Biden: China, Russia made 'big mistake' skipping COP26 climate conference

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President Biden on Tuesday criticized Russia and China for not attending the United Nations climate conference, known as COP26, in Scotland, saying the countries made a “big mistake” by not participating.

“We showed up. And by showing up, we’ve had a profound impact on the way, I think the rest of the world is looking at the United States and its leadership role,” Mr. Biden said during a press conference before he headed back to Washington. “I think it’s a big mistake for China by not showing up.

“The rest of the world is going to look at China and say, ‘what value-added are they providing?’ And they’ve lost the ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP, the same way I would argue with regard to Russia,” he said.

Asked whether he was concerned about a potential armed conflict with China, Mr. Biden said he was not.

“There is competition. It doesn’t have to be a conflict. There is no reason there need be conflict,” he continued.

The absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping during this weekend’s COP26 summit was glaring.

Mr. Xi opted not to attend in person but submitted a written statement calling on developed nations to take action on climate. He, however, did not commit China to any new climate initiatives.

China is considered a “developing” nation by the UN and is allowed to keep pumping out greenhouse gases at levels afforded only those countries, although it has the world’s second-largest economy behind the U.S.

Mr. Putin also skipped the summit in person, citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has hit Russia hard, with the country almost daily setting new records for COVID-related deaths and prompting Mr. Putin to order a nationwide non-working period for a week.

A Kremlin spokesperson said last week the Russian government viewed climate change as a top foreign policy priority, though the U.S. has criticized Russia for its lack of efforts to address the climate crisis. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on producing fossil fuels.

On the first day of the COP26 summit, Mr. Biden called out China and Russia and accused both nations of a lackluster attempt to fight climate change.

“The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia, and including not only Russia, but China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”

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