Serious question. Is the global Cop26 conference - being hosted by the UK government in Glasgow this November - likely to become that city’s poisoned chalice? You can see why, in the first instance, Glasgow welcomed such an accolade. The dear green place is making a serious bid to live up to its name these days. 400 people from the public and private sectors, from academia and from prestigious tanks devoted to thinking about such things, assembled when Glasgow City Council launched its sustainable partnership last week.
It’s pioneered new road layouts designed to get us out of our cars and on to bikes and buses. It’s set itself an implausible but laudable target of becoming carbon neutral in a decade. And its oldest university has a much admired post graduate course in Environment and Sustainable Development. In fact dear old Glasgow town, for all its myriad social problems, is now in the top five of cities globally which aim for sustainable development.
So arguably it deserved the prize of hosting Cop26, the latest UN conference on climate change. It’s a biggie after all. The forum supposed to deliver on what was promised in Paris and funked in Madrid. A gathering of 30,000 delegates including some 200 heads of state. Yet in the light of recent events at UK level is this really going to be a prize which celebrates a city which understands the urgency of climate change, or will Glasgow, and the Scottish Government, be picking up a reputational tab for something over which London is making a pig’s ear of the preparations.
For although much backstage work is being done by the city – a place well used to hosting major events – the shots are not being called there or at Holyrood. Previous summits have been the subject of many years of meticulous planning. Paris had its diplomatic corps doing the rounds of world capitals for two years before the off. The Boris Johnson variety does things differently. It only appointed a Conference President in July 2019 and sacked her in January 2020. According to Claire O’Neill, who did not go quietly, the cabinet’s relevant planning committee was yet to meet, and the PM had admitted he didn’t really “get” climate change,
When she suggested Scotland’s First Minister, a guest at the previous three global gatherings, be given a formal role she got a robust refusal, she said. Whether or not this put down included a description of Nicola Sturgeon as “wee Jimmie Krankie is neither here nor there. Mr Johnson is not noted for his cultural sensitivities. More damning is the allegation that he told his party’s Scottish conference that he didn’t want her “anywhere near” the event. Which is a bit like throwing a tea party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and asking Her Maj to amuse herself elsewhere.
Then there was the row over team Johnson demanding that the Scottish government abandon its Science Centre base camp, a booking the latter insists was only made after checking it was free. That led to briefings that an alternative venue in East London was being lined up as a possible alternative. All of which begins to suggest that the UK government would be hard pressed to stage a decent booze up in a local brewery. O’Neill’s resignation letter talks of “ballooning budgets” and advance planning being “miles off track.”
Spare a thought then for Alok Sharma, who was hastily appointed as her successor a couple of weeks back and is the shiny new secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. Clearly a man who will be able to work 24/7 on getting Cop26 swiftly up to speed what with the imminent Brexit trade talks and so absolutely nowt else of moment in his in tray. Both David Cameron and William Hague felt able to turn down this admirable opportunity to be left holding Boris’s baby. (sic)
It’s worth recalling what happened when Gleneagles was named as the site of a G8 summit. Papers released by the then Scottish Executive reveal that it expected the UK government, as hosts, to foot the police bill of £72m. Eventually they coughed up just £20m The policing costs of Cop26 will be anything up to £250m we learned last week, and certainly north of £200m. And yet again there is absolutely no clarity about who will foot a bill which could cripple the budget of an already pressurised Police Scotland.
Consider too the fact that this summit is not in the middle of rural Perthshire, but slap bang in the centre of our largest city. Neither is it a cuddly, huggy happening like the magical Commonwealth Games, but an event likely to attract a wide array of protestors and lobbyists angry, with no little justification, at summits which fiddle whilst the planet burns. It will not be like Bristol last Friday with tweeny fans of Greta Thunberg gathering to pay homage to Sweden’s youngest climate change heroine. There are thousands of activists determined that Cop26 will not go the way of its Madrid predecessor which disappeared up its own sub clauses. And they will foregather in Glasgow.
Judging by the high profile resignation of time served permanent secretary Philip Rutnam at the weekend, the chaos surrounding Cop26 is what we might loosely call the house style of this government, as the boy Dom runs amok with his wrecking ball, and his titular boss concentrates on adding to global over population. If there is one person the world does not need to replicate himself to the power of 5 – not that he’s counting – it’s surely Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Or Alexander the Great as he was filed under by his last, ahem, technical advisor.
Given the 3 year bourach they made of Brexit, the UK government does not need to give the world further proof that it has seriously mislaid anything resembling a plot. But rest assured there will be no effort spared to blame someone else if Cop26 goes pear shaped too. And guess who’s favourite for the firing line.
First published in The National-