow summit are increasingly focused on curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as a crucial short-term strategy for keeping alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Methane is particularly potent in the short term, although it breaks down in the atmosphere more quickly. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has been rising rapidly over the past two decades, reaching record highs, scientists warned last year.
That means cutting methane emissions today could immediately help slow the rise in global temperatures, scientists say, although it would be no substitute for measures to slash carbon dioxide emissions as well.
“It’s going to be next to impossible to remove enough carbon dioxide to get any real benefits for the climate in the first half of the century,” Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University, said this year. “But if we can make a big enough cut in methane in the next decade, we’ll see public health benefits within the decade, and climate benefits within two decades.”
Shrinking the world’s methane footprint from oil and gas production — an outsized source of global methane emissions — could also be an easier lift.
Better detection and patching up of leaks from oil and gas infrastructure such as wells and pipelines, and stronger rules against the intentional flaring or venting of methane, would go a long way, experts say. It would also save companies money, because capturing the gas means that companies capture more product.
By comparison, bringing down carbon dioxide emissions would require sweeping changes to virtually every corner of the economy — replacing the world’s gasoline cars with electric ones, for example, and shuttering almost all of its coal-fired power plants.
The United Nations says that a global effort to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel, waste and agricultural sectors could cut methane emissions as much as 45 percent by 2030 and help avoid nearly 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming as early as the 2040s.
Sarah Smith, program director of super pollutants at the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental nonprofit, said that while there were clear opportunities to improve methane regulations — for example, by strengthening the leak inspection or flaring standards — Mr. Biden now had a foothold from which to rally the world’s nations “to ratchet up ambition and action.”
Forests once blanketed the United States and Europe. Humans cut them down, turning the land into farms, towns and cities. In many other places around the world — like South America, the Congo Basin, Southeast Asia — people did a lot less of that.
Now, as the world stares down the barrel of climate catastrophe and a worsening biodiversity crisis, the forests that are left need to remain standing for everyone’s sake.
As with fossil fuels, countries that grew wealthy by felling their own forests are asking others to avoid doing the same, leading to Tuesday’s sweeping pledge by more than 100 countries to protect global forests.
When it comes to climate change, forests, peatlands and other carbon-rich ecosystems can be a blessing or a curse. Leave them be and they suck planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Fell, burn or drain them, and they release greenhouse gases, making everything far worse.
“Can we develop without deforestation first?” asked Ana Toni, executive director of Brazil’s Institute of Climate and Society, a climate advocacy group. “This is the big challenge. That’s why we need to have an international effort.”
What it comes down to, of course, is money, and the amounts announced at the United Nations climate summit on Tuesday sound like a lot: More than $20 billion from governments and the private sector.
But consider that in context.
“The financial announcements we’ve heard in Glasgow are welcome but remain small compared to the enormous private and public flows, often in the sense of subsidies, that drive deforestation,” said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, a research group.
Care to wager a guess at how much governments alone are investing in the harmful stuff? They spend an estimated $500 billion per year supporting fossil fuels and agricultural practices that are potentially damaging. Climate activists have derided such subsidies for decades.
The majority of the government pledges for forests will support work to protect, restore and sustainably manage them in countries eligible for overseas development assistance. Other elements put faith in the market, creating mechanisms for giant companies like Amazon to help protect the Amazon rainforest. BlackRock, Bayer, Nestlé and Unilever are among the companies ponying up. Additionally, more than 30 financial institutions promised to stop investing in companies responsible for deforestation. And a new set of guidelines offers a path toward eliminating deforestation from supply chains.
Critics, however, expressed disappointment that the deforestation pledge was not binding and that the supply chain measures did not include more enforcement mechanisms.
The package includes another aspect: $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples and local communities. Research shows these groups have done a better job than the rest of the world in caring for forests and biodiversity.
Tuntiak Katan, the general coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and a member of the Shuar people in Amazonian Ecuador, praised the new initiative but questioned the wisdom of throwing money at a system he sees as broken.
“If this financing doesn’t work directly, and shoulder to shoulder, with Indigenous peoples, it’s not going to have the necessary impact,” he said.
The United States vowed at the Glasgow summit to start providing $3 billion each year, by 2024, to help developing countries adapt to climate change. The Biden administration called it “the largest U.S. commitment ever made to reduce climate impacts on those most vulnerable” worldwide, assuming that Mr. Biden can persuade Congress to come up with the money.
