How is COP26 going? Is it like the Bretton-Woods conference, a chance to anchor a new world system and anchor multilateral thinking and enlightened self-interest in a time of escalating geopolitical tensions? Is it like the London Olympics, an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the best of the UK on the world stage as the country goes through one of its recurring identity crises? Is it like Gordon Brown’s 2009 emergency G20 London summit, a desperate and only partially successful attempt to rebuild a more resilient global economic system from the rubble of a financial crisis? Or is it like the Paris Summit in 2015, one last chance to reach a global deal that can avert a continuing climate catastrophe and tackle the epic market failures and geopolitical tensions that have pushed the biosphere to the brink of collapse. ?
It is, of course, like all of these things and yet not quite the same as any of them. It is a high-stakes diplomatic event, a global media moment, a trade show and a large activist jamboree, all brought together in one. It will bring together diplomats, business leaders and activists from all corners of the world and send messages around the world, and yet much of the discussion will be on the most parochial subject – Britain’s weather.
The COP26 is ultimately its own particularity and its own point of history. There is no precise model or manual to draw on, and no challenge as daunting in scale and scope as the climate crisis and the net zero transition.
But if I can add to this quagmire of metaphors, may I suggest it’s like a cup finale, but not necessarily the way you think it is.
It is, for sure, a large-scale one-off event with millions of spectators and huge sums of money based on the result. Enormous amounts of political, financial and emotional capital have been invested to go this far.
And it matters. It matters a lot.
If there is a positive outcome – a “win” if you will – then the next phase of the net zero transition, the next season, will be easier. There will be confidence. It will be easier to attract the best players, to attract the big bucks, to get even more support from the public. Success breeds success.
But it’s also like a cup final, because if everyone does their best and things finally fall apart, if defeat is snatched from the clutches of victory, then there will still have been considerable success on the way to the final. . There will still be a chance to return. To go further next time.
It will not be over, far from it.