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Pope Francis. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/Archivio Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Pope Francis is no longer planning to attend the critical United Nations climate summit that begins in three weeks in Glasgow, Scotland, the Vatican announced Friday.

Why it matters: Francis' attendance, given his global stature, could have helped provide momentum to what are expected to be difficult talks aimed at spurring more aggressive steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Emissions and finance pledges under the Paris climate agreement are non-binding and at each nation's discretion, so diplomacy and persuasion are important to securing stronger action.

Driving the news: The Vatican's delegation will be lead by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, according to Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office.

What we're watching: The rest of the RSVP list for the heads of state portion that occurs early in the two-week summit that starts Oct. 31.

  • President Biden is slated to attend along with many other leaders, but plans by heads of some key nations remain unclear.
  • In particular, officials in China — the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter — have not said whether President Xi Jinping will go.

The big picture: The summit, known as COP26, comes as global emissions are nowhere close to beginning the steep downward path needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

  • The agreement calls for limiting warming to "well below" 2°C compared to preindustrial levels, and ideally limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.
  • Those are benchmarks for avoiding some of the worst harms and risks from climate change beyond the damaging effects already taking hold and sure to worsen.

Go deeper

UN: Africa's glaciers to disappear by 2040s from climate change

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania partially covered by clouds in December 2009. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Glaciers capping three of Africa's iconic mountains — Mount Kenya in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — will likely disappear over the next two decades because of human-induced climate change, the World Meteorological Organization's estimated in a new report Tuesday.

Why it matters: The WMO warned that glacier loss is just one effect climate change will have on the continent, as rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather will also likely exacerbate food insecurity, economic and political instability and population displacement.

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.

2 hours ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies, to administer the shots.