A Non-Exhaustive List of World Leaders Too Cowardly to Show Up to UN Climate Talks

A Non-Exhaustive List of World Leaders Too Cowardly to Show Up to UN Climate Talks
He's too busy playing hockey. (Photo: Yuri Kochetkov/Pool, AP)

The entire world is set to huddle in Glasgow next week and hash out how to protect the climate. In years past, world leaders have attended the tail end of United Nations climate talks.

But this year, they’re slated to attend at the start of the negotiations to set the stage for (hopefully) more ambitious discussions. The UK government is hosting the meeting, and Alok Sharma, the politician tasked with leading them, boasted at a press conference this week that 120 world leaders are showing up for the kickoff summit.

“I’m very pleased that despite the fact that we still have COVID with us, we have got over 120 world leaders who will be coming to Glasgow physically, and I’m very grateful to them,” he said.

Their ranks include President Joe Biden, which represents a sea change from the Trump years. The heads of state from South Korea, Switzerland, France, Australia, India, and countless other countries will also be in physical attendance. Other dignitaries such are set to attend, a group that included the Queen herself before her doctors put the kibosh on it. That’s no small feat, with the UK trumpeting that the talks, known as COP26, will be “the largest political gathering that the UK has ever hosted.”

But there are some leaders who won’t be showing up. Whether it’s because they have better things to do than pledging to not burn the planet to a crisp or don’t want to attend IRL, a few big players will be staying home. They do these meetings every year, amirite? Let’s meet a few of the world leaders who couldn’t squeeze the most consequential international talks at the start of the most consequential decade in human history onto their calendars.

Vladimir Putin, Russia

I will never miss a chance to use this photo. (Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo, AP) I will never miss a chance to use this photo. (Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo, AP)

Russia’s president will not be attending COP26. His country’s committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2060, which is not in line with the goal of keeping global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels. That pledge has yet to be codified with the UN and there are no details about how the country plans to do so. Russia’s current pledge with the UN is rated as “critically insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, and the country recently started construction on an oil project that will produce 25 million tons per year. Maybe Putin didn’t want to hear an earful from his fellow world leaders. Or maybe he just wanted to ride his horse. Either way, he hasn’t explained his absence.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil

We're having fun, aren't we folks. (Photo: Evaristo Sa/AFP, Getty Images) We’re having fun, aren’t we folks. (Photo: Evaristo Sa/AFP, Getty Images)

Jair Bolsonaro is the first of two accused genocide doers on this list. That might seem like reason enough to not want to show up at a conference of people already pissed at him for the damage he’s unleashed in the Amazon and the risk it poses to the planet if the ecosystem collapses.

But he actually has a perfectly good reason to not go to Glasgow. An Italian town is offering him honorary citizenship. Who among us wouldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Xi Jinping, China

Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his glass of red wine. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP, Getty Images) Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his glass of red wine. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP, Getty Images)

“We’ve got over 120 world leaders who are already committed to come to this, some of those from countries where it is a more arduous journey than for some others,” Sharma said at the press conference when as about China’s President Xi Jinping. “So of course we want to see him [to come].”

China’s president ended weeks of speculation and said he will attend COP26 — just not in person. He’s going to join by video, which honestly is relatable. Generally, I’m supportive of flying less, and the pandemic has certainly shown us that remote work can be just as engaging as in-person. Maybe China’s president is concerned about covid-19 or underlying health conditions, so really who am I to judge if he’s going virtual?

Still, the country is the world’s top emitter and a good agreement at Glasgow depends on China and the U.S. (the world’s largest historical emitter) being engaged. China offered a new climate commitment ahead of the conference, but Li Shuo, Greenpace China’s policy adviser, told the New York Times it was a “missed an opportunity to demonstrate ambition” that “casts a shadow on the global climate effort.”

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico

Mexico isn’t just debating not sending its president. The country may not send anyone due to costs and pandemic-related travel issues, according to Reuters. Lodging certainly is out of control in Glasgow right now, with hosts on Airbnb and other booking sites trying to gouge those coming to the conference. However, the UK just announced it will no longer have a red list of countries, and Mexico wasn’t even among the last seven on the list. Yes, getting to the UK is a pain in the arse, but it’s not that much of a pain in the arse given the stakes imho. Maybe AMLO just didn’t want to talk about the whole Mexican state oil company setting the ocean on fire incident earlier this year. (Earther will be there! Hit us up with tips at [email protected])

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran

Weighing whether being arrested on foreign soil is worth it. (Photo: Iranian Presidency Office via AP, AP) Weighing whether being arrested on foreign soil is worth it. (Photo: Iranian Presidency Office via AP, AP)

Of all the excuses not to go to COP26, fear of sparking a criminal investigation is perhaps the best one. So it goes for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who has been accused of “ongoing crimes against humanity.” Struan Stevenson, a former Conservative Scottish politician, said he sent a formal request to Scotland’s police chief to launch a criminal investigation if Raise so much as set foot on Scottish soil. They’re serious accusations the former MP and the National Council of Resistance of Iran have levied against Raisi. Iran’s climate plan has also been rated “critically insufficient,” so I feel like being accused of crimes against humanity might just be a convenient way out of that.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa

Not sure why he wouldn't want to visit his buddy. (Photo: Peter Nicholls/Pool, AP) Not sure why he wouldn’t want to visit his buddy. (Photo: Peter Nicholls/Pool, AP)

South Africa’s president will not be attending the COP26 talks because local elections are taking place on November 1, the day the World Leaders Summit kicks off. Sure, South Africa has an “insufficient” pledge. And yes, Japan’s prime minister is coming the day after national elections on his first international trip. Still, Ramaphosa’s reason for not going is understandable and perhaps the most legit reason for not attending on this list. President Ramaphosa, good luck! From the sounds of it, the African National Congress party might need some.