But how much resilience and disaster recovery does $3 billion buy? A White House official said that no one was available to talk about the pledge. So here are some recent comparison points:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $50.2 billion on disasters over the past 12 months, federal records show. That’s about $3 billion every 22 days, for a country with just 4 percent of the world’s population. And this wasn’t even an especially bad year for storms.
After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, the United States spent $14.5 billion on a series of levees and pumps to protect the city of fewer than 400,000 people from future storms. But even that amount was enough only to guard against a medium-strength storm. If another Katrina-scale hurricane struck, the city would be likely to flood again.
This summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended spending $29 billion on barriers to protect the Texas coast from storm surge — a project known as the “Ike Dike,” so named because the idea gained support after Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008.
New Orleans and Galveston are a bargain compared with New York City. The Army Corps of Engineers considered spending $119 billion to protect the city from flooding. In 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York needed $10 billion just to protect the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan.
How much resilience can the world hope to get if Biden comes through on his $3 billion pledge? It might be enough to protect a smaller version of Miami. The Corps of Engineers recently proposed spending $6 billion for a six-mile long, 20-foot-high sea wall to protect Miami from the Atlantic Ocean. (Locals hated the idea, saying it would ruin the view.)
“Any amount of money invested is moving in the right direction,” Ed Johnson, former chief financial officer at FEMA and now head of EHJ-Solutions, a consulting group, said of Mr. Biden’s pledge. “But this should be considered nothing more than a small down payment.”
British officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and COP26 organizers have apologized to Israel’s energy minister after she was unable to attend Monday’s events because she could not access the venue in her wheelchair.
Karine Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, arrived at one of the entrances to the event’s compound but her vehicle was not allowed to enter, and the remaining distance was too far for her to go in her wheelchair, she told Israeli media. She waited for two hours and was eventually offered a shuttle to the site, but the shuttle was not wheelchair accessible, she said.
“I came to COP26 to meet my counterparts in the world and advance our joint struggle against the climate crisis,” Ms. Elharrar wrote on Twitter. “It’s sad that the United Nations, which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities, in 2021 doesn’t worry about accessibility at its own events.”
Others in wheelchairs have successfully gained access to the conference facilities, which include elevators, ramps and accessible bathrooms, and Ms. Elharrar was in attendance on Tuesday.
George Eustice, Britain’s environment secretary, said in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that “most of the other entrances” had wheelchair access, but the particular entrance Ms. Elharrar arrived at on Monday was not prepared for her.
“It was because she came to an entrance where they didn’t have that provision,” he said. “But we obviously deeply regret that that was the case, and action should have been taken to sort that out.”
COP26 organizers wrote on Twitter that Ms. Elharrar’s experience was “a genuine mistake and we have apologized for that.” The event “must be inclusive and accessible to all and the venue is designed to facilitate that,” the organizers wrote.
Mr. Johnson personally apologized to Ms. Elharrar at a meeting on Tuesday, according to the Times of Israel.
“I gather there was some confusion with the arrangements yesterday,” Mr. Johnson told her, according to the newspaper. “I am very, very sorry about that.”
Other apologies came from Neil Wigan, the British ambassador to Israel, and James Cleverly, the foreign office minister for the Middle East and North Africa.
Jeff Bezos, one of the richest humans on the planet, and who started his financial empire by selling books online, pledged $2 billion to restoring natural habitats and transforming food systems at the climate summit in Glasgow on Tuesday.
“Amazon aims to power all its operations by renewable energies by 2025,” he said, restating his goal for the company to be carbon-neutral by 2040.
That will be a sizable challenge.
Amazon said, for example, that the company’s emissions from indirect sources had increased 15 percent last year over 2019. The company has pointed out that when its emissions are measured relative to its booming sales, its carbon footprint has been decreasing. But some climate experts say this calculation, called carbon intensity, obscures that the company is still generating an increasing amount of carbon.
“The planet doesn’t care about carbon intensity,” said Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The climate is being hurt by absolute emissions.”
The actions taken by Amazon came after pressure from employees for the company to step up its efforts in addressing climate change. That has included calls that the company stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract fossil fuels, and that it cease giving campaign donations to politicians who deny that climate change is happening.
The pledge that Mr. Bezos made on Monday is part of a philanthropic effort by the Bezos Earth Fund, to which he committed $10 billion last year.
He also announced that Amazon in collaboration with Norway, the UK, and the U.S. would mobilize $1 billion to end deforestation by 2030.
