Insulate Britain are not martyrs

Throughout the Insulate Britain protests there was a suspicion that the group was deliberately trying to get its members behind bars during the COP26 conference — a suspicion that was enhanced when a spokesperson for the group told the Guardian on 24 October:  It’s fair to say that there is absolute disbelief and surprise that the campaign has lasted this long. We assumed that we would not be allowed to carry on disrupting the motorway network to the extent we have been. We thought that people would basically be in prison… if our actions are as dangerous and as disruptive as is being claimed, then I think the question has to

Why COP26 flopped

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

Boris COPs up his host city

And so COP26 ended, not so much with a bang, but rather a whimper. Alok Sharma’s tears aside, there was a muted feel to the unveiling of Saturday’s Glasgow protocol, at which countries agreed merely to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ coal. That sense of anticlimax was only enhanced by yet more strike action at the conference close, with the RMT union ensuring the cancellation of all sleeper trains back to London – just two days after the Foreign Office admitted Liz Truss took a domestic flight to the summit after the cancellation of her train. Still, Boris Johnson has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good story.

China and India are right to keep coal

‘The end of coal is in sight’ declared Alok Sharma, president of this year’s climate summit, to delegates in Glasgow attending COP26. Sharma was heralding the fact that more than 40 countries had agreed at the conference to phase coal out in the coming decades. But (and it is a very big but) along with the US and Australia, two of the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal declined to sign: India and China. COP26 came to an end this week. But in the media coverage of the conference, there has been zero effort made to understand why two of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels have pushed back

Watch: Alok Sharma in tears as COP concludes

Well that’s the end of COP26. After a fortnight of selfies, speeches, pledges and promises, the eco-jamboree has tonight wrapped up, with Western nations expressing their ‘profound disappointment’ after China and India secured a last minute watering-down of the commitments on coal. British negotiators wanted a ‘phase out’ of unabated coal; instead the two Asian powers succeeded in substituting it for the term ‘phase down.’ There’s anger and sadness tonight from European and vulnerable nations, with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declaring that the ‘collective political will’ was ‘not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.’ But perhaps the best expression of those sentiments was found in COP President Alok Sharma,

The cynical brilliance of Boris Johnson’s green conversion

Does Boris Johnson really believe, as he told COP26 a few days ago, we’re at ‘one minute to midnight’ on the man-made climate change doomsday clock, and that ‘if we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow’? I ask only because in 2013 he used his Daily Telegraph column to write:  As a species, we human beings have become so blind with conceit and self-love that we genuinely believe that the fate of the planet is in our hands – when the reality is that everything, or almost everything, depends on the behaviour and caprice of the gigantic

Is climate change scepticism growing in Japan?

Fumio Kishida, the newly-installed Japanese prime minister, could have been forgiven for giving COP26 a miss. The opening ceremony in Glasgow coincided with the general election he was fighting back home. But Kishida, having won the election, did make the trip, where he gave a speech broadly but not unreservedly supportive of international efforts to cut Co2 emissions. The reward for his restrained tone and tepid assurances? Japan was named ‘fossil of the day’ by the Climate Action Network group, an ‘honour’ bestowed on countries deemed insufficiently devoted to the cause. Kishida’s specific crime was that while he did promise substantial financial aid to developing nations in Asia to work

The strange greenwashing of Nicola Sturgeon

It was only a matter of time. When the Scottish Green party entered government alongside the SNP in August, it was clear Nicola Sturgeon would use the party as a shield against her questionable record and stance on the environment. The surprise is that it happened so quickly and so blatantly. This week we had the extraordinary situation of the Scottish Greens attacking Greenpeace for daring to push the First Minister to explicitly come out against exploitation of the Cambo oil field off Shetland. Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said Greenpeace was unfairly criticising Sturgeon and is ‘not particularly politically active in Scotland’. Ramping up the ‘othering’ of Greenpeace, Harvie’s

Cold War, hot planet

Chelyabinsk is one of the most polluted places in the world. On 29 September 1957, an explosion ripped through the nearby Mayak nuclear plant — which processed plutonium for the Soviet Union’s atomic bombs — casting a cloud of highly radioactive debris across the central Russian region. Despite communist officials keeping the disaster tightly under wraps, tens of thousands of people were, eventually, evacuated from the worst-hit villages, and vast swathes of the surrounding area have been closed to the public. More than half a century on, the nuclear fall-out is now the least of the ecological worries. Home to over a million people, Chelyabinsk has been found to have

COP’s awkward reliance on coal

It’s day four of COP26 and while the big names have already departed, the speeches carry on. This morning some 190 countries and organisations announced their ‘clear commitments’ to phase out coal power. The new ‘Global coal to clean power transition statement‘ requires signatory states to end all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally while rapidly scaling up deployment of clean power generation.  Eighteen countries have made first-time commitments to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power while the energy source will not be used in major economies from the 2030s and 2040s for the rest of the world. No wonder Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, undaunted from this

