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In emotional video at U.N. climate summit, Ireland’s former president slams Saudi Arabia and world leaders

Mary Robinson served as president of Ireland in the 1990s. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
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An emotional Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, called out Saudi Arabia at a United Nations climate forum this week for "playing dirty games” in allegedly taking out crucial language from the text that will emerge from the meetings.

Speaking on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Robinson’s voice wavered as she described her disappointment at a perceived lack of urgency among world leaders to slow the rise in the Earth’s temperature, even as the often destructive impact of climate change becomes increasingly apparent. It is rare for international leaders, even when retired, to criticize their counterparts so directly.

“We are literally talking about having a safe future … You can’t negotiate with science. You can’t talk about a glass being half full. We have to get it down. We have to be on track for 1.5 [degrees of global warming],” she told Britain’s Sky News. (The COP21 Paris agreement included language that suggested countries should aim to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Robinson said leaders of poor, climate-vulnerable countries were “in crisis mode.” However, many countries could do more, she said, including China, Russia, Brazil, Australia — a wealthy country that is “still in fossil-fuel mode, not in crisis mode.”

Robinson reserved her steepest criticism for Saudi Arabia, which she accused of “playing dirty games.”

“What Saudi Arabia have been able to do is take language out of a lot of the [COP26] text,” Robinson said. “They’ve taken out the language that refers to youth, human rights, gender equalities … Saudi Arabia is there when it matters and they kind of block things.”

The Saudi Embassy in Dublin didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

All COP26 decisions require a consensus across all 196 countries in attendance, so a single nation can veto change. Several officials involved in the Glasgow talks told Reuters that Saudi Arabia had been using procedural delay tactics in an attempt to block a robust deal; Riyadh has denied the allegations.

“Saudi Arabia is making its play. They’re at the chess board, manipulating the pieces in an effort to stop an outcome that keeps 1.5C within reach,” Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said in a weekend statement, calling on governments to isolate the Saudi delegation if they want COP “to succeed for everyone, not just fossil fuel interests.”

COP26 climate summit draft reveals which fights remain

The world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia was once seen as a great obstructer in climate negotiations.

“It is imperative that we recognize the diversity of climate solutions, and the importance of emissions … without any bias towards or against any particular source of energy,” Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud said in a speech Wednesday to the conference, Reuters reported.

The country has pledged to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 but has given little indication that it aims to slow down its investments in new oil and gas development.