The global climate summit has had a chaotic start, with delegates struggling to enter the venue and attend meetings, and journalists being told they’d be better off watching online, reports Graham Lawton.
3 November 2021
Queuing to get into the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, UK, it is easy to see why negotiating a global deal on climate change has been so difficult. Pushy queue-jumping and the need for sharp elbows mean the self-entitled get ahead and the community-minded get left behind.
It doesn’t help that it is cold and the queue is enormous. It takes a good 30 minutes of jostling and shuffling to get to the entrance hall, only to be confronted by another even bigger queue, reminiscent of Heathrow Airport arrivals on a busy August weekend. And with good reason: the final hurdle is an airport-style security screen.
Once inside, the tide of humans barely subsides. Getting into meetings is practically impossible. Social distancing is actually impossible although masks are strictly enforced (and everyone has to show a negative covid-19 test to gain entry). Unoccupied chairs, tables, plug sockets or media desks are hard to find. Scarcity extends to the food outlets, but the bins are overflowing.
As I tried to get my bearings yesterday, I was brushed aside as two boisterous figures strode past, cocooned in security. Prime minister Narendra Modi of India and UK prime minister Boris Johnson, locked in what looked like mutually appreciative conversation, disappeared into a gated area inaccessible to me. It felt extremely apt as a metaphor for the state of the planet.
Once I managed to get into a meeting, it turned out to be a bit dull and I was gripped by fear of missing out – surely there is something more newsworthy going on elsewhere?
Soon enough, there was. At 1pm, the US was scheduled to announce a breakthrough global deal on methane emissions. I made my way over but it was already busy, and soon turned to mayhem as more and more delegates joined the clamour. Tempers frayed and scuffles broke out as security staff tried to get speakers and VIPs into the meeting, past the rest of us. The US special envoy on climate John Kerry and his entourage swept in; Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett followed in his slipstream.
Suddenly, everyone was looking the other way and a counter-surge relieved the crowd pressure. It was US President Joe Biden, heading away from the meeting room surrounded by a very large and imposing security detail. A fellow journalist quips that if even he and his heavies can’t get in, what hope do the rest of us have?
I give up and drift away. Meanwhile, my colleagues in London watch the announcement on an internet livestream. By the middle of the afternoon, the media centre is advising journalists to watch the sessions online rather than attempt to attend in person.
Later yesterday afternoon, the UN Climate Change secretariat issued an apology and an appeal for understanding. Covid-19 protocols, the security around world leaders and unprecedented levels of interest have played havoc. My sense is that people are frustrated but understanding.
But for all the logistical problems on the ground, there seems to be progress behind the scenes. I ran into Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, and asked him how he thinks it is going. “This is one of the positive COPs,” he said. “We have seen already some steps forward. This is not going to be the end of the story, we will not get all the problems solved, we are not yet on track to 1.5 but we have taken steps in the right direction. I’m slightly optimistic.”
The chaos ought to get better from today, as the world leaders and their entourages begin to leave. However, this morning the queues were even bigger than the day before. But if COP26 makes real progress on climate change, the crush to get into the meetings and the scramble for power outlets will become a mere footnote in the history of climate negotiations. If…
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