UN climate talks: Faint progress on money, none on pollution

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, speaks to reporters after a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for climate change discussions at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)
Caption
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, speaks to reporters after a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for climate change discussions at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Officials are touting faint progress on money, but little on pollution at a United Nations world leader summit on climate change

Opening pocketbooks wider to fight climate change? That’s looking slightly more doable. Closing more smokestacks for the same goal? Not yet sold.

World leaders made “faint signs of progress” on the financial end of fighting climate change in a special United Nations feet-to-the-fire meeting Monday, but they didn't commit to more crucial cuts in emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming. So after two high-level meetings in four days, frustrated leaders are still pointing to tomorrow — or next month — for key climate-change fighting promises.

“If countries were private entities, all leaders would be fired, as we are not on track. Things remain the same,” Costa Rican President Carlos Quesada said after a closed-door session of more than two dozen world leaders at the United Nations. “It is absurd.”

Leaders said they had hope for promised “good news" coming Tuesday from U.S. President Joe Biden when he speaks at the U.N. Biden is expected to talk about America helping poorer countries develop cleaner energy and cope with climate change’s worsening harms. Other leaders are hoping rich nations will finally reach a long-promised $100 billion a year package to help poorer nations switch to cleaner energy and cope with climate change's worst impacts.

The focus on climate change this week comes at the end of another summer of disasters related to extreme weather, including devastating wildfires in the western United States, deadly flooding in the U.S., China and Europe, a drumbeat of killer tropical cyclones worldwide and unprecedented heat waves everywhere.

After what was supposed to be the big push to get more commitments before huge climate negotiations in six weeks to ratchet up the 2015 Paris agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said an end-of-October meeting of top economies "will be absolutely essential to guarantee the success" of climate talks. The G-20 meeting is one day before the start of U.N..-sponsored climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland.

“We need decisive action now to avert climate catastrophe. And for that we need solidarity,” Guterres said Monday after the private leaders' meeting.

In the meeting, vulnerable countries such as the Marshall Islands and the Maldives that are “staring down the barrel” of climate change were “pleading with the developed world to step up to the plate” to provide needed money for them to cope with warming's impacts, said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the meeting with Guterres.

The meeting was “very frank and outspoken — not polite,” said Jochen Flasbarth, Germany's deputy environment minister.

Instead of 35 to 40 leaders attending as expected, only 21 heads of state participated. The top leaders of the four largest carbon polluting countries — China, the United States, India and Russia — all sent emissaries.

Guterres said he has three goals out of the Glasgow negotiations: emission reductions of about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030; $100 billion in annual financial help from rich to poor countries; and half of that money going to help poor nations adapt to warming's worst impacts.

The rich nations made “faint signs of progress" on the money end, Johnson said. “Let us see what the president of the United States has to say tomorrow.”

American representatives at the meeting told other leaders that “good news was imminent” on the U.S. share of the $100 billion a year, said a senior U.N. official who briefed reporters, on condition of anonymity, about what went on in the closed-door session. Special U.S. climate envoy John Kerry represented the United States at the meeting instead of Biden, according to the United Nations.

But there was “not as much progress,” in getting countries to commit to deeper cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases, the U.N. official said.

The official said several countries that have not updated emissions-cutting goals said they were in the process of doing that, offering some hope. He wouldn’t say which countries those are, but both the No. 1 and No. 3 carbon polluters, China and India, fall in that category.

"Unless we collectively change course, there is a high risk of failure" at huge climate negotiations in six weeks, Guterres said in a news conference after the session. The upcoming climate negotiations in Scotland this fall are designed to be the next step after the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Guterres told CNN that Kerry's negotiation efforts “have largely failed" because of China's reluctance to cooperate with the United States. Earlier, in a weekend interview with The Associated Press, he characterized himself as “not desperate, but I’m tremendously worried.”

“We all agree that ‘something must be done’,” Johnson told the leaders, according to a statement released by his office. “Yet I confess, I’m increasingly frustrated that ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough. It is the biggest economies in the world that are causing the problem, while the smallest suffer the worst consequences.”

Johnson said the leaders should “rid the world of coal-fired power and internal combustion engines” and stop deforestation, while rich nations need to live up to their commitment to spend $100 billion a year to help poorer nations deal with climate change.

“It is the developing world that is bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change,” Johnson said Monday. “We're the guys that created the problem. ... I understand the feelings of injustice in the developing world and the passionate appeals we just heard from Costa Rica, the Maldives and other countries.”

If all the planned coal power plants are built, Gutteres said, “the Paris targets would go up in smoke."

As the world's leaders gather, activists, other government leaders and business officials are convening in New York City for climate week, a giant cheerleading session for action that coincides with the high-level U.N. meeting. Throughout the week, the push is on the rich nations, the G-20, to do more.

Touting Europe's green recovery plans, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the opening climate week crowd that rich countries have to give financial help “to support developing countries not to fall into the trap of the fossil fuel economy but to leapfrog” into an economy based on renewable energy.

Guterres is pushing for rich nations to fulfill their longtime pledges of $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor nations, with at least half of that going to help them cope with the impacts of global warming. Guterres and Germany's Flasbarth pointed to a study that shows the world about $20 billion a year short. Funding to cope with climate change's impacts fell 25% last year for small island nations, "the most vulnerable of the vulnerable," he said.

The most stringent U.N. goal seeks to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. That translates to about 0.4 degree Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from now because of warming that’s already happened.

A UN report on Friday showed that current pledges to cut carbon emissions set the world on a path toward 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since the pre-industrial era. That shoots way past even the weaker Paris goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

“That is catastrophic,” Guterres said. “The world could not live with a 2.7-degree increase in temperature.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations, Claudia Torrens in New York, Aamer Madhani in Washington and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report. Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at http://twitter.com/borenbears and read more of AP's climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, arrives at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)
Caption
John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, arrives at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

The United Nations headquarters is reflected in a window Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, on 1st Ave. in New York. The 76th Session of the UN General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Caption
The United Nations headquarters is reflected in a window Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, on 1st Ave. in New York. The 76th Session of the UN General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Credit: Craig Ruttle

Credit: Craig Ruttle

Police barricades rest in front of the Permanent Mission of Turkey across 1st Avenue from the United Nations headquarters Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in New York. The 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Caption
Police barricades rest in front of the Permanent Mission of Turkey across 1st Avenue from the United Nations headquarters Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in New York. The 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Credit: Craig Ruttle

Credit: Craig Ruttle

Members of the New York City Police Department walk near the United Nations headquarters, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in New York. The 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Caption
Members of the New York City Police Department walk near the United Nations headquarters, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in New York. The 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly begins this week. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Credit: Craig Ruttle

Credit: Craig Ruttle