COP26 – behind the curtains

Written by

Tom Bradley


COP26 is one of the most important and biggest international conferences the UK has hosted in recent years. The UK government has rolled out the red-carpet and brought in the ‘big guns’ to make sure the conference is a success. Arguably, there has never been more at stake. And yet, a Paris or Kyoto style agreement looks near impossible to achieve, and even a vague commitment to “keep 1.5 alive” is proving difficult. So, what is actually happening and does it really matter?

The international stage

There is no doubt that the UK government would have liked nothing more than to be able to burnish its diplomatic credentials and secure a “Glasgow accord”. Global politics were always going to make this difficult. With China, Russia and Saudi Arabia not even bothering to attend the conference, any global agreement was unlikely from the start.

Domestic pressures have further muddied the waters, making it difficult for governments to agree to anything that may be seen to have a punitive impact on their electors. This has certainly proved the case for South Africa, with President Cyril Ramaphosa unable to attend the Heads of Government events due to a General Election. Likewise, for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (ScoMo), an eye on the upcoming election and the need to balance green credentials with rural votes has resulted in “targets” and “ambitions” as opposed to “limits” and “bans” being the order of the day.

A myriad of smaller deals

Whilst some questioned what could come out from Glasgow if key polluters such as China refused to engage, progress is still being made. Whilst an overarching global deal has languished, a myriad of smaller deals have been struck, including those on key issues such as deforestation and methane emission reductions.

We have seen an about turn in diplomatic efforts, with the emphasis shifting away from trying to get China et al to come to the table and instead focussing on the next tier down – big polluters who are willing to be wooed, think Indonesia, South Africa and the South American states.

Individual lobbying efforts by states have also reaped benefits. The South Africa Energy Transition Partnership, with states including the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K., said to be worth over $7bn, is but one example of this.

UK plc

Whilst previous COPs have focussed on the UN-backed international treaties, the UK government has put considerable effort into shining the spotlight on UK businesses.

The Green Zone hosts a myriad of different events each day, all providing an opportunity for businesses to showcase some of the brilliant work being done across the UK. In addition, Glasgow itself has been taken over by COP, with fringe events taking place across the city, and everyone seeming to want to get in on the act.

The Department for International Trade are also a noticeable presence across Glasgow, linking up with other Ministers from across the world, and taking every opportunity possible to parade UK producers and products before a global audience. Meeting with the Kenyan Presidential delegation? – why not host it at Johnny Walker?!

The event is also proving invaluable in linking up UK businesses with potential investors and global partners. Whilst the last couple of years have kept us locked away at home, there has been exponential growth in decarbonisation industries and technologies. For many of these new businesses, or even new offerings from major players, this is the first time they are being put in front of a live audience and the first chance for those in person meetings to take place.

Furthermore, the focus in the news cycle on COP and the wider issues of decarbonisation and ESG is creating a host of opportunities for businesses to gain press coverage and to really amplify their announcements in this space.

The politics

Whilst there has been the odd hiccough, the event is, so far, largely a success and has passed without a major international incidence (despite the best efforts of a certain M. Macron…). The agreements that have been made and reached have largely been met with approval across Parliament.

For the Conservative Party, a focus on international progress, as opposed to unilateral moves on decarbonisation, has been particularly welcomed, and is helping to heal over some of those fractures that had begun to emerge over the issue of decarbonsation.

As for the Labour Party, well they have been largely silenced over the last week. The government’s press team have run a tight ‘grid’ and there has been little else in the news that wasn’t COP related. But it perhaps belies a wider issue for the opposition – how to criticise without simply appear to be opposing something for the sake of it.

And of course, with the menu featuring local delicacies including Haggis, we can’t forget that COP is this year taking place in Scotland. For Nicola Sturgeon, it has been a difficult juggling act – she has had to deal with a myriad of domestic issues, including rail and bin collection strikes, Boris Johnson playing centre stage, and the UK government pumping money and resources into an SNP city.


For more information, please contact Tom Bradley.


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