COP26 – The Summit of Summits
Much like the Universe itself the conference is made up of concentric rings. Outside the high security perimeter are not only the Scottish public but of course the protestors. The diversity of climate or environmental groups is vast and in recent months the UK has been witnessing a more direct form of protest by entities such as “Extinction Rebellion” and “Insulate Britain”. These groups have taken to gluing themselves to major roads causing transport chaos and gaining significant amounts of media coverage. Their tactics are unsurprisingly unwelcome in the heart of power and so they remain outside the summit shouting in.
The opening of COP was supposedly symbolic of the climate issues the conference was addressing, as thousands of delegates braved exposure to the elements and rain whilst enduring long waiting periods to enter the ‘secure zone’. Once inside visitors describe a ‘village’ of organisations stalls and expos all focusing on various aspects of the climate emergency, then finally at the heart of the conference itself was where world leaders and their officials would come together to report back on promises made five years ago in Paris and to commit to further steps to prevent runaway climate change.
Russia and China not sending their Premiers set the ambition of the summit back but frantic diplomacy and significant political capital invested by the British organisers have already resulted in positive commitments from India and as well as a significant agreement to halt deforestation and support what delegates regularly refer to as the ‘lungs of the planet’.
The fact that President Biden is not President Trump has returned US leadership to affairs, although the titanic efforts being made by the Democratic leader to secure his own domestic policies appears to have taken its toll on the levels of ambition Washington could bring to Glasgow. Private sector efforts are of course key to progress in the climate emergency and industry leaders like Jeff Bezos’ presence sparkle stardust on a summit that was delayed by a year due to the Covid pandemic.
Meanwhile against the backdrop of the summit another less planned effort to deal with one of the consequences of climate change, mass starvation, was taking place on social media as the billionaire Elon Musk enjoyed a Twitter conversation with World Food Programme Head, David Beasley, as to whether he could stump up the money needed to end acute hunger. Such is the fluid nature of modern challenges and solutions that the mass organisation and effort of the COP summit stands in stark contrast to the light touch but potentially massive consequential conversation between a UN agency lead and a super wealthy individual.
Ultimately the success or failure of the COP Summit will be judged by two factors. Firstly, the strength and ambition of the final communique, which will be the result of predictably frenzied negotiations between officials at the later part of the week once the political leaders have returned home. This document will be raked over and scrutinised with laser like intensity and different groups will likely interpret it in different ways. The UK Government itself has attempted to manage expectations prior to the summit but will surely define it as a success whatever the outcome.
The second indicator as to COP 26’s success will of course take place in the medium term. The Summit in Glasgow has already called States up as to the missing of commitments made back in Paris in 2015. The international community is largely self-policing and with political leadership constantly changing (imagine for example what US commitments would look like if Donald Trump were to return to the White House) the ability of the Communique to act as a compass and a pledge card will be judged over months rather than at the end of the Summit once the security has been packed away and everyone has gone home. Indeed, the cycle of global summits feels somewhat old fashioned and out of pace with the rapid and urgent challenges of our time. Perhaps the climate crisis will inspire thinking towards international cooperation and decision making fora of a new type and effectiveness to help chart humanity out of these troubled waters.
by: James Denselow