Mr. Bezos, who recently made headlines by flying in a spacecraft built by his rocket company, Blue Origin, called the loss of Earth’s forests “a profound and urgent danger to us all.”
“I was told that seeing the Earth from space changes the lens through which you view the world,” he said. “But I was not prepared for just how much that was true.”
And the loss of forests was particularly striking. “In too many parts of the world, nature is already flipping from carbon sink to a carbon source,” he said.
Mr. Bezos has joined an international push to safeguard at least 30 percent of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030, known as 30×30.
The plan, led by Britain, Costa Rica and France, is intended to help tackle a global biodiversity crisis that puts a million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction. While climate change is part of the problem, activities like farming and fishing have been even bigger drivers of biodiversity loss.
The 30×30 plan would try to slow that by protecting intact natural areas like old-growth forests and wetlands, which not only nurture biodiversity, but also store carbon and filter water.
The pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb, the equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, Texas Instruments, Exxon Mobil and the Walt Disney Company all promote the environmental sustainability of their operations and have set objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But something is missing from these lofty corporate goals: any accounting of significant emissions from their supply chains or waste from their products. For some companies, those can total as much as 95 percent of their overall contributions to greenhouse gases.
A closer look at corporate America’s claims that it is accelerating efforts to tackle the climate crisis — made in marketing and investor presentations — reveals that many of these assertions remain limited and fail to make a dent in the largest source of carbon emissions: the global supply chains that power the modern economy and have become dinner-table conversation amid huge disruptions this year.
Many companies are still taking steps that reduce carbon in the most minimal ways. These include installing solar panels at headquarters, designing more energy efficient stores, and tracking commuting and business travel by their employees.
But emissions from the factories that make the sneakers sold on e-commerce websites or from the farms that produce the meat and milk sold on grocery shelves continue to grow in some cases.
Angel Hsu, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of the Data-Driven EnviroLab, created a database using corporate climate disclosures and other sources, She found that 1,858 companies out of 2,000 had either pledged or committed to become net zero. But only 210 of the companies reported emissions from supply chains or consumer waste.
In another analysis, Professor Hsu found that roughly two-thirds of the companies that said they were on track to meet emission-reduction targets set for 2030 had set low or unambitious targets.
“I’m generally skeptical of a company that says it has achieved or overachieved its targets at this point,” she said.
In a bid to protect the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic Pacific archipelago where Charles Darwin saw a blueprint for the origin of every species, Ecuador’s president said on Tuesday that his nation would expand the marine reserve around the natural treasures.
“Today is a day that will remain in history for us, Ecuador, Galápagos and the world,” President Guillermo Lasso said at the climate summit in Glasgow. “We are not only preserving the future of our country, but the entire humanity.”
The government has agreed with the fishery, tourism and conservation sectors to establish a new marine reserve of more than 23,000 square miles in the Galápagos Islands.
Mr. Lasso said it would be added to an existing marine reserve of about 50,000 square miles.
As climate change warms the world’s oceans, these islands are a crucible, and scientists are worried. Not only do the Galápagos sit at the intersection of three ocean currents, they are also in the cross hairs of El Niño, a climate phenomenon that can have wide-ranging effects on weather around the world.
Research published in 2014 by more than a dozen climate scientists warned that rising ocean temperatures were making El Niño both more frequent and more intense. And UNESCO, the United Nations educational and cultural agency, says that the Galápagos Islands are one of the places most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“This will not only strengthen the area’s biodiversity, but it will also bolster our combat against climate change,” Mr. Lasso said.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas-emitting nation, is not physically present at the COP26 climate summit. But on Tuesday he signed on to a pledge by more than 100 countries to end deforestation by 2030.
“The conservation of forests and other natural ecosystems is a key component of international efforts to address global warming and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” Mr. Putin said in a short video address to the conference.
He pledged to expand reforestation programs in Russia, which is home to 20 percent of the world’s forests.
Russia has vowed to go carbon neutral by 2060, and a key component of that plan relies on using its forests to absorb harmful carbon dioxide emissions and produce oxygen. That has prompted skepticism from leading climate scientists, who say the country is unable to properly monitor its vast forests and continues to invest in producing more oil, gas and coal.
Russia is scrambling to retain the wealth and power that come from selling fossil fuels to the world, even as the Kremlin increasingly acknowledges climate change to be a human-made crisis that the country needs to do more to address.
