WHILE at university in Fife, I briefly studied theology. Not with any intention of entering the Ministry, although I was and remain sufficiently preachy.

Rather my objective was to study past thought, historic philosophy if you like, outwith the Arts Faculty. Plus the Divinity parties were legendary.

So I immersed myself for a spell in a series of thinkers, whose names mostly began with the letter A. Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas and, of course, Augustine.

You will recall his famous entreaty: “Lord, make me chaste. But not yet”.

The youthful meanderings of St Augustine of Hippo would appear to be reaching across the centuries to one or two delegate nations due to attend COP26 in Glasgow.

At global gatherings like this, the talks do not start from scratch. Draft conclusions are circulated months in advance, to establish what is agreed and to delineate the areas which require negotiation.

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Leaks emerged suggesting that a few countries wanted, for example, to play down the rhetoric against the continuing exploitation of fossil fuels.

Australia, it seems, sought to tone down the criticism of coal. Australia is a significant exporter of coal. Guess what Saudi Arabia was keen to defend.

I make these points not to criticise these countries but simply to draw attention to the inevitable tensions which surround the Glasgow talks. Tensions which explain the concomitant caution. Which explain why the Prime Minister says the summit is “in the balance”.

Some critics say it scarcely helps that the Chancellor cut the duty on domestic flights days before COP. Supporters point to a hike in the levy on long-haul travel.

For my latest Herald podcast, we previewed the summit. During a lively debate, Mark Ruskell of the Greens argued vigorously that the COP delegates should “follow the science.” Pollution was annihilating the planet and must be cut. QED.

Snag is the scientists do not have to convince voters or placate established industry.

They do not have to tell coal workers in Australia – or indeed oil and gas workers in the north-east of Scotland – that their efforts are no longer needed.

Further, they do not have to tell consumers to reduce car usage, to lose their domestic gas boilers and to forget the dream of frequent flights to the sun.

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I know, I know, none of these things will be feasible if the planet fries. I hear the rhetoric, I get the concept, I grasp the science.

Yet I also know that leaders may seek to balance principle with practice.

They may still yearn for a compromise, even when told that the time for vacillation is gone.

Nicola Sturgeon, to her regret, is not a direct participant in the COP talks although the Scottish Government will play a role, offering to form bridges between parties who may have different perspectives, who may approach the talks from different standpoints.

In short, to help ease the tensions accompanying COP.

In a thoughtful speech this week, the First Minister cited a few examples: between the developed and developing worlds; between leaders and youth; between UN member states and regions or communities.

Ms Sturgeon, of course, will also be looking closer to home. The Scottish Government has set ambitious climate targets but, while making progress, is currently failing to meet interim milestones. Improvement is promised.

Further, there is that issue of North Sea oil and gas. Her Green partners take an evangelical approach. Leave the stuff beneath the chilly waters. No more.

At which point, those tensions again. The peak may be in the past but there are still around 100,000 jobs arising from the black, black oil (and the colourless gas.)

Ms Sturgeon’s party previously proclaimed that it was “Scotland’s oil”. She is by no means ready to declare it Scotland’s shame.

However, in the speech this week she advised fellow oil producing countries that it would be “fundamentally wrong” to sustain maximum production.

Instead, she argued for the “fastest possible” just transition, delivering alternative jobs. The concept of a transition is decidedly familiar. The notion of accelerating that change is of more recent vintage.

Tensions, tensions. Over timing. In essence, the Glasgow talks are designed to implement a target, set five years ago in Paris, of limiting global warming to 1.5 per cent. To enact the Paris rulebook, if you like.

We can expect elevated talk of protecting Paris or of treating that objective as a starting point. The difficulty, the tension, will arise in fixing a timetable.

Will enough be done in this decade? Or will the promises be limited to achieving net zero emissions by, say, 2050 or even 2060?

The Scottish Government’s long-term target date is 2045, but with key steps along the road. Will there be enough from the largest polluters in the way of interim action, of necessary step changes?

Tension. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, says the time for “diplomatic niceties” has gone. There must be precise, measurable, swift action or the result will be “terrible human suffering”.

Potential strain too between rich and poorer countries. One huge issue at Glasgow will be the extent of compensation and support to be paid to developing nations.

They have not experienced the wealth benefits which accompanied the industrial age in developed countries. Yet they are enduring the climate disasters which are the result of that development. No gain, plenty pain.

So one substantial area of tension at Glasgow will surround the extent to which voices from the developing south are heard.

Then tension too between youth and older generations. Elected politicians are acutely aware that ecological issues tend to resonate very strongly with younger people. Their future electorate.

To be entirely fair, most elected politicians are also sharply attuned to the principles underlying the environmental case. But the youth perspective is definitely a factor to be borne in mind.

Will those voices be heard in Glasgow? To a degree. The Scottish Government is funding a Youth Conference. Its work is under way and a concluding Statement will be presented to the full COP conference.

Tensions, tensions. Perhaps time to remember the biggest tension of all. The strain presently placed by humanity upon our own living space.

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