For those not privileged enough to be accredited with the ‘access all areas’ Party badge, the main attraction of the COP is the opportunity to visit the various national and climate organisation pavilions. A vast array of these exists, some, such as those from the oil-producing countries, seem more designed to showcase the country rather than its efforts to tackle climate change. Others are heavily laden with vegetation and spectacular moving imagery on massive display screens, and staffed by helpful individuals sometimes in colourful national dress. Most offer a programme of talks and panel sessions this year involving hybrid combinations of public, zoom and streaming presentations which can be heard over the background din of the hall using headphones. The EU, US, and Science Pavilions are particularly useful with senior politicians usually making an appearance. Scotland has a separate pavilion from the UK this year and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been a prominent panellist and speaker at this. A new addition this year has been the addition of a methane pavilion reflecting the recent advice of the IPCC that “Strong, rapid and sustained reductions” in methane emissions are needed as well as slashing CO2 in the next two decades, to keep a 1.5oC warming limit within reach.

A notable absentee this year is the Chinese pavilion. There is a small corporate China facility which appears privately sponsored (which seems a bit anomalous!) but no large scale presence along the lines of former years. Neither is there the large Chinese delegation so prominent of Madrid or Katowice. Russia is likewise not conspicuous at the COP and this gives cause for concern as to how much involvement these large emitters will have in any final agreement.

The week culminated in the massive protest marches conducted through the streets of a very rain-soaked Glasgow. 100,000 plus converged on the city centre in what was a well behaved and orderly affair. The larger than usual Irish contingent was prominent in an event that took a long time to pass from the assembly point in Kelvingrove park into the centre of the city. Public transport and road closures were consequences to be overcome for ordinary Glaswegians trying to go about their everyday activities, but good humour and forbearance were in evidence for all. A feature of the demonstration this year was the participation of faith groups, in particular Ireland’s Laudato Si group. Pope Francis’ publication of his encyclical Laudato Si just before the Paris COP was an influential factor in achieving the Paris Agreement and the Laudato Si group have continued to thrive in Ireland over the past 6 years. It was particularly welcome to see Bishop Martin Walsh of Kilmore marching with the Irish group for 6 hours yesterday.

The coming week will bring a shift from talking about where countries are positioning themselves to seeing what concessions will be agreed. It is most unlikely these will be enough to address the seriousness of the climate emergency or the demands of the young people and civil society activists present. But 4 issues will dominate. Firstly the finalisation of the rules of the Paris Agreement (yes 6 years afterwards!) as regards how carbon trading will be regulated and whether the unused credits from 10 years ago that some countries still possess can be activated to allow them to continue increasing their emissions in coming years. Secondly, what recompense can developing countries look to receive to offset the climate change-related losses and damages they are being inflicted with as a result of the pollution inputs mainly from developed countries? Thirdly, will the promised $100B a year that is supposed to help developing countries develop sustainably, especially by avoiding coal and other fossil fuel-based energy systems? Signs are this will not happen before 2023, some 14 years after it was first promised. The figure is incidentally about half of what goes in the way of fossil fuel subsidies per year. Trust is the element in short supply, not least given the host’s recent record as regards international agreements, and the next few days will demonstrate whether the COP model will work, or whether we need to rethink a system that depends on unanimity among almost 200 countries.

Prof. John Sweeney

See also his first report: COP26: The Opening Days