SO, what was that all about? COP26? Code Red for humanity. Last chance to save the planet. Now that the private jets have gone, and the dust has settled, what did the Green Davos actually achieve? We are told that this is the first time that fossil fuels have been directly identified as causes of global warming, which will come as news to most of us who have been hearing little else for years.

The commentators and green evangelists have moved on, saying as they did at the start that it was all “blah, blah, blah”. The big issue seems to be what to do with all the Ikea furniture that is now stacked in Glasgow Council marquees before being distributed to homeless charities. It feels like a raucous festival after which everyone has a bit of a hangover and feels slightly embarrassed about their behaviour.

Nicola Sturgeon turned it into a vast photo opportunity, getting selfies with the great and the good. Like the glamorous Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who simply loooooves Irn-Bru. The US media was impressed by St Nicola, who has burnished her CV and can expect job offers aplenty when she leaves Bute House. 

The UK Government seems to be getting some credit for at least trying to secure a serious climate deal. This was because of a stroke of genius by the Government climate minister, Alok Sharma. By tearing up on the last day he ceased being a heartless Tory B'stard and was welcomed as an honorary snowflake, a feeling human being. The fact that the conference was undone by a coal-fired drive-by by India and China – who managed to turn a commitment to abandoning the most destructive fossil fuel into meaningless verbiage – wasn't his fault. Poor boy needs counselling.


Alok Sharma at COP26

Alok Sharma at COP26

That it was the Global South that did the dirty has been another reason for many to draw a veil over Glasgow COP. No one wants to blame India and China for climate change, which is Our Fault for having had an industrial revolution. Actually, this two-wrongs-make-a-right argument makes little sense, except in the looking-glass world of decolonial intersectionality. There is no need for developing countries to go through a 19th century industrial revolution burning coal just because we did. There are alternatives.

China is the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars. It also has many nuclear power stations. A number of its cities are becoming uninhabitable because of smog. Were China not a dictatorship, public opinion there would likely be demanding the abandonment of coal as a public health emergency.

Unlike China, Scotland is a democracy, albeit currently a one-party one. Governments need to retain public support for measures that diminish the wellbeing and prosperity of the voters. The people of Glasgow are expected to rip out their central heating boilers, abandon meat and stop using their cars in the next few years. Heating bills are already going through the roof. They are unlikely to submit to the hairshirt if they think they're only donning it so China can continue to open a coal-fired power station every week.

The capitulation to coal is of course just what climate sceptics and deniers were hoping for. It allows them to dismiss the whole Net Zero project as foolhardy and pointlessly self-destructive. The bien pensants help them by suggesting that it is some way racist to point out that China and India are the largest polluters on the planet, relying on a fuel which is inefficient as well as a massive contributor to climate change. The fact is China burns nearly half the world's coal and produces a third of greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon footprint of the average American has been bigger, historically, but that is not a justification for burning coal.

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However, I have been arguing that, despite all this, COP26 has been a worthwhile exercise, and I still believe that. There honestly is no alternative. Fossil fuels are dirty, poisonous and damaging both to those who mine them and to the atmosphere. Were it not for fossil fuel subsidies they would have become redundant long ago.

It is, however, a fact that cleaning up the planet is an immensely difficult task because it requires cooperation between nations who do not entirely trust each other. China and America are engaged in a form of superpower rivalry. Russia is clearly using the supply of gas to extend its influence in central Europe. Angela Merkel's last act as Chancellor was agreeing to Vladimir Putin's Nordstream 2 gas pipeline which is likely to bypass Ukraine and undermine its government.

Fossil fuel politics are as toxic as the fuel itself, and we will be well rid of them. And here COP26 has had a number of achievements. The agreement to reduce methane emissions and to restore forests is important. China and America are at least talking to each other now about the need to address climate change together. There will be further meetings on an annual basis and better measures of how countries are measuring up to their promises. The UN's Climate Change chief, Patricia Espinosa, says there has been real progress.

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But it will require honesty from political leaders and a willingness to face facts and confront embarrassing truths. Demonising China and India will not help, nor will giving them a free pass. Only relentless force of argument is likely to persuade President XI Jingpin that, whatever comes of his coal-fired five-year plan, he does not want to go down in history as a kind of climate-denying version of Mao Ze Dong.

His and his country's global prestige – ever growing as it rivals America as the biggest economy – depends on China being seen as a responsible guardian of the environment, both at home and abroad. For one big change after COP26 is that those 100-odd developing countries dealing with rising temperatures no longer see China as the good guys.

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