It is a full half-mile from the entrance of the conference building to the media centre—and that is after passing through three levels of security and queuing with thousands of others going through the same process just to get to the front door.
From a standing start at 7 AM, beginning with the compulsory daily COVID-19 test, it takes nearly four hours. This is without gaining an ounce of information about what the 13-day conference is doing to halt the climate crisis.
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COP 26, apart from being billed as the most important conference in the world, is also the biggest the UK has ever staged, with 30,000 participants. The combination of the COVID pandemic, the level of security required against terrorism, and the ingenuity of the many demonstrators makes it unwieldy.
Even my morning newspaper had to be inspected in case it concealed a protest banner.
For the delegates, politicians, civil servants, and experts, every meeting, press conference, or negotiating session is a route march away. Delegates are wondering how many miles they have already walked today—three, maybe four, maybe more, you hear people say.
Since there is no possibility of going out and coming back in again on the same day, it means the organizers have had to provide a vast array of catering. There must be at least 30 cafés and restaurants in the Blue Zone, the main business area of the conference, and an equal number in the Green Zone, where many side events are staged, and where many non-government organizations have set up their headquarters for the event.
Bizarrely, there are no maps available of this vast and complex conference—although the information office has one that they will let you photograph on your phone so that you do not get totally lost. The information office also bestows on you gifts—a COP 26 hygiene kit, containing a mask with the COP logo, a bottle of your own disinfectant hand gel and some wipes, a reusable water bottle already full, and most important, a free travel pass. This takes you on all Glasgow buses and trains. It is said you can get as far as the capital Edinburgh for free because some delegates could not get a hotel any closer.
Deep inside the centre, there are zones containing acres of booths for the nearly 160 countries attending the conference, plus dozens of other organizations that have an interest in the COP and its outcome.
As you navigate your away along the corridors, you catch sight of briefings and press conferences sometimes so crowded that social distancing rules seem to have been briefly forgotten, but everywhere everyone is wearing masks and not doing so gains a sharp rebuke from security.
Even for veterans of the UN process, this latest COP is a monster requiring a level of fitness and youth that a good number of those attending do not possess. It must be bewildering for those attending for the first time. So far everyone seems to be taking the strain. It is usually towards the end of the second week that you see people asleep in their chairs or even lying down in a quiet corner, snoring gently.
But equally, if it lives up to its billing as the most important conference the world has ever had, anyone that needs to have a say should have the right and opportunity to do so. This is the aspiration, anyway, although some developing country delegates have been forced into quarantine in hotels and have yet to get into the conference.
The level of international interest can also partly be gauged by the number journalists and the media outlets they represent, already present at the conference. There are dozens of booths taken up by the household names in the media business, including national broadcasters from five continents, but many hundreds of reporters from Internet services and newspapers from more than 100 countries.
Altogether, in the time of COVID, it is remarkable it is happening at all. The queues and the inconvenience each participant must endure are perhaps unavoidable. The organizers are trying to combine the problems of social distancing, security, and providing safe spaces, so those who need to negotiate the future of the planet can do so.
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