As the World Leaders Summit opened on day two of COP26, UN chief António Guterres sent a stark message to the international community. “We are digging our own graves”, he said, referring to the addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to push humanity and the planet, to the brink, through unsustainable global heating.
It was a grey and windy morning on Monday, as dozens of world leaders arrived at the Scottish Event Campus, of the key United Nations climate conference, in the city of Glasgow.
Since 6.30am, long lines of people gathered at the gates to get their accreditations, and pass through tight security, which included presenting proof of negative COVID-19 tests.
Journalists from all over the world set to work side by side in the event halls, armed with a host of microphones, cameras, lights and recording equipment.
The stage was set to hear from Heads of State as COP26 got underway, including the co-host, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, of the United Kingdom, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We want the Heads of State to be real leaders, and for them to ignite change and step up during COP26”, Juan Pablo Sierra, a young climate activist from NGO United for Climate Action, told UN News just before the ceremony started.
A live performance by young Scottish piper Brìghde Chaimbeu kicked off proceedings this morning, in the main plenary hall.
Addressing leaders at the first major global gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic, COP President Alok Sharma said: “The science is clear that the window of time we have to keep the goal of 1.5℃ alive , and to avoid the worst effects of climate change, is closing fast. But with political will and commitment, we can, and must, deliver an outcome in Glasgow the world can be proud of.”
The first leader to speak at the ceremony, which started at 12.30 pm local time, was the UK’s Boris Johnson, who made a comparison between the climate crisis, and a doomsday device featured in one of the James Bond movies, shot on set in Glasgow.
“We need to make this COP26 the moment we get real about climate change. We can get real”, he said, advocating for the end of coal and the greening of transport.
“COP26 will not, and cannot be, the end of the story of climate change”, he added, emphasizing that the work will not end, even if the conference finishes with the needed commitments.
“We might not feel like James Bond, or look like James Bond, but COP26 must be the start of defusing that bomb. Yes, it is going to be hard, but yes, we can do it”, he concluded.
‘Agents of Hope’
Two young activists followed on from the Prime Minister, calling on leaders for bold action.
“You all have the power together to be better, to remember that in your words you have the weapons that can save us or sell us out. You don’t need my pain or my tears to end the crisis. We are not just victims of this crisis, we are resilient agents of hope. We are not drowning, we are fighting”, they said.
Kenyan environment and climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti said: “We need you to respond with courage to the climate and ecological crisis…for these next two weeks – which are so critical for the children, for our species, for so many other living beings – let us step into our hearts.”
Leaders were also addressed by poet Yrsa Daley-Ward, whose specially commissioned poem Earth to COP includes the lines: “Anything less than your best is too much to pay. Anything later than now, too little, too late. Nothing will change without you.”
On his part, Secretary-General António Guterres took the podium with a blunt opening message: “The six years since the Paris Climate Agreement have been the six hottest years on record. Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink”
“We face a stark choice. Either we stop it – or it stops us”, he added, delivering five key messages to world leaders.
The Secretary-General said the private sector is also waking up and building new alliances to catalyse change.
“The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable. They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away. I stand with them”, he said.
Mr. Guterres warned that we are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating, but investing in the net zero, climate-resilient economy, will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs and opportunity.
“On behalf of this and future generations, I urge you: Choose ambition. Choose solidarity. Choose to safeguard our future and save humanity”, he concluded.
Following the UN chief, COP26 people’s advocate David Attenborough delivered a passionate speech which was accompanied by clips of activists around the world.
“We are, after all, the greatest problem-solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem, We know how to stop the number rising, and put it in reverse. We must halve carbon emissions this decade. We must recapture billions of tonnes of carbon from the air. We must fix our sights on keeping 1.5 degrees within reach”, he said
The famous environmental activist and broadcaster said that if working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, working together, we are powerful enough to save it.
“In my lifetime, I have witnessed a terrible decline, in yours, you could, and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you and why you are here”, he underscored.
Biden: ‘decade of ambition’ needed
Later in the day as leaders made national statements, US President Joe Biden, said that world leaders could keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees if they come together and commit.
“Glasgow must be the kick-off of a decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future”, he said, reminding that climate change is already costing nations millions of lives and dollars.