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Good Cop, bad Cop: Climate summit is a mix of hits and misses

Progress is being made, but a lack of transparency is causing frustration


Protesters take part in a rally organised by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow. Picture by Andrew Milligan/PA

Protesters take part in a rally organised by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow. Picture by Andrew Milligan/PA

Protesters take part in a rally organised by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow. Picture by Andrew Milligan/PA

There is a man in a Darth Vader costume greeting arrivals off the train to the COP26 venue with an array of posters and a karaoke kit.

He is in the groove of a 1970s disco hit. “Love is good, love can be strong,” he sings, urging passers-by to join in. “We gotta get right back to where we started from.”

Jamen Shively is co-founder and president of Radish, a collective of “solutionaries” committed to thinking their way to resolution of the world’s biggest problems.

Today’s problem is global warming and Shively, a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager in the US, thinks he has the solution.

It involves using ships to draw water from the ocean and shoot it high into the air where the liquid would evaporate, leaving the salt particles behind to bulk up and whiten clouds that would block the sun and aid cooling.

Shively cannot claim the idea as his own — numerous scientists have proposed trials on the technique — but he says the politicians are not listening, so he is going to bring home the message with song and Star Wars.

He is not the only one trying to get a message through to the delegates at the UN climate summit.

Outside the several rings of security gates, various protesters and activists gather each day, some alone and silent, a solitary banner explaining their cause; others are in organised groups, well versed in oratory and the art of grabbing attention.

How much of an impression they can make on the delegates is doubtful.

The VIPs are swept through side gates while the rest join a morning crush for entry, frantically phoning their morning appointments with updates on their progress through queues and security checks or sneakily performing an on-the-move last-minute daily Covid test that must be presented for clearance.

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Even the activists on the inside, those who are registered participants as official observers, fringe event organisers and guest speakers, are having trouble making their presence felt.

Places in the meeting rooms and speaking halls are very limited — it is Covid, you know?

Live-streaming links are hard to find and the quality fickle — it is a new IT platform, did you not hear?

Outcomes of meetings are sporadically posted online either in enough technical detail to smother an inexperienced reader or with such sparsity of information it is hard to trust the content.

A hard copy would be good, so observers could sit down and analyse the text together, but it is a virtually paperless campus — saving the forests, can you not understand?

It is causing cynicism and frustration among observers who hear the organisers speak about commitment to transparency of process and then are told to stand aside, please, this session is suddenly closed. It has not helped that several times last week, participants received notifications by early afternoon telling them the venue was now crowded past Covid safe limits and, if possible, would they mind going home?

Many from the global south have travelled thousands of miles on tiny budgets, fought hard to access vaccinations and are sleeping on borrowed floors.

Yes, actually, they would mind going home.

Yet progress is being made — or so it seems. So far, there has been a commitment by more than 100 countries to a global methane pledge that aims to cut emissions by 30pc by 2030.  

Methane is a much more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide, but because it is less prevalent and dissipates much more quickly in the atmosphere it has escaped the more intense spotlight.

Not any more. A rapid, dramatic reduction just might give the world some breathing space to get carbon output under control.

Another pledge sees more than 100 nations commit to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, although Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro spoiled the party somewhat by stressing his commitment was to halting “illegal” deforestation.

Yet another has some of the biggest banks, insurers and investment houses in the world commit to using their combined $130trn of investment finance to back renewable energy projects and other no-carbon infrastructure.

Some fresh commitments around the phasing-out of coal have been made, although Australia, China and India notably held back.

A 12-year-old pledge to create a $100bn annual climate finance fund for poor countries is inching toward fulfilment, although it may be 2023 before the full sum is in place. And the 120 or so heads of state who kicked off the proceedings with a two-day world leaders’ summit made some very nice speeches.

There are more than optics involved here. The sentiment behind the speeches sets the scene for the most crucial negotiations, which take place this week.

Countries will try to find ways to increase their national emissions cutting commitments to collectively keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees — beyond which we may well all be asking Shively to share his karaoke kit.

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