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Glasgow is hosting the virtue-signalling World Cop

“En route to COP26 – trees and branches affected by climate change have slowed our rail journey”

This dispatch from the front—tweeted by Channel 4’s renowned Jon Snow on his way to the UN’s “Conference of the Parties” climate summit in Glasgow—gives us a flavour of the impact of man-made climate change on the southern Scottish lowlands. Facing the sort of rock-a-bye-baby-in-the-treetops strength breezes that most of us expect to affect the leaves at this time of the year, many of the people tasked with saving the planet at COP26 will be lucky if their planes, trains and automobiles make it in unscathed.

Godspeed, Jon.

Regardless of who winds up thwarted by supply-chain issues relating to railway tree-surgeons in Scotland, the work of preserving our civilizations and ways of life by totally upending our civilizations and ways of life will go on for the many thousands of delegates and world leaders who are expected to survive their journeys to Glasgow. In fact, the conference is so important that RTÉ has dispatched a full reporting team to cover events, apparently reasoning that Raidío Éireann’s broadcast contribution to the saving of Earth can only be made in-person, carbon footprint be damned.

Unlike COVID19, COP26 *is* the 26th iteration to bear its name, and this latest last chance to save the planet comes hot on the heels of the last last chance COP25 in Madrid in December 2019, and the second last chance COP24 in Katowice in December 2018. As the UN is more optimistic about the future than you’d think, it has taken the liberty of scheduling the next last chance COP27 for Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022, and Abu Dhabi has made a bid to host the last chance COP28 in November 2023. Jon Snow will breathe a sigh of relief at the more arboreally-challenged natures of those venues, but the 20,000+ expected to travel to Glasgow over the next 2 weeks make a strong financial case for an Irish tender for the last chance due in 2024. We could call it COP ON and use it to showcase the environmental frugality of black- and brownouts, or the innovations we’ve developed to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping thousands of tonnes of peat to Dublin from Lithuania instead of Leitrim. Greta Thunberg might even be persuaded to demonstrate the unnecessary luxury of airtravel by swimming here.

Greta herself is attending the conference, as she has every such conference since erupting onto the scene in 2018, and almost immediately denounced it as just more political “Blah blah blah”. US President Biden and his a 27-vehicle motorcade (excluding Air Force One) has already been and gone, but not before a very Sleepy Joe appeared to nod off during a speech on the extinction-level threat that we are told the conference is addressing. Where are Eamonn Ryan’s Beroccas when you need them?

For all its glitzy attendees and grand speeches, though, COP26 suffers from some glaring absences. Chief among the no-shows is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the world’s largest polluter. Leading 16% of the world’s population—willingly or otherwise—and producing 28% of its carbon emissions, you might have thought that Chinese President Xi Jinping would grace the conference with more than a written statement, but you would be wrong. Instead, he sent a note wishing attendees all the very best in their deliberations, like a county councillor sending apologies to a residents’ committee AGM but without the apology.

The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is also washing his hair for the next fortnight, even though he is also responsible for a further 5% of the world’s emissions. For its part, the Russian government has told the conference that climate change represents an “Important foreign policy priority,” which, by the experiences of Syria and Crimea, should worry climate change’s independence very much. Suffice to say, Brazil’s President Bolsonaro and South Africa’s President Ramaphosa have also remained at home, representing another 1% each.

The consequence is that COP26 starts with an arm tied behind its back and a whole host of the worst global emitters representing more than 35% of the world’s emissions missing from the field of play. It is in that futile context that Míchéal Martin flies to Glasgow this week, representing a princely 0.1% of global emissions—many personally. He also travels with a new Good Information Project/Ireland Thinks poll suggesting that nearly 4 in 5 Irish people (78%) oppose the shrinking of the national herd as a measure to counter climate change. This indication that the Irish public supports our farmers is in spite of the near round-the-clock demonization that Ireland’s agricultural sector and its already-major efforts in the fight against climate change face, in a way that has prompted Minister Martin Heydon to warn of the risk of “losing the dressing room.”

The unfortunate fact is that there is little that Ireland can accomplish at COP26. With the largest polluters absent and the present polluters already doing much of what they can relative to their share of the problem, the sorts of agreements that emerged on 2 November—to plant more trees, or net-zero in India by 2070—are about as impactful as Glasgow will be, which is presumably why sequel conferences have been arranged for the short and medium terms already. In fairness, broad recognition of this means that that the Irish environmentalism’s recent clarion-call has been that Ireland’s size and material impact on climate change are both immaterial as against our capacity to “lead the world” on the issue. The trouble with this self-aggrandisement is that we also “led the world” from the Security Council in dealing with the Islamic Emirate formerly known as Afghanistan in August. That debacle, and the Zapponegate confidence motion that Simon Coveney somehow survived on the back of it, shows that while politicians’ David and Goliath narratives of national struggle go down well domestically, in real terms, the best countries to take the reigns in these matters are the ones with the hard power, experience and gumption to get the job done. In the context of climate change, this requires the bringing to heel of China in particular, and that is several steps above Míchéal’s paygrade.

Kilian Foley-Walsh is a writer, and the former President of Young Fine Gael

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