The Davos crowd takes over COP26

Call it climate FOMO. “It has reached a moment of critical mass,” said a British official who is not authorized to speak to the media.

Names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are expected. The British Royal Family, led by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, would not miss it. More than 100 national leaders, including President Joe Biden, will be in attendance, alongside senior multilateral officials from UN Secretary-General António Guterres to World Bank Chief David Malpass and International Monetary Fund Chief Kristalina Georgieva. Even pop singer Ellie Goulding will be there.

For multinational companies around the world, COP26 is both a moment of action and a branding opportunity. A group called “Glasgow is our Business” includes senior executives from Amazon, McDonald’s, Mars, Starbucks, LinkedIn, Microsoft and United Airlines, and has started issuing statements such as “the future is watching.”

Davos-style advertising campaigns touting companies’ green credentials are also expected to roll out in the coming weeks. A new advertising campaign from United Airlines, which designates its customers as “Hugs from heaven” – based on the airline’s claim that it uses “a more sustainable aviation fuel than any other airline” – is already showing up at airports.

But there is one problem: Space for those who actually travel to COP26 is limited, especially given the restrictions of Covid-19. There are some private meeting rooms on the Scottish Event Campus site, which means badges offering access to politicians and diplomats are precious and rare.

The strategy of the organizers of COP26 is to direct most of the interest of VIPs towards public programming, but this does not appeal to some leaders. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who has met twice with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in recent weeks, has yet to pledge to attend. JPMorgan, which is one of the world’s largest fossil fuel financiers and also signatory to a new net zero banking alliance, declined a request for comment from POLITICO.

“Right now we have senior executives who don’t know if they can make it to Glasgow, or if they should, because they don’t know if they will get a… pass,” said Michael Liebreich, a clean energy expert who is trying to lead the way for executives by hosting VIP events outside of the official conference venue.

Keeping the most famous climatic faces out of the conference’s diplomatic “blue zone” comes with its own challenges. “The real nightmare scenario for the organizers is the safety of Greta Thunberg,” said the Swedish climate activist, said a Spanish official involved in the organization of the previous COP conference, COP25, which was held in Madrid in 2019. “Everywhere she went she was followed by hundreds of people. We tried to get her people to agree to a route so that we could protect her. They refused. The Thunberg team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Green but still VIP

In addition to the official “blue zone” (for diplomats) and “green zone” COPs (for civil society and businesses), an informal platinum zone is developing around the conference, responding to the whole of Davos who do not is not tempted by pubs. and kebab shops within walking distance of the venue.

Liebreich and others have built a sideshow at the UN talks that, in their minds at least, is more important than what will happen inside the walls of the conference center.

The stately homes, scattered throughout the Scottish countryside, are suddenly reserved, including the grounds of the 800-year-old Craufurdland Castle. Property managers from several estates declined to say who rented the properties during COP26.

A castle on the outskirts of Glasgow has been leased by a consortium of National Grid, utility Octopus energy, think tank US Atlantic Council and Liebreich for a two-week program of discussions and dinners – many of which will have a paying sponsor . Liebreich, who declined to reveal the location for fear of attracting the attention of activists, said it was “a perfectly nice place for very serious people to come together.”

The Liebreich rally may be small, but the ambition is great. He said he was aiming for “a sort of Bretton Woods for Glasgow, but on a tiny scale with 40 people”.

The team of COP26 President Alok Sharma, UK Minister responsible for the talks, has been inundated with invitations to private dinners and receptions, but is turning them down so he can focus on diplomatic negotiations.

The team behind “Davos House” – the most exclusive social venue after WEF opening hours – will host a COP26 “Goal House” in a former steelworks, designed by Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce fame. Organizers told POLITICO they are planning roundtables alongside an “exclusive club space” that includes bilateral meeting rooms for CEOs and celebrities who cannot hang them inside the official venue.

The World Economic Forum, the organization that takes over Davos each year in January, also descends in Glasgow. “We are launching our Grand Coalition of Early Engines with Secretary John Kerry. We have a full schedule of discussions and meetings co-designed with our partners and will also be posted on our website, ”said WEF spokesperson Madeleine Hillyer.

Green groups have complained that the UK government’s logistics briefings were too focused on details such as where private jets will land, rather than how delegates from the Pacific Islands would actually travel to Glasgow amid travel difficulties and quarantines extended. The COP26 unit, which pays for stays in quarantine and has carried out a vaccination program for the delegates, disputes this.

But if you haven’t booked your accommodation in Glasgow yet: good luck.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to descend into the Glasgow metropolitan area, although the city has fewer than 12,000 hotel rooms, and only about 2,335 short-term rental properties, according to Airdna, a provider of accommodation data. This is what drives up the prices of Davos rooms.

One of the few three bedroom townhouses still available in central Glasgow will set you back $ 31,639 for the 13 nights of COP26. A three-star room Merchant Town Inn is available for $ 14,360. The cheapest options found by POLITICO: a double bunk bed in a six bed female dormitory with shared bathroom at Tartan Lodge: $ 300 per night.

The COP exceeds the UN

The excitement around COP26 reflects more than the global elite who want to come together again. It’s a sign that climate change has gone beyond the scope of the international body – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – which was created only to defeat it.

The United Nations climate convention has met almost every year since 1995 and reached its supreme accord in 2015 with the Paris Agreement. Since then, negotiators have continued to meet and fight over obscure rules, while other players, including city governments and large corporations, have moved forward with their own detailed emission reduction plans.

“The UN can do what the UN can do,” Liebreich said. “They can create chat shops for everyone, it can create some moral persuasion and some pressure… but we clearly need different platforms.”

Until the Paris Agreement, it was mainly left-wing governments that provided these platforms, but it is now a broader set of actors shaping climate action, including municipal governments and governments. large companies.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions, believes this broader climate movement is necessary, and above all a sign of progress. “This time around there are industry days dedicated to the transition to net zero,” Burrow said.

Although she is wary of “fossil fuel companies with a do-it-yourself or do-it-yourself approach,” she said the wider interest in COP conferences is a step up from a decade of lobbying. it took to get human rights and “just transition” language at the UN. climate declarations, from Paris in 2015.

The risk of greenwashing by big companies at COP26 is real, but with so many governments refusing to honor their commitments, climate movements must work with what they can.

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