Nov 4, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Glasgow diary: Wonkery meets star power

Leonardo DiCaprio stands in front of a group of photographers at the COP26 climate summit
Leonardo DiCaprio arrives on day three of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland Nov. 2. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

GLASGOW, Scotland — On Wednesday evening I somehow talked my way into the stunning (and currently closed to the public) Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where a major finance industry climate coalition was holding an invite-only reception.

  • I was soon politely kicked out. But brief moments away from the packed conference site were a reminder that COP26 is many things at once: closed-door negotiations, wonky discussion, stage-managed announcements, exclusive events, street protest, and plenty in between.

Leaving the huge Scottish Event Campus isn't even needed to get that feeling of whiplash.

  • Want substance? Stroll through the packed hall of side events and get your wonk on — think countless panel discussions like "Clean energy transition in the Western Balkans" or 90 minutes (!) on "Integrating resilience into investment decision-making."
  • But that substance isn't far from political and even Hollywood star-power. A crush of photographers and others on Tuesday snapped pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio as he headed into a major event on cutting methane emissions.
  • Boldface names in business and philanthropy like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates add to the Davos vibe.
  • Heads of state were found by the dozen on Monday and Tuesday. At one point I found myself in the moving pack with French President Emmanuel Macron (and came this close to getting a question in).

For a conference where negotiations unfold in drab, spartan meeting rooms, there's also plenty of color and even art to be found.

  • The big hall with country and organization pavilions included, in the low-lying island nation of Tuvalu's case, an art installation with a message — polar bears wearing life jackets.
  • Many nations' spaces are adorned with art and stylistic trappings from home. And snacks too. Indonesia's space offed kue lumpur, or "mud cake." It looked delicious, but it was for participants in one of their events only, and I was in a hurry.

So is climate envoy John Kerry, who is simply everywhere. At 6'4'', the lanky Kerry is easy to spot, shuttling between meetings in his frenzied, late-career push to keep the window to meet the Paris agreement goals from slamming shut forever.

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