With COP26 less than two weeks away, the pressure on the climate summit’s organisation and outcome is growing by the minute.
Repeatedly billed as “the world’s best last chance to get climate change under control”, the conference will welcome about 25,000 delegates and 120 world leaders to Glasgow, making for an especially tight security operation.
Yet, despite the conference’s one-year postponement due to Covid-19, the logistics and planning surrounding the summit have been fraught with uncertainty, decision-making delays, and, latterly, the threat of industrial action and protests.
While some of the city’s main tourist attractions will be closed to the public as staff are moved to work on the city’s COP26 team, railway workers and refuse collectors have escalated existing pay disputes by backing strike action for the duration of the international meeting.
If you factor in major road closures, mass protests, and accommodation capacity pressures, Scotland’s biggest city is facing disruption at an extraordinary level.
As the conference draws near, a group of major sponsors, which includes some of the UK’s biggest companies, have reportedly raised formal complaints with the organisers – that is, civil servants within the cabinet office led by COP26 president and former business secretary Alok Sharma – blaming them for a “mismanaged” and “very last minute” event.
Bearing in mind that sponsorship is expected to help cover a policing bill estimated to reach up to £250m, some backers are apparently frustrated by “unmet expectations”, especially with regards to delays to the “green zone” exhibition space and the participation of ministers at their events.
Beyond logistical drawbacks, however, the issue of who is and isn’t attending COP26 has grabbed most of the attention over the last week. Corroborating Her Majesty’s disappointment in world leaders who “talk” but “don’t do”, the premiers of three of the most polluting countries on the planet, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, India’s Narendra Modi, and China’s Xi Jinping, are either not attending the summit or still deciding.
Decisions to attend such international meetings are sometimes made at the eleventh hour, but the fact that none of them has submitted updated carbon-cutting plans ahead of COP26 is of greater concern for the purposes of the conference.
When it’s all over – including the shouting – COP26 will probably not be remembered for traffic cones, shuttered museums, or cancelled trains, but rather for its success or failure in agreeing carbon emission cuts to keep global warming within 1.5C.
If this is indeed our last, best chance to deliver on the promises made at the Paris conference six years ago, we have no time to lose.