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A vital summit for the planet – and Boris

A coal-fired power staton in western Germany. Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson is desperate for Cop26 to be a success, says Fraser Nelson in The Spectator. The PM sees the two-week UN climate summit, which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday, “as the chance to showcase his Global Britain agenda”. Fat chance. Presidents Xi and Putin are staying at home. Joe Biden is coming, full of “powerful talk”, but he remains beholden to Congress. Johnson’s aim is to get all nations to commit to achieving net zero by 2050. But China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are targeting 2060, and Australia’s recent pledge to “join the 2050” club has been ridiculed. (Rather than provide any details, PM Scott Morrison said he’d do it “the Australian way”.) Cop26 will be “yet another example of just how little summits can achieve”.

Johnson has done himself no favours, says Therese Raphael in Bloomberg. Recently leaked documents show the government is “prioritising economic growth over environmental protections”. Cabinet minister Alok Sharma “only went full-time as Cop president in January”. But other problems have been out of his control, in particular a global energy crisis that has pushed up demand for fossil fuels. Still, there’s room for optimism. The business case for green investment is growing fast. And “nitty-gritty collaboration behind the scenes can produce real breakthroughs” – just look at the recent landmark international agreement on corporate tax.

The UN reckons the world needs to spend $2.4 trillion a year to limit the temperature rise to 1.5C, says Jeremy Cliffe in The New Statesman. It’s a “no-brainer” – one generation can “save the planet for thousands of generations to come” by spending just 3% of global GDP. But that requires trust: citizens must trust their governments, and each other, to do the right thing; governments have to trust their counterparts to “shoulder their share of the burden”. Unfortunately, polls show that trust in people and institutions is at record lows. Until that changes, we’re destined to flunk “this most existential of co-ordination problems”.

Really, the ball is in the developing nations’ court, says The Economist. They insist the burden should be on places “with more responsibility for historical emissions”. But unless they start curbing their own booming fossil-fuel use – as the West is doing – they’ll find the costs of adapting to climate change soon outweigh the benefits of speedy growth. “They will have to run faster just to stay in the same place.” That’s the argument that needs to be made. The Cop summits, “for all their disappointments”, are the “best forum” to make it.