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Meet the key players of the COP26 climate summit


In the days and months leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, stark warnings from scientists and policymakers made clear that time is running out.

Without more ambitious action on emissions, the world is on a dangerous trajectory that "may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7°C by the end of the century," according to a U.N. report. Scientists say such a rise would have a catastrophic impact around the world.

The event, known as COP26, will involve two weeks of negotiations, during which countries will attempt to set bolder national targets for limiting emissions, help vulnerable and developing nations deal with existing climate catastrophes and finance shifts to greener economies as well as set rules that govern everything from carbon markets to how the world will measure its progress. As thousands of diplomats, activists and scientists will attend the event, here are some of the figures and groups who may have a substantial impact on the talks.

- The dealmakers:

- John F. Kerry

President Joe Biden's climate envoy and lead negotiator, Kerry is no stranger to global climate summits. As a senator, he attended the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which resulted in the first U.N. international framework to try to combat climate change. Since then he's attended most of the organization's climate summits.

As secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Kerry helped shape the 2015 Paris agreement and brings with him strong relationships with other negotiators, as well as a mandate from Biden to make climate a top priority for U.S. foreign policy.

But he may face some questions about the country's domestic policies. Under Biden, the world's richest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter has so far failed to pass major legislation at home making the changes necessary to curb emissions, even as the administration has used its executive powers to push more climate-friendly policies.

For months, Kerry has been jetting around the world in an effort to compel other world leaders to embrace more ambitious emissions-cutting plans.

- Alok Sharma

A member of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's cabinet, Sharma is the president of COP26. Known for his steady, hard-working demeanor, the former secretary of state for business is likely to be focused on one thing: getting countries on board to sign an agreement.

He's admitted that may be harder this year than it was in Paris but has also stressed that the climate summit is "our last best chance of getting this right."

- Patricia Espinosa

A former Mexican politician, Espinosa is one of the top U.N. leaders on climate, holding the role of executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since 2016. It's her job to work with Sharma throughout the summit to get countries to agree on a framework for cutting emissions. She's been in Sharma's position before, as president of the conference when Mexico was the host in 2010.

Espinosa has not minced words on the urgency of addressing the crisis.

A failure to act would mean not only climate crises but flows of displaced people, the crumbling of institutions and unrest, she said in a recent U.N. report. "It would mean less food, so probably a crisis in food security. It would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups and violent groups. It would mean a lot of sources of instability."

- Mark Carney

The former governor of the Bank of England, Carney now serves as the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. He's been a leader in incorporating climate change into the financial sector, urging for incentives and regulations that get private companies on board.

Carney formed the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, GFANZ, aimed at getting the private sector to echo the net zero goals some countries have already pledged.

But some feel his agenda isn't going far enough. In October, dozens of organizations advocating for action against climate change signed a letter laying out concerns that the companies agreeing to the GFANZ net-zero pledge were doing so as a PR stunt rather than an earnest effort to strengthen climate action. Many of them, the letter said, continue to back fossil fuels.

- Ursula von der Leyen

The European Union has been a major leader on climate change in the last decade. Von der Leyen will likely keep pushing the bloc's ambitious agenda and, along with Kerry and other allies, will urge the rest of the world to follow suit.

Since she became president of the European Commission in 2019, the E.U. has pledged to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and achieve a net-zero emissions balance by 2050.

But reaching those goals may be harder for some member states than others. Germany, for example, sees itself a champion of climate action, but some of its villages are still being wiped away for coal mining.

- The Wild Cards:

- Scott Morrison

The Australian Prime Minister famously held up a lump of coal in parliament in 2017, urging onlookers not to fear the substance as his rival Labor Party pushed for renewable energy.

Since taking the top job in Canberra, Morrison has been dragging his feet on major climate action, even as Australia suffers the effects of devastating fires and droughts linked to climate change.

But Morrison said he's attending the Glasgow summit because it's "important" and announced a 2050 net zero pledge, though he stopped short of laying out a more ambitious target for 2030. Some say it's too little too late; others say at least it's something.

Still, it's not clear how much leverage the United States has over its close ally ever since it signed a major submarine deal with Australia in a strategic bid against China. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised eyebrows in September when she said Australia was "leading the way" on climate change, making some question whether the United States is wary of criticizing the country's climate policies.

- Narendra Modi

That Modi is showing up at all signals India might be more serious about climate action than in years past. During the Paris negotiations, the country held out until the very end before agreeing to sign on.

