How much can COP-26 achieve without major world leaders?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
November 01, 2021, 10:24 AM UTC

The Russian and Chinese presidents won’t be attending in person

The COP-26 summit is finally underway, with world leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss how climate change can be brought to heel. There will, however, be notable empty seats at the roundtables of the conference. Both President Xi Jinping of China and President Putin of Russia are not in attendance, nor is President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. The absences come despite China being the biggest polluter on the planet, with Russia also in the top ten biggest CO2 producers.

Xi Jinping, who has not left China since the beginning of the pandemic, was expected to speak to the conference via video link but has since announced he will not. Boris Johnson has also personally spoken to Putin regarding the climate. Further to this, both nations are expected to send envoys to COP-26 in their leader’s place.

Yet, some issues are best-addressed face-to-face, and with this in mind, do Britons think the conference can achieve a meaningful result without the leaders of the biggest polluters personally attending?

Some 44% of Britons think that without President Xi Jinping attending in person, the conference will be unable to make any real progress on climate change. Around a quarter (26%) think some progress can be made in his absence – this includes 15% who think only progress can be made without President Xi’s direct attendance, and 11% who think progress can be made regardless.

As for Russia’s Putin, 36% think his absence will prevent real progress at COP-26, while 31% think some can be made without him – including 13% who think progress can be made regardless of his presence or not, and 18% who think limited progress can be made.

These figures are similar to those for President Joe Biden of the USA, who is attending, but 36% think the conference would be limited in its ability to make a difference without him.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has overseen massive deforestation of the Amazon, will stay in Italy following the recent G20 summit there (and where a town is awarding him honorary citizenship) instead of attending the conference. However, only 28% think his absence will prevent COP-26 from making progress. Some 13% think progress can be made regardless of his attendance, and 22% think limited progress can be made without him.

Several other industrialised nations will also not be in attendance, including Japan. A quarter of Britons (25%) think the absence of the new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will prevent progress at COP-26. However, 40% think at least some progress can be made without him.

As a comparison, YouGov asked Britons how much they think the conference could achieve without Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema attending the conference. Hichilema is scheduled to attend, even though Zambia produced only 0.11% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. Around one in five (19%) think the conference would fail to produce results without Hichilema. Some 38% think progress could be made without Zambia’s President in attendance, however.

See full results here