The Latest: U.S. climate envoy Kerry lauds Biden project

U.S. & World

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet of France, adjusts his glove as he talks to family and friends before a launch attempt at the Kennedy Space Center on April 23, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Through the portholes of the International Space Station, Thomas Pesquet has an arresting view of global warming’s destructive repercussions that negotiators are seeking to tackle at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

The latest on the U.N. climate summit COP26 in Glasgow:

GENEVA — U.S. climate envoy John Kerry says a new project trumpeted by U.S. President Joe Biden, in which companies underpin development of low-carbon technologies through their buying power, amounts to a “big transformation.”

The “First Movers Coalition,” spearheaded by the U.S. government and the World Economic Forum, aims to help meet an increasingly difficult target laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. So far, almost three dozen global companies in many sectors have committed to changing their purchasing practices to favor development of zero-emission technologies by 2030.

Designers of the project say half of the emissions reduction projected between now and 2030 will stem from innovations – like capturing carbon out of the air – that aren’t operating at a large scale.

“It’s a big deal,” Kerry told many corporate leaders behind the project in Glasgow on Thursday.

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GLASGOW, Scotland — U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has joined the tens of thousands of attendees who’ve been humbled by tough entry procedures at the U.N. climate summit.

Kerry apologized Thursday for appearing about 20 minutes late for a renewable energy event at the United States’ pavilion inside the summit site.

Kerry said he had been “off-campus” visiting a venue outside the summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

“As you all know, getting back in is not easy,” he told the crowd. “Even for those of us who thought it might be.”

The summit’s organizers have imposed firm rules for accreditation badges, masks and proof of daily negative results on tests for COVID-19. Lines to get in lasted well beyond an hour early this week, but have shrunk noticeably since.

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GLASGOW, Scotland — The British government says pledges of new or earlier deadlines for ending coal use have come from more than 20 countries including Ukraine, Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia and Chile.

Meanwhile, Poland, the second-biggest user of coal in Europe after Germany, appeared to backtrack on any ambitious new commitments within hours of the announcement at the ongoing U.N. climate conference.

“Energy security and the assurances of jobs is a priority for us,” Anna Moskwa, Poland’s minister for climate and environment, said in a tweet, citing the government’s existing plan which “provides for a departure from hard coal by 2049.”

Earlier in the day, it had seemed that Poland might bring that deadline forward by at least a decade.

Campaigners reacted angrily to the apparent U-turn.

“Moskwa has underscored that her government cannot be trusted to sign a postcard, let alone a responsible climate pledge,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director of the group Europe Beyond Coal.

Meanwhile, the United States, Canada, Denmark and several other nations signed a different pledge to “prioritize” funding clean energy over fossil fuel projects abroad.

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HELSINKI — Finland’s capital city says it will no longer serve meat dishes at seminars, staff meetings, receptions and other events to reduce Helsinki’s carbon footprint.

Instead, the city government plans to offer vegetarian food and sustainable local fish.

Liisa Kivela, Helsinki’s communications director, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the change takes effect in January and excludes school and workplace cafeterias run by the city of about 650,000 residents.

Kivela said the the policy adopted by the City Council also allows deviations for certain “high-level visits or similar events” organized by Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen or the city’s senior managers.

The policy also stipulates that coffee, tea and items like bananas offered at events will have to be sourced from fair trade producers. In addition, oat milk will replace regular milk, and snacks and refreshments no longer can be served in single-use containers.

The local government said in a statement that the measure is part of a broader effort “which aims to reduce the climate impact of food and reduce the amount of natural resources used by the city.”

The mayor, who assumed Helsinki’s top post in August, said he was glad the city retains the option of serving meat on some occasions.

“For example, should the king of Sweden arrive for a visit, then domestic game can be offered. Or some group for whom it would be natural to offer meat, then there must be discretion and common sense,” Vartiainen told the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.

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PARIS — French astronaut Thomas Pesquet used a video call from space to describe the view from the International Space Station of global warming’s repercussions.

Pesquet told French President Emmanuel Macron during the call on Thursday that the space station’s portholes revealed the haunting fragility of humanity’s only home.

