As the flatscreens are packed away, the coffee cups recycled and the lights go out at COP 26 in Glasgow, I reflect on the events of the past few weeks. Three very different individuals have really made me think: an ageing monarch, a seasoned politician, and a new-born baby, just 14 days old when the conference began.
An ageing monarch
The Queen certainly laid down the gauntlet to the assembled leaders in her virtual opening speech to the conference:
“For more than seventy years, I have been lucky to meet and to know many of the world’s great leaders. And I have perhaps come to understand a little about what made them special.
It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow — that is statesmanship.
I, for one, hope that this conference will be one of those rare occasions where everyone will have the chance to rise above the politics of the moment, and achieve true statesmanship.”.
Looking back, particularly at the last frantic 24 hours, did we see ‘true statesmanship’ or just ‘brinkmanship’? The jury’s out for me. Much depends on whether promises and pledges turn into real action when and where it matters. The number of promises still to be delivered after the Paris Agreement, especially to the poorer nations, makes me wonder.
A seasoned politician
It is often seen as the duty of the conference chair to remain neutral and dispassionate as they facilitate the best possible outcome, especially when there are conflicting agendas, the stakes are high and negotiating skills at a premium. Alok Sharma‘s final remarks of the conference showed a different, more human, quality. As he apologised for the chaotic nature of the last few hours, he also apologised that the outcome had not been all he wanted it to be or many needed it to be. As he did so, his voice broke and he had to pause.
Here was a man who took his responsibility seriously, who had the weight of the world on his shoulders, almost literally, who was passionate about seeing the best possible outcome for the world. We’ve seen this quality in this politician before. Look back to 5 July 2017, when Sharma was Housing Minister at the time of the Grenfell tragedy. After visiting the scene, and meeting survivors, he stood up in parliament and spoke of their “unimaginable pain” and listening to their stories as: “the most moving and humbling experience of my life”. He was once more overcome with emotion and couldn’t continue. On both occasions I saw, not a politician hiding behind a cleverly crafted mask or a choreographed PR textbook answer, I saw a tender-hearted human being who truly cared about the responsibilities he had been given and the people who would be impacted by his ability to carry them out. At the end of the conference, for the first time in a long time, I felt that here was a man of integrity, a politician I could warm to, one I might even be able to trust.
A newborn baby
The birth of my first grandchild, Rosa Hope, on 17th October was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I am quite besotted! She is, of course, one of the most beautiful babies in all the world (I may be biased). As I held her in my arms and gazed into her dark blue wondering eyes for the first time, days before the conference began, my feelings of responsibility for passing on a world that is kinder, fairer and more sustainable than it is now, was almost overwhelming. The need felt more acute and the task more urgent than it had ever been before. I couldn’t help asking myself: Was I doing enough? Was I doing all I could? Was I feeling the pain of those that will suffer most from this environmental crisis? Was I passing the Queen’s statesman-like test in my own circle of influence and leaving to her the legacy of a world that is worth living in?
As the Queen reminded us at the end of her speech:
“…we none of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps”.
Addicted to hope…
It was a Sunday morning (over 10 years ago?) when I turned on my TV and stumbled across an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu about the state of South Africa, post-Mandela. The interviewer asked him if he was optimistic about the future of South Africa. I have never forgotten his answer. He gave one of his wonderfully impish smiles and said: “No - not really…but I’m addicted to hope!”
I’m not sure I expected much from COP 26, but I hoped for so much more. Getting nearly 200 nations large and small to agree on anything is a mammoth task at the best of times - even more of a challenge when it requires some nations to give substantial ground at some cost to themselves.
So - am I optimistic that I will be able to pass on a kinder, fairer and more sustainable world to Rosa’s generation? If I’m honest – no. But I’m determined to do what I can to move as far as possible in that direction. And – of one thing you can be certain - I’m addicted to (Rosa) Hope!