COP26: 'If Glasgow fails, whole thing fails', PM says world must act now to tackle climate change

As the G20 summit drew to a close ahead of the COP26 climate conference, world leaders stressed the need for more to be done to tackle global warming, reports ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy

If the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow "fails" to reach an agreement to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, then "the whole thing fails", Boris Johnson has warned.

Speaking in Rome after a meeting of the world's biggest economies, the prime minister said that failure in Scotland will mean the whole effort to curb emissions will have foundered.

Net zero greenhouse gas emissions means countries will try to reduce their output as much as possible, before absorbing from the atmosphere any which are produced.

On the eve of the gathering, the PM said the goal of the Paris agreement six years ago of keeping global warming down to 1.5C depended on developed nations contributing more.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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At the end of the G20 summit, Mr Johnson said they had made some progress but that the outcome of the talks in Glasgow intended to deliver on those commitments remained “in the balance”.

He said: “If Glasgow fails, than the whole thing fails.

“The Paris agreement will have crumbled at the first reckoning.

“The world’s only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change will be holed beneath the waterline.

“Right now the Paris Agreement and the hope that came with it is just a piece of paper.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, joins G20 leaders during a visit to the Trevi fountain in Rome Credit: fifth right

Mr Johnson said leaders had “inched forward” in the Italian capital but it was “nip and tuck, touch and go” whether they would make further progress over the next two weeks in Scotland.

In particular he highlighted the failure of the final G20 communique to make any mention of phasing out domestic coal consumption.

“That is the really important question,” he said.

He added: “We have had a reasonable G20 but there is a huge amount to do.”

The result of the G20 was that leaders agreed on carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century” as focus now turns towards the United Nations climate talks.

Politicians in attendance in Italy also pledged to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad.

But the prime minister, who was due to fly to Glasgow for the climate conference following his briefing, said environmental promises made by leading nations were “starting to sound hollow” as he criticised the lack of action by G20 partners.

He told reporters he agreed with the suggestion that the target of all G20 nations having net zero carbon economies “by or around mid-century” was too vague, adding that he wanted those pledging to achieve it by 2060 to “bring those commitments earlier”.

Mr Johnson added: “Just 12 G20 members are committed to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier; barely half of us have submitted improved plans for how we will cut carbon emissions since the Paris summit in 2015.

“We’ve also failed to meet our commitments to provide 100 billion dollars a year to support developing countries to grow in a clean and sustainable way.”

Asked at the post-summit briefing whether enough had been pledged in Rome to prevent global warming above 1.5C, Mr Johnson replied: “I think 1.5 is very much in the balance.

“Currently, let’s be in no doubt, we are not going to hit it and we have to be honest with ourselves. So we’ve got to keep that hope alive.”

Labour shadow business and energy secretary Ed Miliband said there needed to be greater action at Glasgow from world leaders.

The former Opposition leader, in a statement published on Twitter, said: “The words from G20 leaders are a small step forward but we need a giant leap at Cop26.

“We need to halve global emissions by 2030, not rely on vague plans for three decades’ time.”