So, you’ll have had your COP26.

Rail and refuse unions are mobilising to cause maximum disruption in Glasgow; there are warnings the climate summit could be a Covid super-spreader event; and even the Queen’s dissing it. One is “irritated with people who talk and don’t do”, she was recorded saying at the opening of the Welsh parliament.

But the biggest blow to the prospects of success next month in tackling the “Code Red” climate emergency is the report that President Xi Jinping is set to boycott Glasgow.

This may not be unconnected with his recent order to China’s 682 coal mines to ramp up production, and his drive to intensify oil and gas exploration. Without China’s co-operation and active involvement, it is fair to say that COP is a dead parrot.

China is already the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, largely because it is the world’s biggest user of the most polluting fuel: coal. China burns nearly half of all the world’s coal.

Last year, it built three times more new power stations than the rest of the world combined – a coal-fired power station has opened there nearly every week. China has a total of 1,000 gigawatts of dirty power and is planning to install another 100GW. Britain’s entire energy sector, including renewables, generates just 75GW.

Last week’s Climate Transparency Report (CTR), the most authoritative assessment of global climate progress, laid it on the line. Of the G20 countries, only Britain is on the road to actually achieving net zero by 2050 – which is something to be modestly proud about. Most other developed countries are getting there, slowly.

But unless China, India, Argentina and Indonesia kick their addiction to coal there is zero prospect of holding global warming to the Paris target of

1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

And the king of the coal economy is China, which until last month had been financing coal power stations across Asia as part of its neo-imperial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China is the workshop of the world. It produces everything from the toys you may not be able to buy this Christmas to the laptop on which I am writing this column. It produces more than half of all the world’s steel. It is the world’s biggest ship-builder.

China’s emissions are partly our emissions because we have outsourced much dirty, industrial production to that country, exploiting in the process its cheap labour. The West, says China, needs to own up to its own responsibilities as the originator of the industrial revolution

However, historic guilt is not a reasonable excuse for China to boycott climate renewal.

Nor is it in their long-term interests to depart from the green revolution.

Dependency on coal is not only destroying the world’s climate, it is making Chinese cities uninhabitable through pollution. It is also a thoroughly inefficient means of generating energy. As producer of the two-thirds of the world’s solar panels and many of its wind turbines (including the ones that should have been made at BiFab in Fife), Xi knows perfectly well that cheaper alternatives are available.

China’s dash for coal will run until 2030 at least, with Xi talking of carbon neutrality sometime after 2060. But the world economy is greening much faster than that.

The 2015 Paris climate summit sparked a wave of investment in renewables across the planet, and has altered the structure of the global economy – mostly to China’s benefit. According to UBS, a successful COP26 could help unleash $3.5 trillion per year in investment for the rest of this decade.

So there are powerful geopolitical reasons for China to participate in COP26 if only to enhance its prestige as a global player – not only the world’s biggest economy, overtaking America, but also shaping the future of human civilisation, as the world’s green superpower. In a very real sense, Xi holds the future of the planet in his hands.

However, these arguments do not get much ventilation in smoggy China. It is a dictatorship. Xi is there for life, there is no opposition party and no electorate to worry about. Nor is there any civil society or free public opinion in China to persuade him to change his mind. Moreover, he is not young and he wants rapid economic growth now to make his impression on history.

President Xi’s current five-year plan involves growing the economy at over 8 per cent a year in order to build what is called “common prosperity” – a consumer society that is approaching the living standards of what used to be called the West. Xi says that wind and solar cannot provide the baseload necessary to keep China’s massive industrial machines turning, nor can nuclear or even gas.

Indeed, a major cause of the current gas crisis is that China bought up all the gas contracts after the pandemic shutdown, pushing the wholesale price into the stratosphere.

President Xi’s US counterpart, President Joe Biden, has agreed to come to Glasgow.

His predecessor, Donald Trump, boycotted the climate process on the grounds that it was all an attempt by China and Russia to undermine America’s power, an assessment that is looking disturbingly accurate, now that Vladimir Putin is also signalling he won’t make it to COP26.

However, Biden sees an opportunity to become the good climate cop to China’s bad cop, even though America is the

econd-largest emitter of CO2. It would, of course, be naïve not to realise that the climate is a new dimension to geopolitical rivalry.

Indeed, the spirit of Trump’s America First policy is still very much alive, albeit speaking a different language.

America has just sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait, as a warning to China over Taiwan, and renewed speculation about the origins of Covid-19 being in a Wuhan lab. Biden is also promising to halt the export of American jobs, reducing US dependency on countries like China and making the US self-sufficient in energy.

The world is entering a new age of what used to be called “autarky” – of national economic self-sufficiency. The pandemic has made clear the dangers of long supply chains involving unstable or unfriendly countries.

Nicola Sturgeon, too, is worried about supply. “We’ve got to be careful we don’t switch domestic production to imports of oil and gas”, she told a TED Talk audience in Edinburgh. “That would be counter-productive”.

This is the argument consistently made by Oil and Gas UK to defend commercial exploitation of the Cambo oil and gas field off Shetland, which we can assume now has her tacit approval. As this column argued last week, the gas price explosion is another huge obstacle to the success of COP26.

But it ain’t over til it’s over. Pressure can still be applied to China at the G20 next week in Rome. Industrialised countries still need to honour their net-zero promises at COP26.

If China blocks progress, the only ones who will be cheering are climate sceptics, who argued all along that it was a naïve pipe dream by people who don’t understand the realities of power. Climate cynicism could be as damaging to the climate as coal.