Nov 6, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Glasgow diary: Inside the climate circus

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres walks the crowded halls of the COP26 climate summit in Scotland
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres walks the crowded halls of COP26. Photo: Dave Lawler/Axios

COP26 is morphing into a climate conference, filled mainly with experts, journalists and bureaucrats who specialize in the subject.

For the opening days, CEO and celebrity sightings had lent a "Davos meets the UN General Assembly" vibe. Heads of state were popping up everywhere — identifiable because they don’t wear ID (they don lapel pins rather than badges).

  • Some were mobbed by processions of shouting journalists, but most just wandered through with two or three aides or security escorts.
  • Each time one appeared, I'd run a frantic mental scan to identify them, then try to come up with a question. Usually they'd already passed by.
  • I did ask a passing Scott Morrison what he’d say to fellow leaders who think he’s not doing enough on climate. The Australian prime minister shot me a menacing look and walked on.

COP26 can be a humbling experience.

  • A summit on climate adaptation in Africa was delayed when a previous meeting ran over, but no one told the presidents who kept arriving only to be apologetically turned away.
  • After Zimbabwean strongman Emmerson Mnangagwa’s entourage forced its way to the front, I pitied the aide who had to explain to the boss that they now had to retreat back through the crowd.

A memorable episode came when my colleague Barak Ravid, who was in Glasgow to cover Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, spotted Egyptian intelligence director Abbas Kamel stepping outside for a cigarette.

  • Barak gamely grabbed a smoke of his own, asked the secretive spy chief for a light, and identified himself as an Israeli reporter.
  • With Kamel's aides lingering nervously, and me nibbling nearby on a rather grim sandwich, President Sisi's right-hand man chatted amiably and at some length about relations with Israel and mediating with Hamas.

You may well wonder why a spy chief would attend a climate summit.

  • In any event, the spies and celebrities are gone now. Let the negotiations begin.
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