With the usual security and credential checks at any conference, as well as having to prove that we recorded negative COVID-19 rapid test results on the UK National Health Service website, tens of thousands of attendees created a neck of bottle on the outside. They queued, as the locals would say, in a climate that Israelis would consider quite wintry, with a frigid wind blowing from the River Clyde.
Fortunately, there was a man dressed in a kilt standing on a rostrum, with a loudspeaker playing the “Imperial March (Darth Vader Theme)”, to entertain us.
“We are very proud to host our international imperial masters,” the man shouted in a Scottish tone into a screeching microphone. “All the funding we put into this. What a useful way to spend taxpayers money! “
The nearly an hour and a half wait gave us plenty of time to consider how much the conference, aimed at saving the environment, was actually polluting it, and it was reported that 400 private jets used to attend.
Finally, the Israeli press delegation entered the conference center, ready to mingle and explore.
Once inside, without coats, the crowd that had lined up to enter could be seen and heard in all their diverse international glory.
It seemed that all the languages of the world were being spoken at COP26, as the climate conference is called.
Although most of the attendees wore Western business clothes, there were many examples of traditional dress from around the world. There were members of indigenous South American tribes in woven shirts, Saudi men in keffiyehs, Korean women in pastel robes, African men and women in colorful patterns, and Indonesian women in feather headdresses.
Countries, international groups – such as the EU, African Union – and others; Organizations such as the World Wildlife Foundation, climate initiatives and others set up large stands.
Countries like Turkey, Morocco, Thailand, and others designed their pavilions to reflect their local architectural styles. A pan-African area featured a thatched hut; Inside, a man in a suit was sitting typing on his laptop.
Some of the pavilions had event schedules, with panel discussions with climate and environmental experts from their countries, but passersby could not hear them; anyone who wanted to hear a panel had to wear a headset so the discussions didn’t add to the cacophony in the conference room.
SOME COUNTRIES did not appear to have received the memorandum on the conference theme and were promoting tourism.
Qatar was one of them, with models of the various football stadiums to be used in next year’s World Cup occupying a large part of its pavilion.
They also had a small black booth for the “Doha Debates” where conference attendees can engage in discussions with people who introduced themselves via a video link on a big screen.
At one point, two women from Gaza, Farah and Saly, participated.
Curious about what climate activism looks like, or any activism, for that matter, under Hamas rule, I asked them what they were trying to do for the environment and to mitigate climate change.
“We have some activities, but we are limited because we have no funds and, you know, the occupation situation,” said one. When pressed further, they repeated that the environment is a low priority, because they have bigger problems.
Leaving aside the absurdity that Israel is the great environmental problem, when Gaza’s raw sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean, among other evils; the women’s response highlights a big problem with the conference and its objectives.
It is a challenge to get the developing world to care about clean energy when they do not even have enough energy of any kind to provide electricity to all of their residents.
But even poor flagged countries tried to put a positive spin on procedures, focusing on efforts to conserve beautiful nature or save endangered species in their countries.
When the speeches by world leaders began, only VIPs had access to the room, so much of the mixing in the booths continued as if nothing else was happening.
The journalists gathered in a press room with space for hundreds of people to write or broadcast. Several gathered around a television screen where the speeches of US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron were broadcast. No one stayed by the television during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech; the Israeli press delegation received the text in advance and it was viewed on their own electronic devices.
The day ended with the news that the Minister of Energy in a wheelchair, Karin Elharrar, could not even enter the conference.
The weather was the cause of the day, and it seemed that the organizers couldn’t be bothered to make their event accessible to people with different needs. That put a damper on the way many members of the Israeli delegation viewed the holidays.