AS I SEE IT: Tackling climate change is not the only challenge facing the organisers of the summit, says TERRY MURDEN
The daily diet of news on the forthcoming COP26 conference has become a torrent of announcements and statements, not least from businesses keen to enhance their reputation by proclaiming their green credentials, or offering to do the same for others.
But with the summit opening in two weeks’ time the focus is likely to be less on the intended message and more on how that message is going to be presented.
Scottish Enterprise has stated that the event presents an opportunity for Scotland to showcase its talents and opportunities to a global audience. And there is plenty to boast about: an enviable rate of transition towards a renewable energy economy and a host of companies with world-beating technologies in such areas as tidal turbines and monitoring systems.
Big and small businesses will seek out ways in which they can profit from the process of turning the world a deeper shade of green. Nor are the public being overlooked. There are debates and workshops, as offered by Holyrood Communications’ COP26 Fringe Festival which we are supporting.
That’s the good news. Behind the promises and pledges in the flow of well-intentioned press statements, the whole event is dangerously close to turning into a logistical nightmare, beset by threats of industrial action, protests – both peaceful and violent – and even company leaders claiming there is not enough guidance on how they are supposed to engage in key events.
Unlike the procedure at previous climate conferences that have focused on policy, the government is accused of not making adequate provisions for businesses to take part alongside politicians, diplomats and other officials – even those paying up to £500,000 for access to the area intended for exhibitions and talks.
Just getting to the Summit is likely to pose problems and only the Queen and US President Joe Biden appear to be promised safe passage through the road blocks on the M8 and around Glasgow.
Security will rise up the agenda as the event gets nearer. Already internal documents released last week by the Scottish Government under freedom of information legislation state that early estimates put the overall cost to the criminal justice system at around £11.5 million and – as reported in March 2020 – the “working assumption is that there could be 300 arrests per day”. Should arrested people be remanded to prison custody, initial estimates suggest additional costs of around £200,000.
The Scottish Legal Aid board says that its “priority is to have duty solicitors available whenever they are required and in line with the operation of courts. Custody courts will operate, when required, at weekends in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.”
The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner has set aside £350,000 if violent confrontation with the police invokes complaints or incidents.
Another £240,000 has been added to the bill by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to ensure that “regulated sites of concern, and illegal sites, are managed effectively to minimise the potential risks they may
pose to the event venues and participants.”
In the scheme of things these costs may be relatively modest and manageable, but they are just a sample of the overall bill that will run into millions, and there are those who question whether we will get value for money from staging this event: in this case, genuine and immediate action (not just another series of pledges) by world leaders to reduce carbon emissions. If we do, every pound spent will be for a just cause.
The challenge, however, is daunting, the biggest being the ability of experts and on-message world leaders to persuade the biggest contributors of CO2 emissions and environmental destruction to mend their ways. China – whose president won’t even be there – is still relying on coal for 55% of its energy needs, while even in the UK there are battles raging between government departments over the speed, cost to the taxpayer and potential sacrifices to the economy of achieving its own targets.
It would be easy to be cynical, but 25 COP gatherings have passed since COP1 in Berlin in 1995. Since then emissions have continued rising, so it is not difficult to have little faith in this one achieving a breakthrough. These two weeks of talks offer hope to the world, but they must deliver on the main aim, and not leave Glasgow to be labelled as another city associated with climate failure.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business