NOTHING, of course, in these days of COVID can be inked into the diary, but the plan as stands is for the UK to host a face-to-face COP26 here, in Glasgow, this November. If this were to happen in normal COP style, we would see around 30,000 delegates jetting in from all around the world, making a few speeches then disappearing into some rooms together to thrash it all out.

Huge delegations would pitch up – top of the league, sending most delegates in previous years have been Cote D’Ivoire and Democratic Republic of the Congo. The whole circus would come to town, and Greta Thunberg would be its star.

But this being year two of COVID, nothing is normal and there are plenty of arguments against this conference happening in person. There have calls to make it virtual, or even “hybrid”. Strong and valid reasons exist for this, not least of all the obvious fact that we are mid-pandemic and, while all delegates can be thoroughly vaxxed up, we can’t be sure where we might be by the autumn with variants and vaccines.

Meanwhile, climate activist, Thunberg, has declared her intention not to attend COP26 this November because she believes global vaccine inequality will have an impact on what parts of the world get to attend and, if so, that it should be postponed again.

UK planning for physical Cop26 summit in Glasgow

Thunberg is right in highlighting vaccine inequality. It is our global shame – and a sign of the poverty of our ability to collaborate for global good. She is also right in pointing out that this needs to be a COP in which the global south and smaller, less wealthy countries have a voice. One of the problems with putting it all online is that many developing countries fear being disadvantaged by poor quality internet access.

UK climate minister and COP26 president, Alok Sharma has said, “I have always been very clear that this should be the most inclusive COP ever. I have been travelling around the world and it is very clear to me that people want to see a physical COP, in particular developing countries want this to be face to face.”

Virtual COP, of course, isn’t a new idea. It was voiced even pre-Covid by those who believe that not all environmentalists and politicians who espouse green causes, walk the walk. I have a lot of sympathy with that. There are plenty of trips that happened pre-Covid to meetings which could have taken place online had people had the will. The net zero future will be about less travel and more virtual – and COP ultimately must be part of that.

But the decisions made at this coming COP are so key that it can’t be chiefly virtual, not yet. Almost anyone who has ever been at a COP argues that the important stuff is going on in side-meetings and back rooms. Face to face is needed.

Meanwhile, Thunberg isn’t alone in thinking that a postponed conference, which might mean a lost few years rather than a lost five, is better than a bad one. Former climate-summit leader Yvo de Boer, has said, "My overall sense is that delay is better than messing it up."

We can fixate on the flying. Yes, it doesn’t look good, particularly not in a year when so many have barely been able to leave their homes. News, for instance, that Alok Sharma has taken 25 flights in just a few months, smacks too much of “do as I say, rather than as I do”.

But, at the same time, you have to wonder if this vitally important COP, really is where we need to focus our flygskam. Are those, say, 50,000 passenger flights, which would represent a minute fraction of the flights taken this year, really the ones we need to lay into?

Good COP, bad COP, is not just a matter of virtual versus real. It’s about sealing the intentions. It’s about creating the will. All of the world, together.