If there was something close to a unifying theme in the dozens of speeches made by world leaders on the first full day of talks, beyond frustration and despair and calls to cut emissions, it was one of money.
Prince Charles called on leaders to adopt a war-footing in harnessing resources and cash. “We need a vast military-style campaign to marshal the strength of the global private sector, with trillions at its disposal.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also noted the tens of trillions of dollars that the private sector had at its disposal.
“But now we’ve got to use them,” he said. “Now we have to find an intelligent way to spend them and spend them quickly.”
Host Boris Johnson also picked on the urgency of the moment as well as the path forward.
“Bond is strapped to a doomsday device as a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a destination that will end human life as we know it,” Johnson told delegates.
“We are in the same position as James Bond today. Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change.”
Johnson explained: “We in this room could deploy hundreds of billions, no question.”
“But the market has hundreds of trillions and the task now is to work together to help our friends to decarbonise.”
Biden apologised for former president Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement as well as the role the US and other wealthier countries played in contributing to climate change.
“Those of us who are responsible for much of the deforestation and all of the problems we have so far,” Biden said, have “overwhelming obligations” to the poorer nations.
This focus on the cost of climate action is driven by two factors, the first of which is the immediacy of the crisis.
The Sixth Assessment report of the IPCC that informs this conference shows that if the world is to have any hope of keeping a 1.5 degree increase in temperature within reach, emissions have to start declining now. Even the few years wasted since the Paris talks is costing us.
This will take massive spending in deploying clean technology at once.
Secondly, it is acknowledgement that the Paris Agreement only functions because it was the first time both developing and developed nations agreed to reduce emissions. Poorer countries only agreed to give up on the benefits of carbon economies because their weather peers agreed to pay them to do so.
But the $US100 billion a year in financing promised by 2020 never eventuated, and if it is not secured, there is a real possibility the agreement will collapse.
For this meeting to succeed in “keeping 1.5 alive” as Johnson keeps putting it, all leaders must not only commit to ambitious emissions reductions targets, but rich nations must be pushed on financing.
It is not yet clear that either goal can be achieved.
It was David Attenborough who was called upon to put the cost of failure in both moral and scientific terms.
“Everything we have achieved in the last 10,000 years has been enabled because of the [climate] stability during this time,” he said.
“The global temperature has not wavered over this period by more than either plus or minus one degree celsius – until now.
“This story is one of inequality as well as instability. Today those who have done the least to cause this problem are among those to be hardest hit. Ultimately, all of us will feel the impact, some of which is unavoidable.
“Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?“
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