King coal is dead, long live king coal! That might be a fitting epitaph for COP26, which mercifully ended last Friday. It culminated with an agreement, which had not so much been watered down as to have virtually evaporated. Fossil fuels, it seems, are here for the foreseeable.
What went wrong? That’s a question the ‘deeply frustrated’ COP26 president Alok Sharma might well be asking himself. He appeared to be close to tears at the denouement of the negotiations, pushed to emotional extremis by the last-minute wrangling over a single word: should we commit ourselves to phase out our use of coal, or phase- down our use of coal.
To the distress of ‘no drama’ Sharma, it was phase down that won the day, thanks to hardball negotiating from India, China, South Africa and Iran. All anyone will now have to do, it seems, in order to fulfil the commitment they signed up to in Glasgow, is to promise to use slightly less coal in the future.
We shouldn’t perhaps be surprised by this outcome. It is hard not to be cynical about a conference that claimed to be saving the earth but ended up just costing the earth. So inconsequential is the final deal that the whole event is more likely to be remembered for its comic elements: of which there were many.
We had Joe Biden falling asleep, Prince Charles’ stumbling, and Greta Thunberg, oddly, joining a chorus of climate sceptics for a rousing singalong. We had Barack Obama believing he was somewhere called the ’Emerald Isles’ and CNN believing the conference was taking place in Edinburgh. Then, to cap it all there was an alleged minor emissions leak (Biden again) in the Kelvingrove museum in the presence of a royal personage.
COP26 combined a Versailles level of decadence, with a Soviet Union level of self-serving hypocrisy.