“We see the pollution of rivers, atmospheric pollution, things like that,” the astronaut said. “What really shocked me on this mission were extreme weather or climate phenomena.”

“We saw entire regions burning from the space station, in Canada, in California,” he continued. “We saw all of California covered by a cloud of smoke and flames with the naked eye from 400 kilometers (250 miles) up.”

This is Pesquet’s second mission to the space station. He also spent 197 days in orbit in 2016-2017. The destructive effects of human activity have become increasingly visible in the interim, he said.

Macron said the goal for negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in Scotland must be to speed up humanity’s response.

“There is still a huge job ahead of us, and I think we are all aware of that,” the French leader said.

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GLASGOW, Scotland —Several major coal-using nations announced steps to wean themselves off of the heavily polluting fossil fuel, although for some the weaning will happen slowly.

The pledges on Thursday to phase out coal come on top of other promises made at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The head of an international energy organization said the earlier commitments trimmed a few tenths of a degree from projections of future warming.

But outside experts termed that comment — only in a tweet, not a rigorous report — “optimistic.”

Optimism also abounded in relation to the promises on coal, which has the dirtiest carbon footprint of the major fuels and is a significant source of planet-warming emissions.

“Today, I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” said Alok Sharma, who is chairing the conference of nearly 200 nations, known as COP26.

Forecasters with a more skeptical view noted that several major economies still have not set a date for ending their dependence on the fuel, including the United States, China, India and Japan.

Outside the COP26 venue, protestors clad as animated characters blasted Japan’s continued coal use.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government said Thursday it will donate 100 million kroner ($15.6 million) to efforts to purchase and decommission coal power plants and invest in new energy sources.

“As part of our comprehensive climate efforts, the Danish government is working to phase out coal while also investing massively in new green energy sources,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement.

Minister for Climate and Energy Dan Joergensen said the money “will help coal-intensive countries reduce their coal consumption and create new income opportunities in local communities, which is absolutely vital to accelerating the energy transition.”

Denmark’s money will go to the Climate Investment Fund’s new Accelerating Coal Transition program, and the primary focus will initially be on South Africa, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Danish government said the program includes efforts supporting alternative employment of the local population in impacted areas.

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SOULAINES-DHUYS, France — Nuclear power is a central sticking point as negotiators plot out the world’s future energy strategy at the climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

Critics decry its mammoth price tag, the disproportionate damage caused by nuclear accidents, and the radioactive waste left behind.

But a growing camp of vocal and powerful proponents – some climate scientists and environmental experts among them — argue that nuclear power is the world’s best hope of keeping climate change under contro.

They note that it emits few planet-damaging emissions and is safer on average than nearly any other energy source. They argue that nuclear accidents are scary but exceedingly rare, while pollution from coal and other fossil fuels causes death and illness every day.

Many governments are pushing to enshrine nuclear energy in climate plans being hashed out at the conference in Glasgow, known as COP26.

The European Union, meanwhile, is debating whether to label nuclear energy as officially “green” — a decision that will steer billions of euros of investment for years to come. That has implications worldwide, as the EU policy could set a standard that other economies follow.

But nuclear waste remains a major problem, with the most radioactive material still toxic for tens of thousands of years.

___ GLASGOW, Scotland — Britain’s government has claimed that the “end of coal is in sight” after 18 countries including Poland, Vietnam and Chile committed for the first time to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power.

The statement, issued late Wednesday during the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, said more than 40 nations are committing to end all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally, as well as rapidly scale up clean power generation. Participating nations also commit to phasing out coal power in the 2030s for major economies, and the 2040s for smaller economies.

Separately, the statement also said that Chile and Singapore have joined a U.K.-led alliance on phasing out coal that includes over 150 countries and businesses such as HSBC and NatWest bank.

U.K. business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it was a “milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change.”

But Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour Party’s business spokesman, said there were “glaring gaps” such as a lack of commitment from China and other large emitters to stop increasing coal at home. There was also nothing on the phasing out of oil and gas, he said.

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