When the finger points to the moon, runs the Chinese proverb, the idiot looks at the finger. But every now and again, the idiot has a point. And the point at issue today is the point – and ever-rising cost – of the Cop26 (Conference of the Parties) Climate Change summit in Glasgow scheduled for November 9 to 19.
What an event of global import lies ahead for the city. But take an early tip: if you have any business planned in Glasgow over that period, stay away. Every overnight stay or discreet business lunch at Roganos – reschedule. In that fortnight, Glasgow will have a rendezvous with Hell.
An estimated 30,000 people, including around 200 world leaders, are expected to attend, closely corralled by dozens of security advisers and assorted bag carriers.
UK Cabinet ministers and senior Scottish Government representatives will be on hand, together with prominent voices on the climate emergency such as Sir David Attenborough. At every photo op between George Square and the Scottish Event Centre venue, there will be hundreds of journalists, commentators, TV crews and cameramen jostling for coverage.
This may be a grand shemozzle about cutting carbon emissions. But expect from the outset fleets of gleaming black limousines and motorcycle outriders plying between Glasgow airport and the city centre – with accompanying traffic diversions.
And then there is the army of climate change protestors, ranging in militancy from environmental activists to Extinction Rebellion. Estimates of numbers here already range between 50,000 and 500,000.
Bunfight between Downing Street and Holyrood
Police Scotland’s chief constable Iain Livingstone has warned that the cost of policing the summit could run to more than £200 million – “a very indicative estimate”, he says. Police officers will be brought in to Scotland from every force in the country, with the cost of housing alone potentially running into tens of millions of pounds. “Candidly,” he added, “it is my professional opinion that any suggestion that the climate change conference will not impact on the wider community of Scotland is fanciful.”
Little wonder a bunfight has already broken out between Downing Street and Holyrood, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisting that the UK Government must foot the bill and Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding that the event must represent “value for money”.
Some hope. Hoteliers have begun pushing up room rates by more than 500 per cent during the conference period. Booking.com is offering a four-bedroom duplex apartment in the city centre for a staggering £34,986 for a 14-night period around the conference. The rate being charged for the Blythswood Square Apartments works out at just under £2,500 per night. The Dakota Glasgow is quoting a two-week cost of £8,401 for a double room – a nightly rate of £600. Welcome to Glasgow.
Little wonder that the GMB union has called for the city to ditch the event, saying that Glasgow has its “priorities all wrong”. Said a spokesman, “the city’s many challenges will remain the day after the circus leaves town. What exactly are we hoping to showcase by hosting this summit?”
Exhaustion and tears
These summits have become runaway trains, vast theatrical grandstanding, with money no object. The estimated cost of the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles was £90 million, the bulk of which went on policing and security. The London G20 Summit was reported to have cost approximately $30 million (£23 million).
Apologists argue these events bring extra tourist and visitor revenue: the G20 summit in Scotland was said to have been worth tens of millions of pounds in terms of media coverage. But much of that coverage focused on demonstrators wrestling with police at the perimeter, and crush barriers being hurled by protestors in Princes Street, Edinburgh.
“Intense, overcrowded and bewildering” is how the BBC’s science editor David Shukman described previous climate change conferences. “The negotiations are complicated – with long arguments over phrases or even individual words. They regularly drag through the night leaving delegates exhausted,” he said. Former UK environment secretary Margaret Beckett wept with relief when a deal was finally reached at the 2005 Montreal summit. In Copenhagen in 2009, environmental campaigners walked out – while other campaigners outside the conference centre battled with police to get inside.
Already this year, Claire Perry, the UK’s nominated Cop26 president, has been abruptly removed and Conservative minister Alok Sharma appointed in her place. Relations between London and Edinburgh have become fraught over this event, and simply insisting that Westminster pick up the bill barely begins to answer the core questions raised by this affair.
Now we all want to take action on climate change. But with every angry demo and uncosted, unrealistic “zero-carbon” target, you see what I mean now about the moon, the idiot and the finger. There are surely better ways to spend upwards of £200 million than this riotous, overblown and absurd circus.