LBC Views: The temperature of the protests is rising, and frustrations too inside COP26

1 November 2021, 19:55 | Updated: 2 November 2021, 17:52

LBC Views: The temperature of the protests is rising, and frustrations too inside COP26
LBC Views: The temperature of the protests is rising, and frustrations too inside COP26. Picture: LBC

By Gina Davidson

The feeling around the halls of COP26 is that there's no time for delay or individualism when tackling the climate crisis, LBC's Scotland Political Editor Gina Davidson writes.

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It might be a minute to midnight when it comes to climate change, but it took more than an hour for delegates, media and assorted others to even get into the COP26 summit on day two. You might think in the two years of planning that someone would have spotted the problem with funnelling thousands of people through a narrow gate manned by just two security people checking IDs and lateral flow tests… but apparently not.

Today was world leaders’ day; and they arrived in style, mostly by jet and then by motorcade. The people of Glasgow watching as they tinted windowed, black limos swooshed past. Which is why the crowds had flocked, people desperate to hear what Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles, Sir David Attenborough and many more had to say. 

And what they heard was fear and reproach, vital pleas and demands from the countries already most affected by climate change, martial language describing fighting climate change as akin to a war, but also an apparent desire to make the changes needed to ensure global warming is kept to the target of 1.5C.

The Prime Minister likened the climate crisis to the denouement of a James Bond movie (though a more apt comparison for the gaffe-prone PM could be Johnny English). He pinpointed the start of our slide into climate crisis at the birth of the steam engine, that invention by Scottish engineer James Watt which sparked the industrial revolution and an unquenching demand for coal. Rather than spark a new constitutional crisis however, he was in fact echoing the thoughts of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who has also said a heavy responsibility lies on Scotland - and the UK as a whole - as a result of mass industrialisation and its impact on the planet.

Johnson also highlighted three cities which could disappear due to rising tides should global temperatures rise by four degrees - Miami, Alexandria and Shanghai. Chosen specifically to apply pressure to the US, Egyptian and Chinese governments. Biden is struggling to get his Environment Bill through Congress, Egypt is set to host COP27, and of course Chinese President Xi Jinping is staying at home - as are Turkey’s leader Erdogan and Putin, decisions which have led many to believe there will be no real success at the end of this fortnight. 

Other leaders donned their hairshirts, to proclaim that they would do better. Biden said the US was “back at the table” and in true American style pledged to cut US greenhouse emissions by "well over a giga-tonne" by 2030. That’s equivalent to one billion metric tons, or 10,000 fully loaded US aircraft carriers, which sounds a lot but it’s been reported that Antarctica is losing mass at a rate of 145 giga-tonnes per year. India’s PM Modi did finally put a date on reaching net zero - though it’s still 20 years later than the target of 2050 every other country (bar Russia, China and Saudi Arabia who have pledged 2060) is attempting to reach. Yet it was being hailed as a breakthrough as prior to today India had steadfastly refused to do so.

Meanwhile outside, beyond the ring of steel around the summit, and in contrast to the stage-managed socially distanced rooms in which the leaders made their proclamations, the protestors were making their voices heard. French, Iranian, Tamil... they flew their flags and banged their drums. Greta Thunberg appeared on Glasgow Green decrying again the world’s leaders as all talk and no action, declaring real leadership was being shown by today’s youth. And all the while Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior sailed up the Clyde towards CoP26.

The temperature of the protests is rising, and frustrations too inside CoP26. The feeling running through the halls and break-out rooms is there is no time for delay, or for countries to take an individualistic stance in tackling this global issue.

The Prime Minister is clearly on a mission to wring something out of this summit. His doomsday scenario outlined today - complete with locusts and withered crops - was the public face of what he was willing to say. Behind the scenes it may be even stronger. And it may well be what is needed to push reluctant countries over the line on targets and to meet the £100bn pledge to the world’s poorer countries already facing the full impact of climate change.