Biden and Xi are glaringly absent from the UN's climate summit. That doesn't bode well for the world.

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  • World leaders are gathering in the UAE for the COP28 climate change summit.

  • But President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of China will be absent.

  • Their absence is an obstacle to meaningful action on climate change.

World leaders are gathering today in the United Arab Emirates for the opening of COP28, the world's most important global warming summit.

King Charles and Pope Francis are attending alongside delegates from 200 nations.

Their core goal will be making better progress toward meeting the Paris 2015 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius a year above pre-industrial levels.

But the leaders of the world's biggest polluting nations — President Joe Biden and China's leader Xi Jinping — will be conspicuous by their absence.

A man walks past a COP28 sign during the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023.LUDOVIC MARIN

The White House on Sunday announced that Biden would not be attending the opening of the summit, and following criticism of the decision announced a last-minute schedule change Wednesday, sending Vice President Kamala Harris in Biden's place.

Previously, the most senior US official scheduled to attend had been US climate envoy John Kerry.

Biden has attended both of the previous UN climate summits but is facing criticism for his green policies from Republicans, while also facing pressure from younger Democratic voters to take more action to tackle the climate crisis.

Instead, of Xi, China will be represented at the summit by China's climate envoy Xie Zhenhua.

Biden and XI pass on the chance to inject momentum into talks

The US and China are the world's biggest economies, together accounting for around 38% of the world's greenhouse emissions.

Tom Evans, a policy advisor at think tank E3G, told Business Insider that the decision by the world's most powerful leaders to skip the opening was particularly disappointing given they'd recently found common ground on the climate crisis amid escalating tensions on a range of other issues.

At a meeting in November on the fringes of the APEC summit in San Francisco, Xi and Biden agreed to limit methane emissions, and back global efforts to triple renewable energy production by 2030, one of the main goals of COP28.

"It's a huge shame to not have the leaders of the two biggest emitters here at COP," said Evans, and citing their recent agreement added: "Their attendance could have further cemented that agreement and helped inject momentum into the talks."

A key sticking point in the talks is the reluctance of some countries in the developing world to agree to tough cuts in emissions that they say would hamper their economic development.

Xi and Biden are doing little to signal their commitment to sharing the burden of reducing the climate crisis equally by not attending the summit, say critics.

Controversy over secret oil deals

Before it even began, the COP28 conference was clouded by controversy.

The UAE is one of the world's biggest producers of fossil fuels, and the COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber heads the Gulf State's oil company.

The BBC and Centre for Climate Reporting earlier in the week, citing briefing documents, reported that the UAE was planning to broker secret fossil fuel deals with nations attending the summit.

In a statement to Business Insider, a COP28 spokesman denied that the documents outlining the planned deals had in fact been discussed in meetings.

The Global Stocktake

But despite the controversy, and even in the absence of Biden and Xi, campaigners remain optimistic.

Evans said that central to the success of the summit will be the "Global Stocktake," or addressing the gaps in progress toward meeting the Paris 2015 goals such as phasing out fossil fuels and tripling renewables by 2030.

Cherelle Blazer, director of international climate and policy at the Sierra Club, told VOA, that the US delegate attending had the authority to push for meaningful progress.

"The Senate delegation is going to be there. The full US negotiating team will be there. Kerry will be there. So, everyone that needs to be in place for something actionable to happen will be there," she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider