The mood in Glasgow was optimistic on Tuesday as world leaders wrapped up their high-level summit at the COP26 climate conference. Several major announcements brightened the outlook on whether the meeting can achieve meaningful results.
Here’s what happened on day two.
A big methane pledge
Around 100 nations and parties have signed on to a global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% of 2020 levels by 2030, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Methane, which is the main component of natural gas, is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Invisible and odorless, it has 80 times more warming power in the near-term than carbon dioxide.
Von der Leyen said cutting the methane emissions “will immediately slow down climate change.”
Helen Mountford, the vice president of climate and economics at World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, said cutting methane emissions was essential to prevent the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, a key threshold identified by scientists.
“This pledge … sets a strong floor in terms of the ambition we need globally,” Mountford said in a statement. “Strong and rapid action to cut methane emissions offers a range of benefits, from limiting near-term warming and curbing air pollution to improved food security and better public health.”
US President Joe Biden said the push to reduce methane emissions is as much an economic opportunity as it is an environmental one.
“This isn’t just something we have to do to protect the environment, our future,” Biden said Tuesday. “It’s an enormous opportunity, enormous opportunity for all of us, all of our nations, to create jobs and make meaningful climate goals a core part of our global economic recovery, as well.”
Biden slams Xi and Putin for skipping conference
US President Joe Biden criticized China and Russia for not doing more to tackle the climate crisis during a news conference at the COP26 climate summit, questioning Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global leadership.
“The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world, as a world leader – not showing up? Come on,” he told reporters. “The single most important thing that’s got the attention of the world is climate.”
In response to a question from CNN’s Phil Mattingly, he said: “I think it’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China, with respect to China, not showing up.”
He said the same of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The rest of the world is going to look to China and say, ‘what value added are they providing?’ And they’ve lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP, the same way I would argue with regard to Russia.”
But China warms to ‘1.5 degrees’
China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua said Tuesday his country was “not resisting” the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
China has been reluctant to strictly commit to the 1.5 degree figure, and has preferred to say they will commit to keep warming “below 2 degrees and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.”
But Xie appeared to be warming up to the target on Tuesday.
“I do not resist the 1.5 degree target. That is a part of the Paris Agreement goals, actually. Talking about global climate goals needs to be based on rules. Since 1.5 degrees Celsius is a part of the Paris goals, certainly we’re not against this target,” he said.
China is the world’s largest polluter, so its support for the goal is vital. Xie is China’s top climate negotiator and as such, he is arguably one of the most powerful people attending the Glasgow summit. Earlier on Tuesday, he criticized the West for “failing to deliver” on their commitment to provide $100 billion annual climate financing for developing countries.
“I recently talked to the top COP26 president Alok Sharma, and with (US climate envoy) John Kerry and ministers for many other countries. And they told me that we need to wait until 2022 or even 2023 to achieve the target 100 billion US dollars, the target set for before 2020,” he told reporters.
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Meanwhile, speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Kerry said the US was working with China “without challenging them in any personal way.”
“China has said ‘we are going to strictly limit coal,’” Kerry said. “What we are trying to do is work with China in a cooperative way to show how they could speed up the transition.”
South Africa’s plan to transition from coal
The US, UK, France, Germany and European Union have announced they will help fund South Africa’s transition away from coal.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the initial $8.5 billion partnership would help South Africa decarbonize its coal-intensive energy system. The details of the funding have not yet been announced, and diplomats expect the fine print to be worked out in the months ahead.
Climate scientists and some diplomats say the South Africa agreement could pave the way for similar deals with other developing countries that are heavy polluters – a critical step in containing global warming and avoiding a full-blown climate catastrophe.
The promise to finance a transition from coal will be noticed by politicians in developing nations because South Africa is among the most coal-dependent nations in the world.
A steel deal and UK companies to go net zero
More than 40 countries, including the UK, US, India and China, as well as the EU, have backed the first international commitment to achieve “near-zero” emission steel production by 2030.
The steel industry is one of the world’s top carbon dioxide producers. It is also one of the trickiest industries to decarbonize, because alternatives to the coal needed to produce it isn’t yet widely available.
Roz Bulleid, the deputy policy director at Green Alliance, an NGO, said green steel technology is key to achieving 1.5 degrees.
“It’s great to see the UK rallying international action on clean steel: addressing the sector’s climate impact has long been in the ‘too hard’ box but we now have real solutions that can and must be scaled up,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the UK government is expected to announce Wednesday that financial institutions and publicly listed companies will be required to publish detailed plans on how to hit their net-zero climate targets.
Vulnerable countries ask for help
The second day of the leaders’ summit saw a number of emotional speeches from leaders of African and small island countries.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group that unites the 48 countries most at-risk from climate change, convened a meeting at COP26 on Tuesday, calling on the rich world to help them transition to green economies and deal with the impacts of rising temperatures.
CVF ambassador and former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed urged large and small countries to stand together and “not give up.”
“It is extremely naive for leaders to say they will save people’s jobs by keeping to fossil fuels,” he said. “Everyone is now vulnerable, not just us little islands.”
Leaders from the group had a similar refrain: while their countries are among the least-polluting in the world, they on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“The IPCC shows Africa is warming faster than any continent in the world even though we are the least emitters,” Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo told the forum, referring to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This is why we stand with the Africa Group and the CVF in calling on developed countries to lead in mitigating emissions.”
Kerry also attended the meeting. While he acknowledged the hardships vulnerable countries face, he also urged them to act on climate and cut their own emissions.
“I’ll be very direct with you folks. Your complaint about what got us here is legitimate. The future is going to be defined but what we choose to do,” Kerry said. “If we’re going to be responsible to ourselves into the world, we have to reduce the emissions and we also have to be responsible by doing enough for adaptation to take care of damage has been done, and to help countries be able to work through it.”
More details on deforestation
The big pledge to end deforestation by 2030, announced by more than 100 countries on Monday, began to take a clearer shape as several governments announced concrete commitments.
The EU has pledged €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to help protect the world’s forests over the next five years, a quarter of which will be reserved for the Congo Basin pledge, a fund established to protect the world’s second largest tropical rainforest against the threats posed by industrial logging and mining.
The UK said it would commit £1.5 billion ($2 billion) over five years to support the pledge, including £350 million ($475 million) for tropical forests in Indonesia and up to £300 million ($408 million) intended for the Amazon.
And Biden promised $9 billion on behalf of the US.
“This plan is the first of its kind, taking a whole of government approach and working our case with Congress to employ up to $9 billion in US funding through 2030 to conserve and restore our forests and mobilize billions more from our partners,” he said.
CNN’s David McKenzie, Angela Dewan and Ella Nilsen contributed to this report.