LONDON — Facing diminished hopes ahead of what many see as world leaders’ last chance to combat the climate crisis, Britain’s Prince Charles on Monday called for a "warlike" effort as he opened a key United Nations climate summit.
The heir to the throne helped kick off the nearly two-week COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. President Joe Biden arrived Monday and joined representatives of more than 100 nations to hash out new targets to reduce emissions and put off the effects of climate change.
"We need a vast military-style campaign to marshal the strength of the global private sector," Charles, 72, said. "With trillions at its disposal."
"We have to put ourselves on what might be called a warlike footing,” he said.
Charles, long a passionate environmentalist, has in the past described the summit as a "last chance saloon."
The summit, which was delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, will be a family affair for the royals. In addition to his wife, Camilla, Charles will also be joined at the conference by his older son and daughter-in-law, Prince William and Kate. Queen Elizabeth II was originally scheduled to attend but canceled her appearance on the advice of doctors. Instead, she will deliver a recorded video address.
Existing national climate pledges have put the world on track for a global temperature rise by the end of the century of 2.7 degrees Celsius, rather than the 1.5-degree target set forth under the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to a report released last week by the U.N. Environment Programme.
Biden, who has made addressing climate change a priority, arrived at the summit after spending the weekend in Rome at the G-20 summit of leading rich and developing nations. He will be joined by 12 Cabinet members and senior administration officials.
There’s a lingering question however, of how much Biden will be able to deliver in terms of climate commitments. Although he has announced his $1.75 trillion climate and social spending plan, he has yet to get it passed. His framework will put the United States on course to meet its emissions reduction targets, according to the White House.
There were also several notable leaders missing at the Glasgow summit. Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are not expected to attend. On Sunday, Biden pointed to Russia and China’s absence at the G-20 as the reason that the Rome meeting’s climate commitments didn’t go far enough.
Ahead of the opening ceremony, journalists and other conference attendees posted photos on social media of long lines to get in.
Other world leaders at the summit included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore. After multiple calls for “royal highnesses, your excellencies, lords, ladies and gentlemen” to take their seats, the opening ceremony got underway.
"If we don't get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the opening, after comparing the task for COP26 attendees to James Bond saving the world.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, included in the lineup of opening speakers, warned that without action, "we are digging our own graves."
Famed British naturalist David Attenborough similarly appealed to world leaders to work together to set urgent and aggressive targets to reduce emissions and chip away at the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which hit a new record high level last year.
"If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilize the planet, then surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it," Attenborough said.
He added that young people, who have been instrumental in demanding climate action from their governments, should have hope that their calls for change can produce meaningful results at the climate summit.
"In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline," he said. "In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery."
Charles meanwhile, called for financial investment into fighting climate change, saying the effort will take "trillions, not billions of dollars."
"My plea today is for countries to come together to create the environment that enables every sector of industry to take the action required," he said.
Charles also spoke at the start of the COP21 climate conference, held in Paris in 2015.
"They view this opportunity, they view this subject matter, as absolutely crucial," royal commentator Daisy McAndrew said of the British royals.
"This is an issue that the whole royal family — the queen, Prince Philip, when he was alive, Prince Charles, Prince William — they all feel genuinely very, very strongly about it, and feel that as members of the royal family, it’s a safe area for them to talk overtly about, without running the risk of being seen to be party political."
Last month, Charles said he understood the frustration of young climate activists that not enough was being done.
"People should really notice how despairing so many young people are," he said in an interview with the BBC.