Mr. Putin’s announcement last month that Russia would stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2060 was a remarkable reversal, since he had long dismissed climate science and many in his country see international efforts to address global warming as part of a Western plot to weaken Russia.
But it is unclear whether Russia is sincere in its climate pledges. Russian energy experts and government officials acknowledge that the moves are largely driven by economics, with the European Union’s plans for tariffs on heavily polluting countries threatening exports from Russia.
While many governments may be racing to head off the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, the economics of global warming are playing out differently in Russia.
Arable land is expanding, with farmers planting corn in parts of Siberia where it never grew before. Winter heating bills are declining, and Russian fishermen have found a modest pollock catch in thawed areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska.
Nowhere do the prospects seem brighter than in Russia’s Far North, where rapidly rising temperatures have opened up a panoply of new possibilities, like mining and energy projects. Perhaps the most profound of these is the prospect, as early as next year, of year-round Arctic shipping with specially designed “ice class” container vessels, offering an alternative to the Suez Canal.
The Kremlin’s policy toward climate change is contradictory. It is not a significant issue in domestic politics. But ever mindful of Russia’s global image, President Vladimir V. Putin recently vowed for the first time that Russia, the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and a prodigious producer of fossil fuels, would become carbon neutral by 2060.
In practice, however, the Russian approach seems to boil down to this: While climate change may be an enormous threat for the future, why not take advantage of the commercial opportunities it offers in the present?
Across the Russian Arctic, a consortium of companies supported by the government is midway through a plan to invest about $10 billion to develop the Northeast Passage, a shipping lane between the Pacific and Atlantic that the Russians call the Northern Sea Route. They plan to attract shipping between Asia and Europe that now traverses the Suez Canal and to enable mining, natural gas and tourism ventures.
In Pevek, a small port town on the eastern edge of the thawing Arctic, the warming climate is seen as a barely mitigated bonanza. The town has recently added a refurbished port, a new power plant, repaved roads and an esplanade along the Arctic shore.
“I would call it a rebirth,” said Valentina Khristoforova, a curator at a local history museum. “We are in a new era.”
Governments are committing to “net zero.” “Eco-friendly” products are being sold on Instagram. Oil and gas companies are promising to become “sustainable.”
As climate change gets worse, many people want others to know that they’re doing something about it. But what do those words mean? Are they really communicating information — or obfuscating it? Consider the debates over “natural gas” versus “fracked gas,” “carbon pricing” rather than “carbon tax,” or “renewable” versus “clean” energy.
Here is a brief user’s guide the term “net zero.”
Scientists have warned that global warming will keep getting worse until humanity reaches “net zero” emissions globally — that is, the point at which we are no longer pumping any additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
So in recent years a growing number of countries and businesses have been pledging to “go net zero” by various dates. But the concept can easily be abused.
Governments or companies are not always promising to stop emitting carbon dioxide altogether. Often they’re saying that they will reduce fossil-fuel emissions from their own factories, homes and cars as much as they can — and then offset whatever they can’t get rid of by, for example, planting trees or using technology to pull carbon out of the air.
Those offsets can be contentious, though. Trees can absorb carbon, but they can also burn in wildfires. Carbon removal technology is still in its infancy. Critics worry that leaders and businesses may be using the uncertain promise of such offsets to avoid making deeper cuts today. And many countries’ net zero pledges are vague and not backed by concrete policies to curb emissions.
President Biden pressed the case on Tuesday that the global recovery from the pandemic will present a unique opportunity to tackle climate change.
“Every choice we make in this decisive decade,” he said at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, “must help decrease carbon emission and not push us further away from the sustainable path of net zero emissions by 2050.”
Mr. Biden said that the “Build Back Better World” initiative, a project launched by the Group of 7 wealthiest economies to help create sustainable infrastructure in lower-income countries, would help countries build sustainable, clean infrastructure.
It would also bring enormous economic opportunity, Mr. Biden said, striking a theme he has repeated during his time at the global summit.
The administration also hoped to offer a sharp contrast with other countries, such as China, that are building infrastructure in developing countries that strengthens dependency on fossil fuels and contributes to high levels of debt.
Speaking alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, Mr. Biden offered priorities for the effort.
“By ensuring high standards for our projects, we can create infrastructure that lifts up communities,” he said. “We have to show — and I think we will show — that democracy is still the best way for delivering results.”
Every corner of the world will feel the effects of global warming, but they will be most drastic for small island nations — particularly low-lying ones that could be swallowed whole by rising seas.
