ROBERT HARDMAN: The Queen really is better off staying home!

ROBERT HARDMAN: Poets for the Planet, militant Thunbergians…why the Queen really is better off staying home rather than going to Glasgow for COP26!

  • Registrations for the Cop26 climate summit reached 38,895 people last night 
  • The staggering figure doesn’t include leaders who are turning up this morning  
  • But there is a mounting pressure for this year’s conference to deliver a result
  •  Much as she may wish she was here in Glasgow, the Queen is definitely better off following medical advice and taking things easy at Windsor.

    For as of last night, registrations for the Cop26 climate change summit had reached a staggering 38,895 people – not including all the world leaders who turn up this morning. That’s an awful lot of people from all over the world – 193 countries in total.

    Indeed, it is more people than all the delegations at the London 2012 Olympics combined and here they are all coughing and sniffling in a confined space.

    Greta Thunberg on BBC's The Andrew Marr show this Friday, where she said that sometimes people need to be angered

    Greta Thunberg on BBC’s The Andrew Marr show this Friday, where she said that sometimes people need to be angered

    It is heck of a space, however. This thing is not so much a conference centre as several conference centres bolted together.

    Indeed, it is the size of an international airport, with all the attendant security and queuing, except it is full of people all heading to the same destination: gloomland.

    In every meeting room, café, exhibition hall and lecture theatre the message is the same: the world is on the edge of the cliff and, if something substantial does not come out of this summit, then over the edge we go.

    Step outside this fortress complex of steel, glass and gale-thwacked marquees on the banks of the Clyde and you encounter an equally apocalyptic prognosis from the massed ranks of environmental action groups, charities and lobbyists.

    Women from organisation Women Wont Wheesht dressed as witches in Glasgow, as the Cop26 summit kicks off in the city

    Women from organisation Women Wont Wheesht dressed as witches in Glasgow, as the Cop26 summit kicks off in the city 

    They have been allocated a parallel summit site on the other side of the river.

    Called the Green Zone, it opens this morning with thousands of activists from hundreds of organisations all preaching furiously to the converted.

    A quick look at the line-up shows that the actor Sir Mark Rylance, something called Poets for the Planet, the Global Citizens’ Assembly and a team of astronauts are just some of the star turns today – and this summit runs for two weeks.

    Meanwhile, camped out somewhere in her Glasgow ‘safe house’ is Sweden’s Greta Thunberg.

    The bonsai teenage prodigy of climate activism arrived here (by train, of course) at the weekend, to be mobbed by adoring fans.

    One click of her fingers, as ever, will bring legions on to the streets.

    Somewhere out to sea, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, is apparently heading for Glasgow and threatening to run the gauntlet of police launches patrolling the Clyde and sail right up to the summit site.

    Members of Extinction Rebellion marching through Edinburgh ahead of the first day of Cop26 in Glasgow

    Members of Extinction Rebellion marching through Edinburgh ahead of the first day of Cop26 in Glasgow

    You have to wonder why they are bothering since absolutely no one here disagrees with the core message anyway. The view is unanimous: we’re doomed, unless…

    It is remarkable to be in a place where quite so many people are all in such passionate agreement with each other on the same central point.

    As of last night, Boris Johnson was saying the same: ‘If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails’.

    So we have the Tory leader, the massed ranks of militant Thunbergians, Greenpeace, an orchestra of refugee musicians, a posse of indigenous storytellers from the Pacific and umpteen others all saying exactly the same thing.

    And yet, I can find no one who seems remotely confident that we will see the requisite result when this summit concludes at the end of next week.

    So why bother? Why did we ever stick up our hand and volunteer to host the largest single event ever staged on British soil, one which will cost the British taxpayer up to £250 million?








    Alok Sharma, Britain's Cop26 president, spoke at the climate conference on its first day this Sunday

    Alok Sharma, Britain’s Cop26 president, spoke at the climate conference on its first day this Sunday 

    Well, at least no one can accuse the UK of not trying.

    The man charged with trying to snatch some sort of victory from this widely predicted defeat was in overdrive yesterday.

    Five years ago, Alok Sharma was the backbench Tory MP for Reading West. Yesterday, he was being addressed variously as ‘Your Excellency’, ‘Mr President’ and, unofficially, as the man with the world on his shoulders.

    It was at the start of last year that Boris Johnson put him in charge of running this summit, after ex-Tory leaders David Cameron and William Hague declined.

    Until then, Mr Sharma had been Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a rising Tory star.

    The Prime Minister told him he could keep his Cabinet seat but that he would, henceforth, be the designated president of Cop26 and his task was to deliver a result.

    This is the most important Cop – Conference of the Parties – since Cop21 in Paris in 2015. The big ones come round every five years but this one got pushed back a year by Covid.

    With an extra year’s worth of data and performance to work through, it has the longest agenda of any gathering in Cop history.

    It was a somewhat subdued start yesterday morning as the president of Cop25, Chile’s Carolina Schmidt, handed over the reins.

    There is pressure for this conference to achieve results as activists and politicians urge something urgently needs to done to address the climate crisis

    There is pressure for this conference to achieve results as activists and politicians urge something urgently needs to done to address the climate crisis 

    She began with a minute’s silence for all the global victims of Covid and then announced that she was proud to pass the mantle to ‘His Excellency Alok Sharma’.

    There was polite applause around the cavernous assembly room, named Cairn Gorm and pretty much the size of a real Cairngorm.

    The set looks like a cross between a Tory Party Conference – a huge blue backdrop plus Union flags scattered to remind everyone who the hosts are – and the United Nations. Row upon row of desks are laid out in alphabetical order by country.

    Behind them come row upon row of international agencies and approved organisations. I sat behind IGAD-IPAC, ILRI, INBAR and IRENA who, in turn, were sitting behind Yemen and Zimbabwe.

    Mr Sharma had just done the rounds of the Sunday morning TV talk shows without any trouble and was now going straight into his inaugural address to the summit.

    He was polished, calm, businesslike, exuding none of the bluster which his boss was deploying over at the G20 summit in Rome.

    But then he did used to be an accountant before he caught the politics bug. The PM clearly wanted a safe pair of hands, not another showman, for this job.

    ‘The lights are flashing red on the climate dashboard,’ was the closest he got to being alarmist.

    ‘If we act now and we act together we can protect our precious promise and ensure where Paris promised, Glasgow delivers.’

    He was not as defeatist as most. As he explained all day, projections for global warming were a whopping six degree-rise before the Paris summit. After that meeting, projections fell to below four degrees.

    Now, they are nearer two degrees and he is pushing to get that down to 1.5. If he fails, it will not be his fault. If he succeeds, Mr Johnson may find he has a new contender for his crown.

    ‘President’ Sharma was followed by a speech of welcome from the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, of the Scottish National Party. She urged delegates to get out of the complex and ‘talk to a Glaswegian’ during their stay.

    ‘If you’re feeling a little bit bolder, a little bit bolshier, that’s the Glasgow effect,’ she added.

    This may explain her peculiar outburst last week when she blamed the city’s current bin strike and subsequent plague of rats on Margaret Thatcher. Yesterday, however, she was all smiles.

    Cop 26 is formally under way. Yesterday was just the warm-up, however. Today, the world leaders arrive and the party really gets going, though it’s already a squeeze. Asking Her Majesty to welcome them all by Zoom is definitely the right idea.   

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