The Cop 26 climate summit was dealt a major blow last night as Beijing pushed back against global warming targets – and Joe Biden blasted the leaders of both China and Russia for failing to attend.
Puncturing what had appeared to be growing momentum at the talks in Glasgow, China’s top climate envoy suggested limiting the temperature rise to 2C could still be the world’s goal, not the more ambitious 1.5C.
Meanwhile President Biden said his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had made a ‘big mistake’ by not attending the summit – and also criticised the absent Russian leader Vladimir Putin for not doing more to tackle climate change when ‘his tundra’s burning, literally’.
US President Joe Biden said it was a ‘big mistake’ for his Chinese counterpart not to show up at Cop 26 and he also criticised Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s absence
Chinese President Xi Jinping was slammed for not attending the Cop 26 summit, while envoy Xie Zhenhua insisted the 2C target set in 2015 at the Paris Agreement had to remain up for discussion
The developments threatened to overshadow Boris Johnson’s insistence that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ the talks were making a difference.
Using a football match analogy, the Prime Minister said the world had ‘pulled back a goal or perhaps even two’ in the fight against global warming after landmark deals on methane emissions and deforestation.
Beijing’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua appeared to undermine hopes of further progress by insisting that the higher of two maximum temperature rises agreed by world leaders in 2015 under the Paris Agreement had to remain up for discussion.
‘If we only focus on 1.5, we are destroying consensus and many countries would demand a reopening of the negotiations,’ he said.
In Paris, countries agreed to limit temperature rises to ‘well below’ 2C and ‘pursue efforts’ to restrict them to 1.5C, compared with pre-industrial times.
A coal-burning power plant can be seen in the city of Baotou, in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
Many had hoped Cop26 would lead to further commitments to reach the tougher figure. But the absence of the Russian and Chinese presidents from the talks involving around 120 world leaders has cast major doubts on this.
And addressing the summit last night, Mr Biden said: ‘I think it’s been a big mistake quite frankly, China not showing up.
‘They’ve lost their ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at Cop.’
He added: ‘It’s a gigantic issue and they’ve walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership mantle?
‘The same with Putin and Russia. His tundra’s burning, literally.
‘We’ve thrown into jeopardy the prospect that we’re going to be able to keep the temperature rising above 1.5C.’
Mr Johnson had earlier spoken of his optimism after agreements on deforestation, limiting methane and pledges to work towards net zero, and tweeted: ‘Let’s keep 1.5C alive.’
In a stark warning, he said: ‘If we don’t fix our climate, it will be an economic catastrophe as well as an environmental catastrophe. The only way to fix this is to reduce CO2 and tackle climate change.’
He said the British people had a ‘great wisdom’ and were ‘not dumb’ and knew it was a problem that needed to be fixed.
Mr Johnson was also asked about the absence of Xi and Putin but said they had told him it was because of the pandemic and ‘you have got to respect that’.
He added: ‘That doesn’t mean the Chinese are not engaging.’
However, a UK source criticised China, saying ‘we are not seeing the sort of leadership people want to see’ from the world’s biggest emitter.
Workers sort coal near a coal mine in Datong, China’s northern Shanxi province on November 2
And Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, at the conference to support a US campaign to cut carbon emissions, sounded a pessimistic note over the 1.5C target, saying: ‘There’s no comparable feat that mankind has ever achieved.’
He said the cost of subsidising countries to curb emissions would be too great, so richer nations should focus on cutting the cost of green technology.
In an interview with former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for the Policy Exchange think tank, Mr Gates said: ‘What happened with solar panels where they were very expensive, and now they’re cheap, or lithium ion batteries – we need to do that for about six other technologies.’