The Start of COP26 Has Been a Hot Mess

Queues and train cancellations prevented hundreds from accessing talks at the start of the UN's two-week climate change summit.
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Climate activists wearing masks of world leaders take part in a protest near the summit venue in Glasgow. Photo: Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

GLASGOW – The UN’s climate change conference COP26 has gotten off to a shaky start after train cancellations and mega queues prevented many people from accessing the summit in Scotland.

On Sunday, a fallen tree and severe British weather prompted several train cancellations on the main route between London and Glasgow, delaying many participants, including a bunch of journalists and environment minister Zac Goldsmith. 

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the world is at “one minute to midnight” unless countries commit to net zero and lower their carbon emissions. 

But expectations for the two-week summit have been tempered by world leaders’ failure to meet certain goals at the G20 summit in Rome at the weekend, including stopping short of agreeing to end the use of coal in their own countries. There has also been criticism that the conference could have happened online after a pandemic that has accustomed many to video calls.

Many world leaders are attending the conference in person, but not China’s Xi Jinping, who’s only sending a written statement.

On Monday, queues and travel disruption meant that many were still unable to access the summit venue in real life.

The Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, said that the delays on Sunday were sparked by torrential rain, as well as winds of over 80mph across the country, prompting some attendees to consider last-minute domestic flights instead.

It took Krish Kandiah, a global ambassador for World Vision, 11 hours to finally get to Glasgow for a journey that was supposed to take five. He told the Guardian: “Our public transport infrastructure is unreliable; if we are going to green our economy, public transport needs to work for people to give up their cars and planes. 

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“Here we are arriving at a very significant climate conference and the British public transport doesn’t seem to be up for the task.”

At the conference Monday morning, visitors arriving after 9AM quickly found another problem to contend with –  massive queues as delegates passed through the airport-like security measures to enter the conference. 

Westminster Correspondent for LBC Ben Kentish tweeted a picture of the small gate delegates enter before they can access the internal screening and entrance. 

Talks scheduled for 9 and 10AM got off to a late start as speakers were left waiting in the cold outside.

At the UK Presidency Pavilion, a talk on forest solutions offering one of the only platforms for Indigenous speakers started late. One of the panellists, Tuntiak Katan, arrived 55 minutes late – five minutes before the talk ended. He confirmed to VICE World News that he had been caught in the queue. 

These aren’t the only queues members of the conference have faced. Climate policy coordinator at Action Aid Teresa Anderson tweeted that a queue at the nearby COP26 testing site meant that she missed her event on Sunday.

None of the international delegates VICE World News has spoken to have been aware that lateral flow tests are freely available from local pharmacies. Nor have they been told where to access their travel passes; participants aren’t being directed to the Information Desk where they can collect them, meaning that some have today paid for their public transport that was guaranteed for free by the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. 

For others, public transport clearly wasn’t on the cards anyway. Taxis and private vehicles have been seen idling in the streets near the conference centre. 

VICE World News also found that not all the security guards recognise COVID passes, which participants were told would guarantee entry, and instead ask for an NHS text – causing further delay.