The urgent case for net zero

Earlier this year, a report from climatologists around the world made it clear that climate change is happening now and that it is almost entirely a result of human behaviour. This is not a controversial conclusion and it is not hard to explain how the report’s authors arrived at it. First, independent observations — from the ocean to the atmosphere, from poles to tropics — all show rapid and significant warming over the past century, particularly over the past few decades. Human activity has simultaneously caused a 50 per cent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, a more than doubling of methane concentrations, and the appearance of multiple synthetic gases, all

The flaw in Britain’s net-zero plan

The COP26 summit is unlikely to be an outright flop. There has been no shortage of drama, with speakers seeming to compete with each other to see who could use the most histrionic language. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, went so far as to compare the attending leaders to Nazi appeasers. He later apologised. Some progress, albeit small, is being made. A hundred countries have been persuaded, some on the promise of sweeteners worth £14 billion, to sign a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. Brazil, the most important of all, is among them. India has agreed, for the first time, to set itself a date for achieving net-zero

Portrait of the week: Fishing friction, Greta’s singalong and terror in Tokyo

Home Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, told delegates to the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow: ‘It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now.’ He left the conference the next day. British companies would have to publish plans on reaching net zero by 2050. India said it would reach net zero by 2070. Greta Thunberg, aged 18, stood in Govan Festival Park leading a chorus of ‘You can shove your climate crisis up your arse’ to the tune of ‘Ye cannae shove yer grannie aff a bus’. ‘None of us will live

Are there more over-seventies or twenty-somethings behind the wheel?

Another minute Addressing COP26 in Glasgow, the Prime Minister claimed it was ‘one minute to midnight’ in the fight against climate change. How many warnings have we had? — ‘We have a small window of time in which we can plant the seeds of change, and that is the next five years’ James Leape, WWF international director-general, 2007 — ‘Our planet has reached a point of crisis and we have only seven years before we lose the levers of control’ Prince Charles, Copenhagen climate summit, 2009 — Our ‘last chance to avert dangerous climate change’ Earth League, 2015 — ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’

Net zero is a disastrous solution to a nonexistent problem

Human folly is all too common. But in a long life I have never come across anything remotely as bad as the current climate scare. The government’s COP26 targets are ambitious (and eye-wateringly expensive). Amid the debate, one important question seems to be missing. Are we really facing an existential threat? Or might the climate change ‘crisis’ in fact be quasi-religious hysteria, based on ignorance? It is true that, since the industrial revolution, when we began to use fossil fuels — first coal, then oil and gas — as our source of energy, this has led to a steady, albeit gradual, increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the

Freddy Gray

Superbad: Joe Biden’s plummeting presidency

Who can blame President Biden for nodding off at the COP26 summit on Monday? It was an astronomically boring session — opening statement after opening statement, pompous speaker after pompous speaker, insisting that the time for words on climate change is over. Now is the time for… zzzzzzzzzzzz. It’s a miracle the jet-lagged, 78-year-old leader kept his eyes open for as long as he did. Poor Joe. He has a lot on his addled mind. He’s been in office for less than a year and his presidency is already a catalogue of crises. On Tuesday, as the President stood on the COP stage in Glasgow, impotently lecturing China and Russia

Where is the climate plan B?

The COP26 summit is unlikely to be an outright flop. There has been no shortage of drama, with speakers seeming to compete with each other to see who could use the most histrionic language. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, went so far as to compare the attending leaders to Nazi appeasers. He later apologised.  Some progress, albeit small, is being made. A hundred countries have been persuaded, some on the promise of sweeteners worth £14 billion, to sign a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. Brazil, the most important of all, is among them. India has agreed, for the first time, to set itself a date for achieving net-zero

I failed my country at COP

I’m on my way to Glasgow for COP26. It’s the first time I have been abroad since before Covid. Conveniently enough I had already decided to visit the UK for other reasons and that gives me a chance to travel to Edinburgh by train (there’s no accommodation available in Glasgow). I will be able to tell everyone that I arrived by train. Hopefully no-one will ask how I got from my island country in the first place (it wasn’t by sailboat). This will be my second COP conference. Previously I attended Paris 2015 as prime minister. Since then, I have publicly apologised for not having been more critical at the

Can Boris Johnson salvage COP26?

It’s day two of COP26 and so far the climate summit in Glasgow has made news for travel chaos, Greta Thunberg’s swearing and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s unfortunate ‘Nazi’ climate comparison. There was some disappointment among government officials on Monday when India only set a target of 2070 to reach net zero, but ministers are hopeful that today – which is the last full day many world leaders will spend at the two-week summit – will see better headlines. This is also the first agreement Boris Johnson can really shout about The first of which is an agreement between more than 100 world leaders to end and reverse deforestation by