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World Leaders Ought to Acknowledge Own Carbon Footprints During COP26

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Jeff J. Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP

Another round of the United Nations’ (UN) Climate Change Conferences are currently underway in Glasgow, Scotland. Informally known as COP26, the annual conferences pull together world leaders under the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. These annual conferences can be rather far reaching, with the 2015 Paris Climate Accords (or Paris Agreement) being negotiated during COP21.


It’s another round of hypocrisy as world leaders fly in on private jets and chartered aircraft, only to be greeted by a swarm of fossil fuel-burning automobiles in large motorcades – all to assist the leaders in their travels to discuss climate change mitigation efforts.

According to Scotland’s ‘Daily Record,’ “[m]ore than 400 private jets” would carry “world leaders and business executives” to COP26 and produce more than 14,300 tons of carbon dioxide. In fact, these flights “will produce more global warming gas than [what 1,600] Scots burn through a year.”

As the U.S. President, Joe Biden is privy to exclusive travel on not one, but two, Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, also known as Air Force One. Biden flew to Rome on October 28 to attend the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit. The President roamed around Rome in a “massive 85-vehicle motorcade,” meeting with the Pope and Italy’s president and prime minister. Biden left some of that motorcade behind as Air Force One departed Rome to touch down in Edinburgh Airport. The president then utilized a 20-car motorcade for transport to Glasgow. A helicopter even flew overhead.

During a speech at the meeting, President Biden unveiled his strategy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and pledged that in regards to efforts to combat climate changes that the U.S. will be “hopefully leading by the power of [its] example.”


Americans shouldn’t follow his example. In 2017, less than half of Americans (48 percent) reported flying on an airplane that year. Moreover, the majority of Americans flew on commercial planes, with many other passengers, which considerably lessened their carbon footprint. It’s also safe to assume that none of them had access to dozens of cars to transport them from the airport to their desired location.

While addressing the climate crisis is worthwhile, flying to COP26 amid the COVID-19 pandemic was not only irresponsible, but it was also unlikely that being physically present at such meeting mattered. 

China, the world’s largest polluter and which emitted 27 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases in 2019, was noticeably absent in Glasgow with President Xi Jinping opting to “send in a note instead.” Jinping has refrained from traveling outside of China since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including participating in the G20 talks “via video link” and delivering a prerecorded video statement at the September U.N. General Assembly.

Of course, Biden lambasted the Chinese president for missing the conference in Scotland. Addressing the summit, the American President remarked that he thought it was a “big mistake … for China not showing up” and questioned “what value added” was China providing by not being there. For one, less CO2 emissions related to the travel of getting from Beijing to Scotland. 


Ultimately this is a massive display of hypocrisy from the President. When Biden was a presidential hopeful, he welcomed stay-at-home orders. In March 2020 Biden called for “national lockdown to contain the coronavirus.” After being elected in November, a then-newly appointed adviser reported that it could be possible for the federal government to pay “workers to stay home for 4 to 6 weeks in order to contain the coronavirus.”

The same attitude should be applied when addressing how a country will lower its carbon emissions. Rather than mitigating the hazards, Biden actually contributed to the problem he claimed the U.S. would feverishly address and combat in his jetting around.

Overwhelmingly, lower income consumers will bear the brunt of any massive climate change package dreamt up by global leaders and the Washington, D.C. elite. At COP26, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian President Justin Trudeau called for pricing carbon emissions. Such policies would include carbon taxes – which are notoriously regressive and so disproportionately impact lower income persons that U.S. lawmakers are currently debating offering rebates to persons impacted by the tax.

In reality, if President Biden, or any other world leader wants to address climate change, they probably should set the example for their own constituencies and actually lead by example. It’s hard to fathom that poor Americans will get used to the idea of paying more for everything from plastic to energy while the person who imposed that burden on them is jet setting off to Rome and Scotland to concoct such draconian policies. Warming planet or not.


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