COP26: Major world leaders set to miss crucial talks to avert climate disaster

Scores of world leaders are already gathering in the Scottish city of Glasgow for the crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), but the heads of some major polluting nations are set to skip the event.

Organizers of the global summit, which begins on Oct. 31 and will run until Nov. 12, say they expect to see 30,000 participants. Among them will be at least 126 world leaders, representing 66percent of the countries on earth.

However, there will be some notable absences as well.

Chinese premier Xi Jinping, leader of the world’s largest emitter, who has not left China since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and who did not attend the UN General Assembly last month, does not look set to come.

Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have confirmed they aren’t coming, while yet to confirm are Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida all of whom are major G20 leaders who are significant in the climate discourse because of their countries’ emissions, fossil fuel production, or both.

“If a world leader chooses not to attend for whatever reason, it sends a very clear signal that climate simply isn’t at the top of their priority list and depletes the momentum going into the summit,” Mark Lynas, author of the book “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency told CNN on Monday morning.

Read also: Four key issues at stake as climate change summit begins

“It cannot be entirely coincidental that many of those reluctant to attend COP in person happen to lead countries that are high emitters or producers of fossil fuels,” Lynas told CNN.

Other experts say these countries will likely still be represented by large delegations as the event organisers say a no-show leader doesn’t mean the nation will be left out of talks.

The more concerning absences, however, are those from smaller countries, primarily in the global south, and the leaders of small island nations, all of which will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

Aside from world leaders, key figures due at the conference include David Attenborough, activist Greta Thunberg and former US president Barack Obama.

But Pope Francis, who had been expected to travel to Scotland for the event, will not be attending, the Vatican has said.

Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – the limit scientists say would avoid its most destructive consequences.

Meeting that goal, agreed in Paris to much fanfare in 2015, will require a surge in political momentum and diplomatic heavy-lifting to make up for the insufficient action and empty pledges that have characterised much of global climate politics.

The conference, which began on Sunday, needs to secure more ambitious pledges to further cut emissions, lock in billions in climate finance, and finish the rules to implement the Paris Agreement with the unanimous consent of the nearly 200 countries that signed it.

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