Absence of key world leaders is blow to Cop26, Cabinet minister in charge of summit admits

Missing leaders unable to join in by Zoom, MPs told - as Alok Sharma is accused of failing to set out benchmarks for success or failure

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:31
Queen's Cop26 anger at 'irritating' world leaders who 'talk, but don't do'

The absence of the leaders of China, Russia and Brazil – and probably India and Japan – is a blow to Cop26, the Cabinet minister in charge of the summit has admitted.

After Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he is staying away from Glasgow, Alok Sharma told MPs: “Clearly, having world leaders attend is good for the process it’s good for Cop.”

It was revealed that absent leaders will be unable to join by Zoom, in a possible blow to Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, who has spoken of attempting to take part online.

“It’s a physical meeting and the participants will be there physically,” a Cop26 official told a committee by MPs – with just 11 days until the summit gets underway.

The questions came as Mr Sharma was accused of failing to set out coherent benchmarks for success, to allow a judgement of whether it had been “a good Cop or a bad Cop”.

The event’s president-designate said the aim was to “keep 1.5 degrees within reach” – the maximum global temperature rise thought possible while avoiding catastrophic climate change.

But 11 of the world’s 20 biggest economies have yet to announce their contributions to that task – and there is no agreement on the mechanism to monitor compliance, even if targets are set.

Asked if foot-dragging countries had been told to put commitments to net zero carbon emissions in law, Mr Sharma said they were only required to make the vow.

Leading diplomats have emphasised the importance of face-to-face contact between the leaders of countries – the only people with the power to make critical climate commitments.

But Xi Jinping, the premier of China – the world’s largest carbon emitter and currently planning more coal-fired power stations – will almost certainly be missing, although he has not confirmed that.

Mr Putin will also be absent, as will the presidents of Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro), South Africa (Cyril Ramaphosa) and Iran (Ebraham Raisi), while Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has yet to commit.

Labour has warned of the damage to the chances of agreement. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Without the biggest emitters like Russia and China, progress towards climate safety cannot be achieved.”

In his evidence, Mr Sharma said 200 world leaders will be in Glasgow and that Russia will send a delegation for the whole two weeks of negotiations.

But he acknowledged the wait goes on for “some of the largest emitters” to put forward 2030 carbon reduction plans, adding: “The ball is in their court and that’s the big ask we have for them.”

Mr Sharma also defended the government’s net zero strategy – widely criticised as inadequate – telling the MPs: “The UK is seen as a leader when it comes to climate action.”

And he downplayed the idea of Glasgow being a make-or-break moment, saying: “There will be future Cops when we can hopefully make further progress.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in