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Climate change protestors demonstrate in Parliament square to protest against the government's climate policy as they mark 100 days until the Glasgow climate summit in London on July 23, 2021.TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

Britain is playing host to the landmark COP26 climate summit in less than 100 days. It doesn’t appear ready.

A United Nations report released Monday gives the strongest warning yet on the perils of global warming. It forecasts a “code red for humanity,” in the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and argues that “there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”

The findings will put extra pressure on the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which is the jewel in the crown of a super year of sustainability events, including the UN Biodiversity, UN Food Systems and UN Nutrition for Growth summits. This period is also unique because the presidency of COP26 is shared between the Italian and British governments, which are also the chairs of 2021′s Group of 20 and Group of Seven meetings, respectively.

Taken together, this presents an unparalleled opportunity to create synergies between the summits and to leverage the G20 and G7 to increase the chances of successful outcomes at the environmental events.

Yet there are worries that the British government is not remotely as prepared as the French were in the buildup to the last big global environmental event: the Paris COP21 summit. To be fair, this is partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s also true that Paris threw the full weight of the state behind the 2015 talks, with then-foreign minister Laurent Fabius serving as the most effective COP president in the conference’s history.

It’s a stark contrast from this year’s COP chief, Alok Sharma, the former British secretary of business. To be sure, Mr. Sharma is doing extensive diplomatic legwork, having flown to at least 30 countries over the past seven months. However, even Mr. Sharma’s allies admit he lacks Mr. Fabius’s gravitas and global connections.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hardly a political heavyweight in this arena, either. All too often, his climate change strategy seems to amount to encouraging everyone to have their own electric car, a solution that is not currently feasible for myriad reasons.

The clear danger is that Britain’s underpreparedness not only translates into a weak COP26 outcome, but also that it could unravel this year’s wider sustainability agenda.

Yet, with about three months left until COP26, all may not be lost if there is now a concerted campaign of leadership. In part, this is because of the sea change in U.S. leadership in 2021. As well, the pandemic has underlined that no country can now deny that a globalized world faces interconnected threats, which require far-reaching and co-ordinated action.

The big initiative by U.S. President Joe Biden to cut greenhouse emissions by 2030 by at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels, approximately doubling the previous U.S. promise, is stimulating activity in other countries, too.

Japan has now committed to a reduction of emissions by 46 per cent by 2030 compared to 2013 levels. Key emerging markets, including Brazil, South Africa and India, are also working to strengthen their nationally determined contributions pledged at Paris in 2015.

So rather than Mr. Johnson pulling a rabbit out of his hat at COP26, the success of the summit will depend much more on U.S. diplomacy to convince others to step up to the plate. To persuade large emerging markets to increase their carbon-cutting, the industrialized world led by Washington will also need to increase aid. The UN Environment program estimates there remains an annual US$70-billion gap for addressing global climate effects.

The single biggest player that requires U.S. diplomacy is China, which was key to delivering the Paris deal. Mr. Biden is therefore pushing Beijing hard for a new bold commitment to reciprocate the 2030 one he has announced.

If China were to make a bold new pledge, the European Union would provide a third leg of the stool to get a deal over the line in November. Collectively, the 27-nation European club, plus China and the United States, account for around one half of global climate emissions, and the triumvirate is critical to a positive outcome.

With the result of COP26 very much in the balance, massive momentum is therefore needed in the weeks ahead. It is Mr. Biden, not Mr. Johnson, who can potentially provide this impetus by leveraging U.S. influence to encourage more key countries to reduce emissions in what is now a “code red” race against time.

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