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A typical UK presidency event at COP26

How to be complicit in self-congratulatory national complacency?

Presidency event Despite my newly acquired suspicion of UK Presidency events I felt I had to go the morning’s session on “Accelerating the ZEV transition: A one way street” for professional reasons. You sense the scriptwriter who came up with the punning title was probably very pleased with themselves. As before, it followed a standard formula. Cue short inspiring video with carefully chosen stirring music to settle the audience and create the mood. It appears obligatory at this type of event to make sure there’s a government minister topping or tailing. On this occasion it was Trudy Harrison, the MP for Copeland (west Cumbria). The scripts the ministers are given to read out are always very cleverly worded to make the UK government sound fantastic and claim credit for things they have had no hand in. So for example, there was a list of great things that had happened “since the UK was granted the presidency of COP26”. A lazy listener can easily infer that they were because the UK got the presidency rather than remembering that correlation is not causation. The irony of course is that as she was espousing how wonderful it was that they were fighting climate change by reducing vehicle emissions, she supports the construction of the proposed Cumbria coalmine, even though throughout COP26 there is plentiful messaging about how coal needs to be phased out. But then I guess internal consistency is a luxury that can’t be indulged for any politician who wants to rise through the ranks of the party.

After that there is the usual panel of the great and good (car manufacturers, foreign ministers, company CEOs) saying positive things about electric vehicles, orchestrated by a very smooth American panel chair. Then there is another very slick short video to watch as the lights dim, and music ebbs and swells appropriately to give you clues as to what emotions you are supposed to be experiencing as you watch it. The video ends, the lights rise, and behold, a new panel has surreptitiously replaced the first.

Nigel Topping, the government’s High Level Climate Action Champion, bounds on stage to compere proceedings. The new panel are invited to say uplifting things for a few minutes each and then, as usual, the chair bigs up the event and declares it’s been inspirational and talks the event up, even though your own senses over an hour and a half have provided no evidence to support his assertions. Gas lit, everyone applauds as convention demands and files out. The audience’s purpose has been fulfilled: they’ve dutifully provided a non-threatening receptacle for the government to celebrate feeling good about themselves as they sell low carbon snake oil with no fear of being challenged. It’s hard not to feel that you’ve been taken for a malleable sap….

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