THE UK GOVERNMENT’S decision, as host of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, ‘not to provide the video link method’ and so prevent President Xi Jinping from participating directly in the event just seems petty.
The UK has insisted that only leaders attending in person could address the meeting. Xi, who has not left China since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, has been able to submit only a written statement.
As the world’s largest polluter today, China has to be part of whatever solutions world leaders come up with for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Marginalising it does not seem to help in that regard, even if Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin passed on a softball opportunity to make an issue of Xi’s exclusion when questioned by state news agency Xinhua during the ministry’s routine press conference today.
Xi, too, pointedly brushed off any perceived insult. The official English translation of his statement opens thus:
There is little doubt in this Bystander’s mind that the UK would not have insisted on in-person participation without the approval of the United States.
The poor state of China-US relations could cast a long shadow over the climate summit. Beijing has not been receptive to US President Joe Biden’s attempts to carve out climate as a rare area of cooperation, although members of his Democratic Party are divided on the extent to which other US interests, such as human rights, should be traded for cooperation on climate.
Biden may also have less than fond memories of how China lobbied other developing nations at the Copenhagen edition of the COP summit that left the Obama administration, in which he was vice-president, taking far more of the blame for that meeting’s lack of progress than it deserved.
It is unclear when the decision to ‘uninvite’ Xi from Glasgow was made, whether before, after it during last weekend’s G20 leader’s meeting in Rome, which Xi did attend by video link.
However, hopes that that meeting would result in an agreement to phase out coal consumption were dashed with China, which contributes 28% of carbon emissions and consumes more coal than any other nation, among the countries resisting making binding commitments.
After the meeting, US President Joe Biden called out China, Russia (President Vladimir Putin is another Glasgow no-show) and Saudi Arabia for being uncooperative.
Last month, China confirmed to the United Nations its updated pledges to bring its emissions to a peak before 2030, cut them to net-zero by 2060, and raise its wind and solar power generation capacity to 1,200 gigawatts by 2030.
However, it has not offered any new pledges to cap energy consumption or make an earlier start on cutting back its use of coal from 2026. Xi’s statement to the G20 confirmed that the ‘1+N’ framework is the timetable China will be following.