The private jets that carried world leaders to Glasgow are departing with thousands of negotiators left behind and tasked with diffusing the climate change ticking time-bomb.
“It’s one minute to midnight on the doomsday clock, and we need to act now,” Boris Johnson told delegates at Cop26, shortly before telling the world he would be travelling back to London by plane.
As lead host of the Conference of the Parties the prime minister has been prominent. Yet such is the urgency of the situation that even the famously boosterish Johnson had a dire warning for the presidents, prime ministers and delegates gathered in Glasgow.
The ticking time bomb is set to detonate, he warned , telling world leaders: “The global outrage will be irrepressible if the leaders gathered in Scotland for the great UN summit on climate change just talk and don’t act.”
He compared the perilous task facing them with that of “Scotland’s most famous fictional son” James Bond, who at “the climax of his highly lucrative films strapped to a doomsday device”, tries desperately “to work out which coloured wire to pull to turn it off, while a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a detonation that will end human life as we know it”.
He added: “We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today – except that the tragedy is this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real.”
Without a hint of irony or any apparent self awareness, given all that’s passed and what was about to be announced, Johnson went on to evoke Greta Thunberg’s thoughts about action being louder than words.
“All those promises,” Johnson said, “will be nothing but ‘blah, blah, blah’, to coin a phrase, and the anger and the impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make this Cop 26 in Glasgow the moment where we get real about climate change.”
For Johnson, getting real it turns out means getting a flight back to London, instead of a carbon-friendly train, proving once again that his pledges, promises and commitments amount to little more than even more hot air.
It’s less than a week since his chancellor of the exchequer delivered the government’s budget plans in which Rishi Sunak spoke for over an hour without mentioning the climate once.
Sunak did, however, announce a fuel duty freeze and triumphed that it will be cheaper to fly from 2023, revealing something of the government’s priorities in making the most carbon intensive – and already heavily subsidised – form of transport more appealing for passengers.
Why let the train take the strain when you can get there, and often for cheaper, by plane?
After all, and only hours after making his doomsday warning and instructing the world to “get real” about the impending climate catastrophe, Johnson’s reality is the choice to fly back to London from Glasgow when the leaders leave Cop26.
The “fuel we use for this flight is sustainable and emissions are offset as well,” the PM’s spokesman told reporters: “It’s important that the Prime Minister is able to move around the country and obviously we have faced significant time constraints.”
So constrained is the PM’s time that he apparently took time to take a snooze during one of the speeches at Cop. Number 10 dismissed suggestions the maskless Johnson fell asleep while seated between the mask wearing UN general secretary Antonio Guterres and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, aged 95 and also wearing a mask – as “total nonsense”
The train from Glasgow would take four-and-a-half hours providing a perfect opportunity for Johnson to get some sleep. It would also generate just a seventh of the CO2 a passenger plane would produce (per passenger) on the Glasgow to London journey – 20kg compared to 137kg. A private jet emits two tonne of CO2 per hour of flight.
Carbon footprint of Cop26
The carbon footprint of Cop26 is immense with the CO2 generated by 30,000 delegates from 197 countries in Glasgow over the next two weeks equivalent to that produced by 4,200 Britons over 52 weeks.
Up to 400 private jets – each emitting 10 times more greenhouse gases than regular passenger planes are expected over the fortnight.
A six hour flight in a small executive jet spews out the same amount of CO2 as a person in the West generates in 12 months – approximately 12 tons (which is three times higher than the global average).
Joe Biden’s European tour – taking in the G20, a visit to the Vatican and Cop26 – will, it is estimated, create almost 1,000 tonnes of CO2 . His journey to and from the airport alone – in a motorcade comprising 22 vehicles flown to Glasgow from the US – will unleash some four tonnes of CO2 for the 93-mile round trip to Edinburgh airport.
Cop26 will generate over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 – A massive 85% of the carbon dioxide generated by Cop 26 will be from air travel.
CO2 cost of a bacon butty vs a croissant
So seriously are delegates taking the carbon consequence of their choices that even the menus at Cop26 detail the climate impact of every meal served up. BBC political correspondent and Newscast podcast host Adam Fleming – no relation to James Bond creator Ian Fleming – revealed that chat at breakfast has been about the carbon footprint of the great British brekky bacon butty up against a continental croissant.
Surprisingly, Fleming found the cooked meat sandwich has a smaller carbon footprint than the butter packed French croissant – 0.4 kilograms of CO2 compared to 0.5 kilograms.
Fleming managed to catch up with the French bio-diversity minister to ask for her thoughts about the croissant’s climate impact.
“We have to look at what we are eating. But a croissant is so good. But it is fat, and it is not the best carbon footprint,” she said. “So, I think we have to eat croissant because it’s good, but just a little bit less than other types of breakfast.”
HRH 007 – the man with a plan(e)
At dinner, world leaders were joined by members of the UK’s royal family and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, though it’s not know if the carbon count of each course was made explicit to the diners gathered at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The guests arrived on an electric bus while the Queen, 95, was beamed in with a pre-recorded video address. When Johnson got up to speak, he quickly returned to his previous musings in a blatant attempt to curry favour with the future king. “You heard me earlier on say this was a job for James Bond.
“Well,” he continued, “we have somebody who drives an electric Aston Martin who has a plan to defuse the ticking time bomb“, referring directly to Prince Charles.
In sucking up to his highness, the PM apparently confused his alternative energies as it was revealed just a few weeks ago that Charles’ old Aston – gifted to him when he was 21 – actually runs on cheese and English wine., a mix presumably shaken, not stirred. And while HRH may have a plan, he also has a plane.
A private jet in fact that ferried him to Glasgow from Rome, Prince Charles having flown first to Italy where he regaled the G20 at the weekend with his climate change message and call for real action.
It’s estimated his trip alone has added another 4.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas to the “invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2” that is quilting the earth. According to one commentator, the prince has clocked up “over 16,000 miles, cost taxpayers £280,000, [and] emitted 162 tons of CO2” in the last two weeks – 14-and-a-half-times what the average Brit generates in a year.