The leaders of most of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters gather in Glasgow from Sunday, aiming to thrash out plans and funds to tilt the planet towards clean energy. But the man running the biggest of them all likely won’t be there.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expected absence from the talks could indicate that the world’s biggest CO2 producer has already decided that it has no more concessions to offer at the U.N. COP26 climate summit in Scotland after three major pledges since last year, climate watchers said.
“One thing is clear,” said Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with Greenpeace in Beijing. “COP26 needs high-level support from China as well as other emitters.”
But China will be unwilling to be seen yielding to international pressure for more ambitious goals, according to one environmental consultant, especially as it grapples with a crippling energy supply crunch at home. Beijing is “already maxed out”, said the consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter.
They also said Xi was unlikely to lend his physical presence – a virtual video appearance remains a possibility – to a meeting that had little prospect of any significant breakthrough, especially after China brushed off U.S. attempts to treat climate as a ‘standalone’ issue that could be separated from the broader diplomatic disputes between the two sides.
Although Xi has not travelled outside China since before the pandemic, he has made three major climate announcements on the international stage.
His unexpected net zero commitment came in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020. That announcement encouraged enterprises, industry sectors and even other countries to respond with their own net-zero action plans.
Like India, China has been under pressure to add more ambition to its updated “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) on climate change, which are due to be announced before the Glasgow talks begin.
China has repeatedly stressed that its climate policies are designed to serve its own domestic priorities, and will not be pursued at the expense of national security and public welfare.
“With all the headwinds and all the pledges that have been made, it is important to take stock and consolidate,” he said.