Biden Says Xi, Putin Cede Climate Influence by Missing Glasgow Summit

Biden Says Xi, Putin Cede Climate Influence by Missing Glasgow Summit

19:41 - Comments mark second time in recent days he has singled out Chinese and Russian leaders

President Biden criticized the leaders of China and Russia for not joining other heads of state at the climate summit in Glasgow, arguing they were ceding their global influence.

“I think it’s been a big mistake, quite frankly,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday on the sidelines of the summit. “The rest of the world is going to look to China and say, what value add are they providing? They’ve lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people here.”

He said he felt the same way about Russia. “Literally, the tundra is burning,” Mr. Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He has serious climate problems and he is mum on his willingness to do anything.”

Representatives for Russia and China’s U.S. embassies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Biden’s comments marked the second time in recent days that he had singled out Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Putin for not attending the summit in person. On Sunday, Mr. Biden blamed the two countries, along with Saudi Arabia, for standing in the way of a stronger statement on climate change at the recent summit in Rome of the Group of 20 major economies.

Climate is the latest point of friction between China and the U.S. as the two countries butt heads over trade, Taiwan and the navigation of the high seas.

Mr. Biden said he wasn’t worried about armed conflict with China, but expressed concerns that misunderstandings between the two nations could raise tensions.

“I don’t anticipate there will be a need for there to be physical conflict,” he said. “But you know, you’ve heard me say this before, my dad had an expression. He’d say, ‘The only conflict worse than one that’s intended is one that’s unintended.’ ”

Mr. Biden said he expects to speak virtually with Mr. Xi in the near future. “I want to make sure there’s no misunderstanding: It’s competition, not conflict,” Mr. Biden said of the message he plans to deliver to the Chinese leader.

Mr. Xi isn’t known to have left China since January 2020. He has kept his diplomacy virtual because of concerns about Covid-19. Mr. Putin also cited Covid-19 as the reason why he didn’t attend.

China, the world’s No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, has committed to reach net-zero emissions before 2060. But its carbon emissions will continue to rise in the coming decade, peaking sometime before 2030 as it continues to burn coal. Western nations, including the U.S., have said that China needs to do more.

Led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, the U.S. has held direct conversations with Chinese officials for months to persuade the country to do more to cut emissions. Mr. Kerry met with Chinese officials in London days before the Glasgow summit, officials said.

U.S. officials say they have seen positive signs from China, such as Mr. Xi’s September announcement that Beijing would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad. But U.S. climate negotiations with China have been complicated by Beijing’s efforts to widen the scope of the talks to include the broader relationship between the two countries, a tactic opposed by the Biden administration.

Even as it has sought diplomatic engagement with China, the Biden administration has also sought to ratchet up pressure on the country to act by building a coalition of like-minded nations that are taking more aggressive steps to cut their emissions.

“The single most important thing that’s gotten the attention of the world is climate—everywhere, from Iceland to Australia. It just is a gigantic issue and they’ve walked away,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday of China and Russia. “How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?”

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