man speaking at podium
01/11/2021. Glasgow, United Kingdom. Boris Johnson -COP26 World Leaders Summit Day 1. Prime Minister. Boris Johnson hosts the COP26 World Leaders Summit in Glasgow. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

It was action stations in the UK yesterday as COP26 delegates made their way to Glasgow to be ready for their first day.

A tree on the wires

For many participants travelling from London, their journey ended at Euston Station with their train cancelled due to ‘severe weather’. The Australian equivalent would be, ‘It was windy, and it rained.’ There were no flames, cyclonic winds, tornadoes or monsoons, no firenadoes, no great claps of thunder or rain that bounced up from the pavement.

What there was, though, was a tree across the power lines that stopped the West Coast mainline from operating. Delegates were forced to hire cars and drive to Manchester, or book themselves on a domestic flight, where they would have enjoyed the neatly circular idea that they had been forced onto a climate-unfriendly mode of transport by exactly the type of severe weather event they were meeting to find ways to resolve.

Prince Charles loses his footing, then tells us to adopt a war-like one

This afternoon, after tripping up the stairs to the stage, Prince Charles delivered heartfelt words, extoling us to adopt a war-like footing in our fight against climate change.

During all of this he must, surely, have been gloating just a little that the environmentalism he was so roundly criticised for in the 1970s and 1980s is now mainstream. And it was symbolic of Britain’s strange, two-speed environmentalism that we heard COP26 president, Alok Sharma name checking the legendary environmental activist, “Swampy” on the same ticket as the Prince of Wales.

ScoMo gets a look-in

One of the great benefits to Australia of this conference is that the Australian government may start to realise just how thin its environmental policies are against the actions of the rest of the world. Greenwash terms like “çlean coal” just won’t cut it.

And it cannot be a coincidence that the video of Prince Charles’s speech cut away to an audience shot of Scot Morrison at the precise moment Prince Charles mentioned the “current fossil-fuel based economy”.

Prince Charles asked policy makers to create policy and regulatory stability that will get the private sector investing and pulling together in one direction. It made me reflect on the businesses in Australia – the renewable power providers, the developers building green buildings, developments like Ginninderry, near Canberra – that are already pulling together to fill the vacuum of absent government policy. By not providing certainty, Australia’s governments may have accidentally placed it on a footing to success!

Queen Elizabeth cuts to the chase as themes begin to emerge

Being, as she is, probably the most experienced person in the world when it comes to dealing with politicians, Queen Elizabeth’s speech got right to the heart of the matter – for them.

She reminded the leaders present that what they do for people now is politics but what they do for those not born yet is statesmanship.

What politician doesn’t want to be remembered as a statesman? We’ll watch them all fall in line behind that message in coming days, right?

David Attenborough marks this time in history

David Attenborough tied the civilisation of humanity over the past 10,000 years to a stable climate, so now we risk losing civilisation.

I note that France and Britain are currently at loggerheads over fishing licences, so conflict over resources is already nibbling at national alliances.

Back to David: The risk is not to nature or the planet, he intimated, but just our place on it.

How can a country call itself “developed”, he asked, until that development is entirely sustainable? He told the assembled leaders that history books not yet written will be looking at them.

Someone you have never heard of, spoke better than all of them

Mia Motley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, followed through with the calm, uncompromising assertiveness of someone who knows that lives of real people depend on her making her message understood. On behalf of low-lying island countries around the world – her own included – she called for immediate change, and pointed out that the money spent on quantitative easing over the past 15 years could have kept the global temperature increase below the 1.5 degrees needed to prevent her country from slipping beneath the waves.

She also described plans to achieve 2030 and 2050 goals using technology that is not invented yet as reckless and dangerous. So that’s Australia’s policy position shot down.

“When will leaders lead?” she asked.

Now that the politicians are sorted, let’s get on with the work

The clear message to all the leaders was that this is their moment in history and posterity is looking back at them and watching carefully. They must lead, they must face some ugly truths and they must protect our civilisation. That should keep them occupied for a while so everyone else can get on with it!

Damian Clarke is a freelance journalist and writer who contributes to The Fifth Estate and The Green List. He has recently relocated to London and will be bringing us updates from COP26, hopefully peppered with a little bit of gossip to keep things spicy.

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