GLASGOW: A crucial UN conference heard calls on its first day for the world's major economies to stick to promises of financial help to address the climate crisis, while big polluters India and Brazil made new pledges to cut emissions.
World leaders, environmental experts and activists all pleaded for decisive action to halt the global warming which threatens the future of the planet at Monday's start of the two-week COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow.
The task was made even more daunting by the failure of the Group of 20 major industrial nations to agree ambitious new commitments at the weekend in Rome.
The G20 is responsible for around 80% of global greenhouse gases and a similar proportion of carbon dioxide the gas produced by burning fossil fuels that is the main cause of the rise in global temperatures which are triggering an increasing intensity of heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms.
"Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It's one minute to midnight on that Doomsday clock and we need to act now," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the opening ceremony.
Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
To do that, it needs to secure more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions, lock in billions in climate financing for developing countries, and finish the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries.
The pledges made so far to cut emissions would allow the planet's average surface temperature to rise 2.7C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded delegates that the six hottest years on record have occurred since 2015.
Other speakers, including activists from the poorer countries hardest hit by climate change, had a defiant message.
"Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry 'We are not drowning, we are fighting'," said Brianna Fruean from the Polynesian island state of Samoa, at risk from rising sea levels. "This is our warrior cry to the world."
Leaders of countries such as Kenya, Bangladesh, Barbados and Malawi called rich nations to task for failing to deliver promised financial help to deal with climate change.
"The money pledge to least developed nations by developed nations ... is not a donation, but a cleaning fee," Malawi's President Lazarus Mccarthy Chakwera said.
"Neither Africa in general, nor Malawi in particular, will take 'no' for an answer. Not any more."
President Xi Jinping of China, by far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, told the conference in a written statement that developed countries should not only do more but also support developing countries to do better.
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Xi's absence, along with that of Russia's Vladimir Putin, president of one of the world's top three oil producers along with the United States and Saudi Arabia, may hinder progress.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg tweeted an appeal for her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing leaders of betrayal.
"This is not a drill. It's code red for the Earth," it read. "Millions will suffer as our planet is devastated - a terrifying future that will be created, or avoided, by the decisions you make. You have the power to decide."
India and Brazil, two of the world's largest polluters, both used the platform to provide new emission cutting pledges.
"We will act responsibly and search for real solutions for an urgent transition," Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over more than two years of soaring deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, said.
Brazil said it would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, compared to a previous pledge of 43% in that period.
However, the cuts are calculated against emissions levels in 2005, a baseline which was retroactively revised last year, making it easier for Brazil's targets to be met. Prime Minister Narendra Modi set 2070 as a target for India to reach net-zero carbon emissions, much later than those set by other polluters and twenty years beyond the U.N.'s global recommendations.
In Rome, the G20 failed to commit to the 2050 target to halt net carbon emissions, undermining one of COP26's main aims.