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Roll up, roll up, the COP26 circus is in town

Roll up, roll up, the COP26 circus is in town

Another long queue met attendees trying to enter COP26 in Glasgow on Day 2 of the conference. (Photo: Jack Board)

GLASGOW: The Deliveroo rider waved to me from across the road, Mexican burrito in hand. In the darkness, it almost looked like he was smiling.

There were just a few metres dividing us. But in reality, we would never meet. Scottish police flanked both sides of the road, as motorcades containing world leaders swept by, lights flashing.

My brown bag of food would never make it across that divide. “It’s for security”, an officer chuckled.

It was Monday (Nov 1), Day 1 of COP26, global climate change talks meant to steer the planet from the brink of self-induced catastrophe. And this was my price to pay.

A lone protester stands outside COP26 in Glasgow. (Photo: Jack Board)

Glasgow has been consumed by this conference, the largest the United Kingdom has ever hosted. It was already delayed for a year due to the COVID-19, yet even now the spectre of the pandemic hangs over the event. 

So too do the clear inequalities that exist, between those at the negotiating table, the world’s fate seemingly at their whim, and those literally out in the cold. 

Critics of COP26 never wanted these meetings to go ahead. They called it unfair, inequitable, exclusionary. Climate change is a global challenge they argued, but COP26 was not a place for everyone.

Uneven vaccine distribution, high costs and uncertain travel conditions have frozen out many from the developing world and the representatives from the Global South. Those with the most at stake have the least access.

Still, an estimated 25,000 people have rolled up to the circus. The excruciating queues at the single entry for those without diplomatic accreditation attest to the desire to be part of the solution to the world’s greatest crisis, or at least observe what is going down.

Complaints in different languages, accents and outfits though show that while the international representation may not be ideal, it is still diverse. 

Many donned face masks but social distancing has been long forgotten among the throng. Daily COVID-19 rapid lateral flow tests are mandated but the checks by overwhelmed security offices seem cursory at best.

Social distancing rules have been tested at COP26. (Photo: Jack Board)

The organisers sent an emailed apology for “the inconveniences associated with accessing the venue of COP26, both physically and virtually”. 

They also warned that too many delegates were inside the venue. Regardless, the turnstiles remained long.

Inside the Scottish Exhibition Centre, world leaders have rolled through one after another, making their mandated four-minute speeches to explain how their respective countries are upping their climate ambitions. 

American President Joe Biden was even spotted catching some shut-eye. 

Even among the elites, there is a great divide. Those from the developing world pleading for the more assistance and their richer counterparts saying that everyone is in this together.

Meantime, media access to the leaders is mostly limited to statements full of crafted messages and posturing, tinged with uncertainty about whether COP26 will deliver a concrete outcome. 

Perhaps the biggest furore accompanied actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio as he strolled through the concourse on Day 2, raising the excitement momentarily for those standing in yet another queue to buy an egg and mayonnaise sandwich. 

Even climate negotiators and journalists can be starstruck it seems. 

Climate change correspondent, Jack Board at COP26 in Glasgow.

When the leaders departed in their motorcades, after two days of speeches, the real work will be left to the technocrats. They will be hidden from the cameras, while the world waits for an eleventh-hour declaration of intent. 

Papers and texts and language will be scoured over. Much of it will be incomprehensible - perhaps inconsequential - for the general public.

And in the end, it might just all amount to the “blah, blah, blah” that Greta Thunberg has warned us all about. She won’t be caught dead in the Blue Zone of COP26 which is only accessible to those who are accredited to the UNFCCC - her leadership exists outside these securely confined walls.

Late on Saturday night next week, well past the time the conference is meant to end, perhaps, hopefully, a breakthrough will be reached. There might be more serious commitments about transforming our economies, energy sectors, and transport systems, setting the planet’s future path on a more sustainable trajectory.

It would make the whole event seem like it was worth it, lost dinner and all.

Source: CNA/jb(aw)