UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told global leaders at the opening of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow on Monday that ways must be found to channel hundreds of trillions of dollars of private finance into tackling climate change.

More than 120 heads of state and government leaders gathered in Scotland’s largest city for the opening ceremony of the crucial conference that is aiming to keep alive the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Among the tasks before the crunch summit over the next fortnight is to finalise a promised funding package to help poorer economies achieve the goals of the agreement that was reached in the French capital in 2015 and backed by almost 200 signatory countries.

Richer nations lagging

Developed countries promised at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to find $100 billion a year by 2020 to help less-developed nations but six years after further commitments in Paris this has not yet been finalised.

Currently pledges are about $20 billion short and the full $100 billion is not expected to be found for another two years.

"We now have a duty now to find those funds – $100 billion a year that was promised in Paris by 2020 but which we won’t deliver until 2023 – to help the rest of the world to move to green technology," Johnson said.

“But we cannot and will not succeed by government spending alone.

“We in this room could deploy hundreds of billions, no question, but the market has hundreds of trillions.”

He said government spending and assistance should focus on helping to de-risk decarbonisation projects in order to encourage private finance to flow in.

The UK prime minister noted his own country's success in creating conditions for the private sector to play a key role in building its now burgeoning wind power sector.

“We can find the finance and we must,” Johnson said.

The opening ceremony also heard from heir to the British throne Prince Charles, broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Guterres said the $100 billion a year must become a “climate finance reality” as soon as possible.

“This is critical to restoring trust and credibility,” he said.

“But beyond the $100 billion, developing countries need far greater resources to fight Covid-19, build resilience and pursue sustainable development.”

He added that the world’s least developed countries and developing small island states “need urgent funding” in the form of “more public climate finance, more overseas development aid, more grants, easier access to funding”.

“And multilateral development banks must work much more seriously at mobilizing greater investment through blended and private finance,” he said.

Later on Monday, India's prime minister used COP26 to announce 2070 as the target for his country to reach net-zero carbon emissions, two decades beyond what scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts.

Narendra Modi defended India, however, as having stuck to its climate pledges "in spirit and letter" and noted that his country contained 17% of the world's population but was responsible for only 5% of global emissions.

Modi told other world leaders that India would increase the share of renewables in its energy mix from around 38% last year to 50% by 2030.

Only last week, India, currently the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States, rejected calls to announce a net-zero carbon emissions target.

It said it was more important for the world to lay out credible pathways to reduce emissions.

President Joe Biden sought to assure world leaders the US would keep its promise to slash greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by the end of the decade, even as the key policies to ensure those reductions remain uncertain.

Biden, who succeeded former president Donald Trump in January, acknowledged that the US had not always led by example on climate change.

"That's why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words," Biden said.

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement but Biden returned it when he took office.

COP26 kicked off on the heels of the G20 summit in Rome that concluded with a statement that urged "meaningful and effective" action on climate change but left huge work for negotiators to ensure an ambitious outcome.

(Reuters contributed to this article.)

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