(Photo Reuters: Phil Noble)
So COP26 has finished after two weeks of intense negotiations and lobbying, threats and protests. About 40,000 world leaders and delegates descended on Glasgow along with around 100,000 protesters. Will the planet earth be a safer place as a result? Was COP 26 a success?
Well, yes and no. There were some successful attempts to move forward. The ambition to keep global warming down to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still alive…but only just. A deforestation deal was signed by more than 100 countries. There was an agreement to end the financing of coal mining. Another to severely restrict methane emissions. There is an agreement to hold meetings more frequently to monitor progress.
On the other hand, many in Glasgow would say that the major problems have simply been kicked into the long grass. Forms of words which will not translate into action. This timetable for change will not prevent certain island nations and large coastal areas from being submerged. The finance from richer nations to support the poorer in the move to sustainable forms of energy is totally inadequate. The various agreements will not prevent catastrophic climate events from happening. Some for the world’s biggest polluters have not signed important protocols. The UN secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said: ‘Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread’.
One feature of the closing stages of COP 26 made as much news as anything else. It was that Alok Sharma, the British president of COP 26, was tearful as he finally brought proceedings to a close last weekend. As he made his closing comments his voice broke, and he wiped a few tears from his face. He told delegates that he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the fact that he had been unable to prevent China and India from watering down the final resolution to phase out coal power. He was apologetic for the way the process unfolded.
It is unusual for senior politicians to become emotional in such circumstances. In an interview Sharma said that he had had six hours sleep in 72 hours. More than that he had spent weeks beforehand doing shuttle climate diplomacy around the world. The cynics were less generous, suggesting that he was weeping over his own damaged hopes for promotion within the present government.
Who knows which of these factors generated Sharma’s tears? Is it naïve to think that he was disappointed with his own failure to engineer an agreement about which he had come to care deeply? Is it possible that ‘no drama Sharma’ - as some dub him – was showing his quiet passion for future generations who must live on this fragile earth?
In a week where we have also heard the stories about Westminster politicians lining their own pockets when they should have been concerned about the public good, it is easy to doubt the motivations of public figures. But I am inclined to believe that Sharma’s concerns were real, his passion genuine.
The shedding of tears is often a sign of loss of some sort. Regrets over lost opportunities, bereavements, the disappearance of a context in which one had been happy, loss of mobility – losses come in many shapes and forms. It is entirely appropriate and healthy that we should sometimes shed tears over the people and things which matter most to us. In this case, it is refreshing that a male in a very powerful position and in a very public space should express his emotion, his quiet passion. It contrasts sharply with some of our leading politicians who seem to have been so damaged emotionally - maybe by their public school education - that they seem incapable of empathy.
As a wise old friend once said to us: ‘Never be ashamed of your tears – they are usually a sign of love’.