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  • John McDonnell

What's really going on in Glasgow


SA Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young is in Glasgow, but John McDonnell says beware 'stray politicians'

If someone from the media tells you that they are reporting from the climate conference in Glasgow, take the comment with a grain of salt. If some stray politician or former politician says they are attending the climate conference, don’t believe them.

Th truth is that the British government handed out 35,000 delegate passes for the climate conference in Glasgow but only 8,000 people are allowed into the conference centre on any day. In order to get inside, delegates have to start queueing at 6.00 am to be allowed in at 8.00. At 8.30 the doors are closed and no one else gets inside that day.

It deifies the imagination that celebrity greenies like Malcolm Turnbull and Twiggy Forrest are getting up at 5.00 am to go and stand in the rain with the riff raff in order to mingle with the soggy delegates inside.

More likely, the business interests are mingling with their business colleagues at a separate, more salubrious, business convention well away from the actual conference. It is important to realise that these ‘business experts’ are getting no better knowledge of what is going on in the actual negotiations than an interested citizen at home in Australia. Any ‘expert opinion’ should therefore be evaluated on that basis.

As for the media, they are located in a media centre a substantial distance from the conference centre watching a common feed from conference central. They have virtually no access to official delegates so are unlikely to get leaks on the negotiations. Any comments on the views of governments on actual negotiations are likely to be speculation. On the other hand, the heads of government delegations (those travelling with presidents or prime ministers) hold press conferences and briefings away from the centre, and the press are more likely to report on these than the actual negotiations.

DFAT has announced that the official leading the Australian delegation, the Ambassador for the Environment, Jamie Isbister, is giving a briefing on progress in the negotiations on Thursday with another one the following week. These are available to all the media whether they are in Australia or Glasgow.

As far as the delegates are concerned, they are doing it tough.


Apart from having to get up at 4.30 in the morning because most of them are being billeted an hour or more from Glasgow, they then have to spend two hours in the cold and the rain in order to get inside the centre. Once inside, it is a lottery whether they can attend the negotiations to which they are assigned.

The British are enforcing Covid-safe rules that mandate that each delegation can have only one delegate in the negotiation room. On the other hand, the secretariat (UN and British officials) can have unlimited advisers. This means the national delegations cannot have their specialist advisers in the room while the Brits and the UN can, so the negotiations are dominated by the secretariat.

Because the negotiations are effectively a critique of a text that has been prepared by the secretariat there is a resistance to submissions from delegates, especially those from smaller countries.

This is generating enormous frustration among countries who want their concerns to be heard and could well lead to a breakdown in the negotiations.

Finally, big international negotiations are usually resolved by deals between the big players. However, in this case, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping declined to attend the conference and President Biden hasn’t been able to get his emission reduction targets through Congress. This means that there will be no dominant consensus that will form the basis for an international settlement.

All in all, COP 26 looks like being a shambles with no useful outcome.

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