COP26: An observer’s view of the first few days

Nov 5, 2021
COP26 Glasgow
A globe half full: pledges by governments at COP26 left the world still poised at the edge of dangerous global heating. (Image: Flickr/COP26)

Duncan MacLaren joined the crowds to attend the first day of COP26. He recounts what he found when he got in.

On the first official day, I, a central Glasgow resident, caught the shuttle bus from outside Queen Street station and then we disembarked at the Green Zone near the Exhibition Centre where COP26 was taking place. I could have walked it from Central Glasgow but Glasgow City Council had closed both the cycle lanes and the pedestrian paths which is odd for a summit on the environment.

I then joined what looked like a mass rally but was in fact the queue to get in.

There was no distancing so I wore my mask even though we were outside. In the freezing cold wind which had dislodged one of the large COP26 banners on the Finnieston Crane, a reminder of our shipbuilding past, we (observers, media people, campaigners) edged slowly for an hour towards the one gate we were allowed to pass through.

We then went into security which took its cue from airports and were then free to register. I had received my invitation letter and had been checked out by a video call but I still had to register inside. I then received what I thought was my information pack but was a bottle of Dettol gel, wipes and, instead of the T-shirt, a face mask with COP26 on the side. I was ready to roll.

By this time, it was lunchtime so I managed to find a café with no queue and paid £3.30 (normal maximum price in Glasgow is £2.80) for an indifferent cappuccino.

I then wandered around looking for schedules on the screens and asked several people who were there to answer questions but looked, and sounded, like pugilists with no information.

Being still freezing, I found the way out and, passing dozens of guards, I exited to see people protesting about Yoweri Museveni being president (again) of Uganda and how evil the Chinese Communist Party was — but nothing on the climate. I climbed into my bus with my COP26 travel pass, showed some Latin Americans the City Chambers and toddled home to a hot toddy.

The only way I could see Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on TV since civil society was not allowed into the Blue Zone which is UN territory for the duration of the summit. Morrison was belligerent (and could have been taken for one of those pugilists) and pushed technology as the “Australian way” of tackling climate change — slowly and with a great deal of uncertainty. He would do this without putting up taxes and there would be no change to the Australian way of life. Images of swimming pools in every garden in a land of drought came to mind. There were thankfully other voices who spoke of the changes to their lives because of climate change.

On Sunday late afternoon and evening, I heard some of those voices and those of their allies at an interfaith gathering on COP26. In the beautiful Garnethill Synagogue, I heard much more sense about caring for the land from, firstly, a Sami woman representing the world’s indigenous peoples because so few of them either received visas or could afford the sky-high hotel prices in Glasgow and then from Reverend James Bhagwan, the general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, who talked about his cross made from cowrie shells that can be made no more in his home island of Kiribati as it sinks beneath the waves.

Bishop Mark Strange, the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, talked about the brambles (blackberries) near the busy road of the A9 at the bottom of his garden becoming juicy again during lockdowns. The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who talked like an Old Testament prophet about the Hebrew scriptures calling us to care for the earth also mentioned how the UN should have made “faith” one of the streams for discussion at COP since most of those worst affected by climate change follow a faith tradition which provides them with their ethical stances, including saving the planet.

And they all talked about how those of us in the global North (and Australia) need to change and simplify our way of life so that others may simply live.

Before Morrison departed Scotland, Australia was the second country (after Boris Johnson’s UK) to be awarded the Fossil of the Day gong by Climate Action Network International (CAN) for “doing the most to achieve the least”. CAN said that the Australian PM had shown “unconscionable behaviour”, saying that “the Aussies are already excelling in heading for rock bottom this COP … They’ve not only spectacularly failed to deliver ambitious contributions but have also approved three new coal projects in the last months. They brought no new 2030 target, no new policies to reduce emissions or phase out fossil fuels and ruled out signing the Global Methane Pledge. Australia … this time you’ve truly outdone yourself.”

And there are many more days to run…

Dr Duncan MacLaren, former Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis and ex-Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University is an observer at COP26 on behalf of Dominicans for Justice and Peace.

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