Under the Paris agreement, countries were urged to improve on their nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, every five years. So far, India has not submitted an updated one ahead of Glasgow. The country still remains largely reliant on coal, with few concrete plans to curb those emissions. But it has made large steps on the renewable energy front. Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Modi again pledged to achieve 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.

India was one of the few countries to meet its Paris commitments ahead of Glasgow, and while its emissions are high, officials note that when measured per person, the country of more than 1 billion people ranks 140th in the world.

Modi and his delegation are likely to demand more financial support from developed countries to speed India's transition away from an emissions-dependent economy. India, China and other developing countries have long pointed out that developed nations also emitted massive amounts of greenhouse gases while they were growing their economies, and their countries need fair incentives to be able to curb their emissions.

- Xie Zhenhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping won't be in Glasgow, though it's unclear what sort of message that's sending - Xi hasn't traveled abroad during the coronavirus pandemic.

In his stead, Xie, a veteran climate official, will help lead China's delegation. He headed China's climate negotiations from 2007 to 2018 and has a strong and familiar relationship with Kerry, who has called him a "leader" and "capable advocate" for the country.

But relations between Washington and Beijing are strained, raising doubts that the two nations will be able to forge an agreement that meaningfully curbs China's emissions in the near term.

China has pledged to peak emissions by 2030, but won't say when exactly, and the country will still be increasing its use of coal until 2026. The world's largest CO2 emitter, has announced a 2060 net zero pledge and vowed to stop building coal plants overseas. But it's what China decides to do domestically that could make the most difference in whether carbon emissions can be curbed enough to prevent catastrophic warming.

- Ruslan Edelgeriyev

Russian President Vladimir Putin also won't be at the summit. Instead Edelgeriyev, his chief climate envoy, will lead the delegation. The country only formally joined the Paris agreement in 2019, and has since pledged a 2060 net zero target, though it's unclear how one of the world's largest natural gas and oil producers will reach that goal.

The country has remained secretive about its methane emissions and has so far not signed onto the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce methane emissions nearly a third by 2030.

- Abdulaziz bin Salman

Once seen as a great obstructer in negotiations, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has started to make pledges that indicate it's more dedicated to climate action - so long as it can continue to export oil.

The country's energy minister, Abdulaziz, called for a "comprehensive solution" to climate change at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, according to Bloomberg News. He added that the world "cannot operate without fossil fuels, without hydrocarbons, without renewables . . . none of these things will be the savior."

Saudi Arabia has made a 2060 net zero pledge but says it intends to use its income from exporting fossil fuels to fund initiatives to offset those emissions.

- Joaquim Leite

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has voiced skepticism about climate change in the past and won't be showing up to Glasgow. Even moments of hope on climate action for Brazil - home to the Amazon rainforest and seen as a valuable asset against fighting climate change - have led to disappointment for climate activists. At an April summit organized by Biden, Bolsonaro pledged to double the country's environmental budget. One day later, he cut the country's 2021 environmental budget by nearly a quarter.

Brazil's environment minister, Leite, doesn't appear to share Bolsonaro's skepticism on the effects of global warming. He's said he's going to Glasgow with the intention of being part of the solution. Progress on scaling back deforestation, according to Leite, would be contingent on how much funding Brazil and other developing countries will receive to mitigate the economic effects.

- The most affected

- Alliance of Small Island States

With member states like the Maldives, the Bahamas, Fiji and Jamaica, the Alliance of Small Island States is sure to be one of the loudest voices at the conference calling for climate action.

The group was formed in 1990 with the sole purpose of giving a larger platform to the small nations most severely affected by the effects of global warming.

This year is no different. The organization is calling for ambitious action to keep the world from warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius; if it does, some of its members could be completely underwater.

Also at play is a 2009 pledge made in Copenhagen wherein countries vowed to give $100 billion a year by 2020 to poorer countries to help mitigate the effects of climate change. That pledge has failed, and the price tag is looking meager as estimates show the cost of addressing the effects of climate change could be in the trillions.

- African Group of Negotiators

The African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change was formed at the first COP in 1995 with the intention of presenting a unified voice from countries in the region in climate negotiations.

Ahead of the summit, the chair of the group, Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, has called for developed countries to present 2050 net zero emissions goals and meet the $100 billion annual pledge. He stressed that Africa was at the mercy of the world's larger emitters.

"Africa contributes the least emissions but suffers the brunt of the consequences," Gahouma-Bekale said in a July statement. "In addition to the effects of the climate crisis such as food insecurity, population displacement and water scarcity, more than half of African countries are likely to experience climate-related conflicts."

Published : November 02, 2021

By : The Washington Post