(Updates with comment from Chinese foreign ministry from the 10th paragraph.)
Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The top leaders of China and India aren’t planning to attend this month’s United Nations summit on climate change, signaling tepid support for a global pact to cut greenhouse gases among two of the largest emitters.
President Xi Jinping of China and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon they won’t be at the day-long meeting of world leaders on Sept. 23, according to two UN diplomats, requesting not to be identified discussing the leaders’ plans. Their absence undercuts the summit, although it may not be fatal for negotiations set to wrap up by the end of 2015.
China is the world’s top greenhouse-gas emitter, and India is third, after the U.S., according to World Bank data. Together China and India account for nearly a third of total emissions, and their carbon footprint is growing while it remains flat in the U.S. and Europe.
“I was completely shocked and very disappointed to read today that Chinese President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Modi may not make it to Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit,” Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, in the northern Pacific Ocean, said in a statement. “For the small island states of the world, the science says we might be forced to pay the biggest price of all -- the loss of our countries. We expect solidarity from our developing country compatriots, not excuses.”
Both China and India have pushed rich nations to pony up the $100 billion promised to poor countries to help deal with the threats of climate change, and have resisted sharp cuts in their own output. Both are also heavy users of coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, and have announced their own internal efforts to boost renewable energy.
“The issue for us is really on the commitments that countries will bring and the secretary general expects member states to come with strong and bold commitments on climate change,” Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said yesterday in New York. He said he has nothing to add when asked about the leaders’ attendance.
The UN meeting on Sept. 23 is not a negotiating session but a gathering of world leaders, business executives and environmentalists to discuss ways to combat global warming, and how to mitigate its impact. The meeting includes three concurrent sessions in the morning at which leaders are to make “national action & ambition announcements,” according to the schedule.
“I hope the climate summit will be a turning point for generating climate action and mobilizing political will for a meaningful, universal climate agreement next year,” Ban said in a blog post this week.
This UN meeting will be followed by a negotiating session in Lima in December, and then one in Paris next year at which leaders seek to hammer out a new global agreement on cutting emissions.
The Indian mission to the UN didn’t have an immediate comment. Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the country wasn’t ready to confirm who would attend the summit and said it’s “biased” to suggest that who attends the meeting sends any signal about China’s commitment to protecting the climate.
“China has been pursuing emission reduction and we have been making our contribution to the international campaign against climate change,” Qin said during his daily briefing in Beijing today.
Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, declined to comment on the decision by Xi not to attend, which was previously reported by the online publication China Dialogue, and said he couldn’t comment on whether the move would affect U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to attend. Bloomberg BNA reported July 25 that the White House had confirmed Obama would attend, without naming its sources.
The summit comes as scientists are increasingly warning of the risks of climate change. Humans risk causing irreversible and widespread damage to the planet unless there’s faster action to limit the fossil fuel emissions blamed for climate change, according to a draft UN report.
“Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally,” the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in the draft, obtained by Bloomberg News last month.
--With assistance from Sangwon Yoon in United Nations, Alex Morales in London, David J. Lynch in Washington and Feifei Shen and Kevin Hamlin in Beijing.