“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States — the last administration — pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the 8 ball,” Biden said in Glasgow.
Biden reentered the agreement just hours after he was sworn into office in January.
As world leaders delivered their opening remarks, Biden was seated toward the back of the huge plenary room, in keeping with the tradition of seats being allocated in alphabetical order.
“We will demonstrate to the world that the United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example,” the President said during his own opening address.
The UK wheels out the big names
The UK government, which is hosting the UN climate summit in Glasgow, has tried its best to press it upon world leaders that now is the time to act on climate.
The opening ceremony saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling his fellow heads of governments that they can be just like James Bond, the famous (albeit fictional) 007 agent.
“We may not feel much like James Bond — not all of us necessarily look like James Bond — but we have the opportunity and we have the duty to make this summit the moment when humanity finally began, began to defuse that bomb,” he said.
“The Doomsday device is real, and the clock is ticking to the furious rhythm of hundreds of billions of turbines and systems … covering the Earth in a suffocating blanket of CO2,” he said.
Royalty — both real and of the TV variety — was also in attendance, with Prince Charles urging leaders to work together, and the celebrated naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough telling them future generations would judge them by their actions during this conference.
“For more than seventy years, I have been lucky to meet and to know many of the world’s great leaders. And I have perhaps come to understand a little about what made them special,” the Queen said in her address. “It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow — that is statesmanship.”
India makes net-zero promise
But Ulka Kelkar, climate program director at WRI India, an environmental research organization, said that because of India’s economic development and energy mix, the target date should not be compared to those of the US or Europe.
“It was much more than we were hoping for,” said Kelkar. “Net-zero became a topic of public discourse only six months ago. This is something very new for Indians.”
“Just having this concept understood in India is going to give a very strong signal to all sectors of industry,” she added.
With India’s announcement, all of the world’s top 10 coal-power countries have committed to net-zero, according to climate think tank Ember.
Small nations’ disappointment
Delegates from smaller nations have expressed their disappointment with the action (or rather, lack of action) by the world’s richest nations.
Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, an island that is already deeply threatened by rising sea levels, has warned that the climate crisis facing her country is perilous. She said it is a “code red to China, to the US, to Europe, to India.”
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne told CNN he was “encouraged by the increased ambitions” set by world leaders at the COP26 summit, but he also expressed disappointment, saying the targets set don’t go “far enough in order to contain rising global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
And Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo said he is not feeling optimistic about what the COP26 conference can achieve.
“We’ve heard all of this before. What we need is an action,” Cortizo said. “I am not optimistic there will be enough of it.”
Covid-19 measures hampering the negotiations
The COP26 President, British lawmaker Alok Sharma, said that being able to hold in-person negotiations, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, was a key goal of his presidency.
“For me it was vitally important that we have a physical meeting where every country is able to sit at the table, the biggest emitters, together with smaller nations, those who are the front line of climate change, and to be able to look each other in the eye as part of this negotiation,” he told reporters on Sunday.
But keeping the event Covid-free has been a challenge.
All attendees have been asked to wear masks and take daily coronavirus tests. And while the venue is huge (approximately 1 kilometer from one end to the other), the sheer number of people on site makes social distancing difficult.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that is in charge of the negotiations, has admitted the pandemic is causing issues. For example, due to social distancing, the largest room reserved for negotiations can only hold 144 seats — even though there are 193 parties to be represented at the conference.
CNN’s Amy Cassidy and Ingrid Formanek contributed to this report.