Yet the fate of those countries rests not in their own hands, but in those of much larger nations that emit the vast majority of greenhouse gases, and whose economies benefit from producing or burning fossil fuels.
Leaders of island nations made impassioned appeals at the U.N. climate summit, arguing not only that the rest of the world should act in its own self-interest, but that it has an obligation specifically to them.
“The existence of our low-lying neighbors is not negotiable,” said Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji.
The world faces a choice between “our grandchildren’s future” and corporate greed, he said, insisting that the international target of keeping average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius is feasible.
“All that’s missing is courage to act,” he said.
Several leaders called for the conference to discuss the idea of wealthier, more polluting nations paying damages to poorer ones that contribute little to the problem but suffer disproportionately from it.
Among them was Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, one of the small island countries that this week turned to an international court seeking such damages.
Island leaders also scolded others for discussing global warming, and their responses to it, in deceptive terms.
The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, poked holes in the climate promises of some countries that are based on technologies that don’t yet exist.
“This is at best reckless,” she said, and “at worst dangerous.”
From the perspective of low-lying countries, she said, “if our existence is to mean anything we must act.”
Mr. Bainimarama took a swipe at phrases that are tossed around by companies and countries that profit from fossil fuels.
“Clean coal, responsible natural gas,” he said, “are all figments.”
NAXOS, Greece — On the windswept western tip of one of Greece’s largest islands, an unassuming stone building above the Aegean Sea has become an unlikely outpost in the country’s fight against climate change.
Camouflaged inside is a new power station linked to a 180-mile undersea electricity cable that ties Naxos to a chain of other breezy vacation playgrounds, allowing the islands to ditch their oil-burning generators for renewable power from Greece’s abundant wind and sun.
Nearby islands have become zero-carbon laboratories for companies like Volkswagen to fan out electric cars and wire communities for clean energy. Changes are underway on the mainland, too, where dirty lignite coal mines that powered Greece for decades are being fast-tracked for closure.
The push for a transition to clean energy would seem a herculean task for Greece, a country of around 10 million that recently emerged from a devastating decade-long debt crisis and still leans heavily on fossil fuels for power.
Greece is betting on a carbon-free future to reshape its economic destiny. What’s fascinating is that small Greek islands are being used for innovative experiments to drive the clean power shift.
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But as the European Union seeks to be a global leader in the race to stop climate change, Greece is betting that turning toward a carbon-free future can reshape its economic destiny.
“The growth of the economy is inextricably tied to making ourselves as energy independent as we can,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative who took office in 2019 vowing to rebuild Greece, in part based on an environmental agenda.
“Greece can be a paradigm of how energy transition and climate action can create jobs and sustainable growth,” he said in an interview.
Whether Greece succeeds matters. As wealthier European countries like Norway and Denmark make strides re-engineering their economies to be more climate friendly, Greece offers a test case of whether — and how effectively — Europe’s poorer states can turn away from fossil fuels while providing buffers for those threatened by the change.
It was the kind of spotlight associated with a certain other young climate activist: A hall full of world leaders and a speaking slot preceding the secretary general of the United Nations.
The woman in the spotlight was not Greta Thunberg, but Txai Suruí, a 24-year-old Indigenous climate activist from Brazil, making her first appearance on the world stage. On the opening day of the global climate summit in Glasgow, she made an eloquent appeal drawing attention to the devastating deforestation of the Amazon.
“The Earth is speaking,” Ms. Suruí said. “She tells us that we have no more time.”
“The animals are disappearing,” she added. “The rivers are dying, and our plants don’t flower like they did before.”
Ms. Suruí told the heads of state in the audience that they were “closing your eyes to reality” and their timetables for reducing carbon emissions and scaling back the use of fossil fuels were inadequate.
“It’s not 2030 or 2050,” she said. “It’s now.”
Ms. Suruí’s speech at the summit came as organizers faced criticism for a notable omission from the program: Ms. Thunberg, who said that she had not been invited, but joined scores of protesters on Monday outside the conference hall.
Recalling to world leaders the murder of one of her childhood friends, who she said had tried to combat deforestation, Ms. Suruí said that she had witnessed the toll of climate change firsthand.
“Indigenous peoples are on the front line of the climate emergency,” she said. “We must be at the center of the decisions happening here.”
Ms. Suruí said that her father, a tribal chief, had taught her “we must listen to the stars, the moon, the wind, the animals and the trees.”
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.”
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.
Read More: What Happened on Day 2 of the COP26 Climate Change Summit