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As climate summit enters final stretch, activists decry it as a failure

A UN conference on climate change in Glasgow ends this week and it's at risk of being seen as another flop when it comes to reining in global warming

Crucial talks in Glasgow to rein in climate change entered the final stretch on Monday after a weekend of protests where activists criticized the conference as a failure because world leaders aren't taking global warming seriously enough.

The United Nations-brokered climate change conference ends on Friday and negotiators are working on a final text that will outline goals and commitments. A first draft was released on Monday and criticized by environmental groups as weak because it failed to mention phasing out fossil fuels.

Despite the criticism, the conference has been a success in some areas. Last week, world leaders pledged to end deforestation by 2030 and to rein in methane emissions. Critics pointed out that the deforestation pledge was similar to another one in 2014 that has done very little to slow deforestation.

Also, more than 40 nations – including some top coal-burning nations such as Poland and Vietnam – vowed to phase out the use of coal in power plants. But big coal-dependent users China and the United States did not sign onto that pledge. However, the U.S. was among more than 20 nations promising to stop using public dollars to finance fossil-fuel projects abroad.

Monday saw former U.S. President Barack Obama deliver a speech where he urged governments to do more and he told climate activists to “stay angry.”

“Our planet has been wounded by our actions, those wounds won’t be healed today or tomorrow [but] I believe we can secure a better future,” he said. “To all the young people out there, as well as those who consider yourself young at heart, I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated. But challenge that anger and harness that frustration. Keep pushing harder and harder for more and more – because that is what is required to meet this challenge.”

President Joe Biden last week tried to make a case that the U.S. is ready to lead on climate change and he apologized for former President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Biden also attacked Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin for not showing up in Glasgow.

But Biden's message about American leadership was undermined by Congress bickering over a $550 billion climate change package his administration is seeking to get passed. Also, American promises to lead on climate change are viewed with skepticism because of Republican resistance to acknowledging climate change as a problem. Before Trump dropped out of the Paris agreement, former President George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed by the Clinton administration under which the U.S. promised to cut emissions by 7%.

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The Glasgow conference has been marked by large demonstrations led by youth activists, such as Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, scientists and members from indigenous groups who are suffering from the effects of climate change. On Saturday, a group of scientists staged a sit-in on a central bridge in Glasgow.

In a speech at a large demonstration on Friday, Thunberg slammed the climate conference as a failure. These summits, known as the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, take place every year. This one is known as COP26 because it is the 26th such meeting.

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure,” Thunberg said. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

As pressure builds on governments to make progress on tackling global warming, the summit seems to be in danger of being remembered as yet another major letdown by world leaders to stop manmade global warming.

The COP meetings sprang from an Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro where world leaders signed the U.N. climate change treaty. That initial agreement, though, was seen as weak because it did not include deadlines or spell out what steps countries needed to do to reduce carbon emissions.

In 1997, at COP3 in Kyoto, Japan, nations agreed to a protocol that stipulated how much countries were supposed to reduce their carbon emissions. But those targets went unmet and the Bush administration even withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

At COP21 in 2015, world leaders met in Paris and signed what was hailed as a landmark breakthrough, the Paris agreement. Under the agreement, countries are supposed to develop plans to reduce emissions. Under Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty.

The hope for the Glasgow conference is that countries will pledge to take more drastic steps to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. But so far, many of the world's major polluters, such as China, India and Russia, have not agreed to such a deadline, arguing they are developing countries that cannot be expected to turn off economic growth so quickly. They also point out that richer gas-guzzling countries are responsible for the vast majority of the heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

Developed countries, such as the U.S. and European nations, are also seen as not doing nearly enough to reduce their emissions and offering weak plans on doing that. Richer countries are under a lot of pressure to live up to a previous promise to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

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Climate activists protest at COP 26 on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.

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