Steam rises from the Miller coal Power Plant in Adamsville, Alabama on April 11, 2021.
UN Report: World fossil fuel usage headed in the wrong direction
03:44 - Source: CNN
London CNN  — 

Just months ago, consensus was growing that COP26 would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the reset button on the climate crisis, bringing world leaders together to make new commitments to save the planet.

While the summit in Glasgow, Scotland, is still of vital importance in the battle against climate change, there is now a question mark on whether it will adequately put flesh on the bones of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is its main purpose.

During a summer of extreme weather and new science showing that climate change is happening faster than we previously understood, there was a real sense that COP26 would be a huge moment for the global community to come together and lay out clear, real-world actions to halve emissions over this decade with the aim of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But less than a week out, things are looking shaky.

British government officials shared with CNN their concerns that some of the most important nations in the G20 have yet to disclose their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on cutting emissions with just days to go until the summit kicks off.

There are also worries over the symbolic absence of several key leaders. Chinese President Xi Jinping, leader of the world’s largest emitter, is unlikely to attend, having not left the country since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

British officials had hoped that the UK’s successful vaccine rollout and the broader global response to the pandemic would mean the summit would go ahead as close to normal as possible. However, in recent weeks, the UK’s infection rate has soared and last week the country saw its deadliest day since March. The consequences of lifting almost all Covid restrictions before summer and returning life to normal have become impossible to ignore.

Ministers are now facing calls to impose further restrictions, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid has floated the possibility of introducing vaccine passports and other measures for those most vulnerable to the virus.

Questions are now being raised over how this all might affect COP26, which 25,000 people are expected to attend amid planned mass protests, as well as potential rail and bus strikes.

The pandemic is part of the reason some world leaders say they won’t attend. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have confirmed they aren’t coming, while yet to confirm are Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – all G20 leaders who are significant in the climate discourse because of their countries’ emissions, fossil fuel production, or both.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks on video conference during the Pre-COP26 event in Italy last month.

“If a world leader chooses not to attend for whatever reason, it sends a very clear signal that climate simply isn’t at the top of their priority list and depletes the momentum going into the summit,” says Mark Lynas, author of the book “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency.”

“It cannot be entirely coincidental that many of those reluctant to attend COP in person happen to lead countries that are high emitters or producers of fossil fuels,” Lynas says.

Underscoring the importance of COP26, Lynas says that Glasgow’s gathering “won’t just be a shindig where people can pose for photos,” but our “last real chance of setting out measures to meet the commitments made in Paris” of limiting warming to 1.5C and halving emissions by 2030.

UK government officials have played down the significance of any specific no-shows, stating that what really matters are commitments on emissions and spending that accompany any national delegation. They are awake to the fact, however, that