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13 days out from COP26 China’s attendance remains in doubt

As the world’s biggest polluter, any success at COP26 all but hinges on China’s attendance. Yet with just 13 days to go until the conference, president Xi Jinping has still yet to commit.

After close to two years of grandiose sustainable rhetoric, the world’s leaders are finally set convene in Glasgow this November.

Marking the fifth UN climate summit since the Paris Agreement was made, 193 countries of an expected 200 have registered their attendance for COP26.

Widely expected to be the landmark event for accelerated climate action throughout the next decade, there are a few worrisome absentees in the 13 day run-up to the summit.

Chief among them is none other than the world’s biggest polluter, China, with president Xi Jinping still coy on who the nation’s delegate will be, or whether it plans to attend at all.

China’s attendance in doubt

When asked whether China had committed to be part of the vital discussions, COP26 president Alok Sharma stated, ‘no, not yet.’ It certainly doesn’t bode well that Xi Jinping hasn’t left the country since 2020 either.

Emitting as much as 27% of the world’s greenhouse gases – which is more than double the emissions of the US in second place – Sharma claims China’s presence will be ‘key’ in establishing a collective vision for future generations.

‘They [China] have said to me they want the COP26 to be a success,’ he revealed. ‘The ball is in their court. We want them to come forward and make it a success together with the rest of the world.’

Sharma is ‘very hopeful’ that China will join the rest of the G20 in the next weeks, but there’s a feeling that a recent alliance made by the UK, US, and Australia may have scuppered these chances.

Known as the Aukus alliance, an upcoming move will see the aforementioned trio build nuclear-propelled submarines to prevent China from expanding its military presence into the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing recently denounced the plan as ‘extremely irresponsible’ and a ‘geopolitical gaming tool.’ Whether or not newfound tensions will deter Xi Jinping from committing to COP26 remains to be seen, but radio silence from China is certainly concerning at this late stage.

The bigger picture

While many are understandably preoccupied with China’s plans, recent UN reports show that there’s a whole slew of issues to iron out.

By the end of July, 113 NDCs had been submitted by COP26 parties. The resulting climate forecasts drawn by the UN were sobering to say the least.

Despite many ambitious pledges to switch to renewable energies, the review showed that global emissions are actually projected to rise by 16% before 2030. If this were to materialise, we’d be looking at 2.7°C warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

As it stands, climate models show that for current temperatures to stay below the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement, emissions need to be 45% lower in 2030 than those recorded in 2010.

That’s a tall order given that staying under 2°C will require a 25% cutback. With a few rare exceptions – most recently with Covid-19 lockdowns providing a 7% drop – emissions have risen year on year over the past century.

In the aim of protecting developing regions disproportionately impacted by climate change, a report from OCED shows that we’re also falling short in our philanthropic efforts.

Back in 2009, a cohort of wealthy nations pledged to commit $100 billion by 2020 to help developing nations recover from the impact of global warming. Yet, ahead of COP26 and approaching the tail end of 2021, we’re still $20 billion short of that total.

There are promising developments around the US and Europe curbing methane emissions, with suggestions a planned 30% reduction could shave 0.18°C off global temperatures by 2050. However, as we’ve just highlighted, our climate goals are seldom met in full.

If you hadn’t gathered already, all the projections we’ve alluded to underline the fact we’re in for some serious crunch talks at COP26.

Make no mistake, honouring any of our commitments to the Paris Agreement will depend on wholesale changes being made globally and fast. Hot air, frankly, won’t cut it anymore from those at the top.

Keep it locked here for more COP26 coverage in the weeks ahead.