The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) officially got underway yesterday as more than 120 world leaders and over 30,000 delegates representing 200 countries descended on Scotland’s economic capital for two weeks of discussions about to save planet earth. Here are some of the highlights from a dramatic first day in Glasgow:
#1 The end is nigh
The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned the assembled leaders that “our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink.” He reiterated the key messages from the Paris agreement that a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 were humanity’s best hopes of avoiding a 1.5 degrees Celsius heating of the planet. The world is currently at 1.237 degrees Celsius and just 11 years away from hitting the target unless drastic action is taken TODAY.
#2 India kicks it into the long grass
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed that his country will not commit to the net zero by 2050 target but instead will be likely to hit the target in 2070. While the news was discouraging, many analysts agreed that this was the most realistic scenario for the world’s third largest carbon emitter given its economic trajectory. Modi also committed to increasing renewable energy use to 50% by 2030 – India is currently at 37% so the increase is not significant. Modi concluded with the demand that the developed countries provide $1 trillion in climate financing. Given that the leading economies of the world are struggling to fulfil the $100 billion pledge, it is unlikely that the financing demands will be met.
#3 Animal farm
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped out of the summit at the last minute. He was reportedly incensed by the UK government’s decision to give him a lower security protocol than that accorded to the United States President Joe Biden. Someone should send him George Orwell’s Animal Farm for his 68th birthday in February. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.
#4 Xi sends a note
Chinese President Xi Jingping has not left China since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago as he continues to focus on domestic issues. Xi missed the G20 summit this past weekend and sent a video instead. For COP26, he sent a note. We can only hope that it was written in the ancient Chinese script of Jiaguwen on a beautiful scroll.
#5 The Biden detraction
Just as Xi needed to stay in China to focus on domestic issues and not look weak by compromising on the world’s stage, Biden needed to get away from home to avoid domestic issues and not look weak on the world’s stage. Biden faces a tough week on the home front: his $1.75 trillion spending bill is stalling in his own party, and he could not get commitments on climate change before coming to Glasgow. Today’s gubernational election in Virginia could be a sign that the Democrats are heading for disaster in the 2022 midterms. Biden needed to appear strong at COP26 but instead made a forgettable speech apologising for Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and tried to rally “us together” despite that the fact that his own country’s NDC is shallow and delivers very little. Perhaps that is why he is rolling out smooth-talker Barack Obama to bring some of his Paris magic to Glasgow. We are certain that Boris Johnson is secretly praying for that too.
#6 Typical Boris
Desperate to avoid inheriting the dreaded crown from Copenhagen as the worst Conference of Parties (COP), UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an impassioned speech about the importance of climate change and compared the challenge to that of a James Bond film. Exhausted from his heroics, Johnson snoozed during a session – without his face mask – while seated next to an alert, 95-year-old Sir David Attenborough. Later in the day, it emerged that Johnson would take a private jet back to London at the end of the conference because “the train takes too long”. His spokesman justified the move by saying the flight cuts emissions because it uses 35% sustainable aviation fuel. We believe you (not!).
#7 Prime Minister of Barbados calls the world leaders reckless
The Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, made one of the most brutally honest speeches of the day:
“The pandemic has taught us that national solutions to global problems do not work. We come to Glasgow with global ambition to save our people and to save our planet but we now find three gaps on mitigation, climate pledges or NDCs, [and finance] … These commitments made by some are based on technologies that are yet to be developed and this is at best reckless and at worst reckless”.
She finished off with this message:
“Are we really going to leave Scotland without the resolve and ambition that is sorely needed to save lives and to save our planet? How many more voices and how many more pictures of people must we see on these screens without being able to move or are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?”
#8 Archbishop of Canterbury pulls a sangoma move
The Archbishop of Canterbury warned the gathered leaders that they “will be cursed if they don’t get this right”. Scary coming from a man of God. Would have been great if it thundered at that very moment…
#9 Australia’s Prime Minister gets a frosty welcome
The Australian Institute took out a full-page ad in The Sunday Post warning world leaders not to let Australia wreck Glasgow: “Australia is not transitioning away from fossil fuels it is increasing its dependence on them”. We look forward to hearing the speech by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
#10 The Feast
World leaders were treated to a feast on Monday night at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which received a makeover ahead of COP26. The only question we had was did they serve haggis, neeps and tatties?