Accidental encounters with world leaders and very little plastic tat - behind the scenes at COP26

Plants welcome delegates to COP26 Credit: ITV News

For the past two weeks ITV News has had a team based at the COP26 climate summit producing reports not only for the national news but also all our local programmes in the UK’s nations and regions and in the Channel Islands. James Webster shares an insight into what it’s been like behind the scenes in Glasgow.

It’s not every day you leave the office to grab some lunch and practically walk into a world leader but that was day one of my experience at COP26 in Glasgow. We’d spent the morning trying to find our way around the large conference site on the banks of the River Clyde. One of the locations we would be broadcasting from later that day took us more than an hour to find and time was running out before we were ready to record our interviews with colleagues from across the ITV News network.

James Webster at COP26 in Glasgow Credit: ITV News

"Grab and Go"

By mid afternoon it was clear if I didn’t make time to get a sandwich then I wouldn’t manage to eat at all, so I seized the moment and headed off to the nearest 'Grab and Go' sandwich point. I take slight issue with the branding – there’s very little grabbing and very little 'go' either – more of a ‘queue and wait’ system.

Grab and Go cafes at COP26 are not always the speedy experience you might hope Credit: ITV News

While walking down a corridor I became aware of a group heading towards me. Security guards with earpieces seemed to be surrounding a small party of delegates and they were flapping their arms at me to move to one side. I made eye contact with the man in the centre of the entourage and they were familiar eyes, and a familiar hairstyle. Even with a face mask on it was unmistakably the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I’m glad this happened on day one. For someone who has not been to such an event before it illustrated an important point about how these conferences work. There may be meetings and discussions behind closed doors, but fundamentally those world leaders are wandering around the same corridors as the rest of us and there’s nothing to stop you bumping into them on your way for a 'Grab and Go' sandwich.

"Many accents and many languages"

Before arriving at COP26 we were told that this conference would be big; big in scale, big in the number of people who would be here and big in the amount of interest it would generate. Until we got to Glasgow I’m not sure any of us truly understood how big it would be. The many accents and languages you hear being spoken is the best illustration of how many countries have sent representatives here. "There's a distinct lack of plastic tat"

Being a conference focusing on climate change and sustainability you quickly see how consciously that has been built into the planning of the whole event.

Refill and reuse is the mantra for water and hot drinks Credit: ITV News

Everyone is given a reusable aluminium water bottle. Order a coffee anywhere in the conference venue and you’ll be given it in a reusable plastic cup which is collected, washed and reused. There’s a distinct lack of branded plastic tat being given away by exhibitors who are keen to not be accused of wasting resources.

Carts are placed around the site to collect coffee cups to be washed and reused Credit: ITV News

And if you’ve ever been in the supermarket and changed your mind over what items to buy based on those red, amber and green labels for calorie content on the wrappers, there’s an element of that here too, but with a climate change twist. Each dish on the menu has a symbol illustrating its carbon footprint, so you quickly see that a Venison Sausage Roll is seven times as harmful to the planet as a Vegetarian Sausage Roll.

Symbols show the carbon footprint of each menu item at COP26 Credit: ITV News

The unexpected arrival of Al Gore

At times it’s felt like there are more media crews here than other delegates. Lights, cameras and reporters have some official positions to broadcast from but you’ll also find them springing up in the middle of corridors too. And there came a point that some reporters started interviewing other reporters. One of our team was interviewed by a crew from French TV.

You also overhear some intriguing conversations behind the scenes as well. A couple of spaces down from us there was great concern a couple of days ago… “He’s been taken by the Persians!” Something clearly wasn’t going according to plan. We assume it was a guest who had been poached by a rival broadcaster. At times it has almost become slightly surreal, like the day an American man walked into the makeshift office space we were using and told us that the former US Vice President Al Gore would be with us shortly. Such efficiency would have been more welcome if it were not the fact that none of us had set up an interview with Al Gore. His imminent arrival was news to us. Nonetheless we started preparing to interview him. He duly arrived and we were about to get him in front of the camera when his people realised there had been a mix up and he was actually needed in a different room further down the corridor.

A genuine buzz

There has been a genuine buzz here when word has gone round that there is an unexpected well known face going round. Former US President Barack Obama created quite a buzz as did Sir David Attenborough. But some were more surprising - the Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio or the Game of Thrones actor Maisie Williams.

The Action Zone at COP26 Credit: ITV News

And through it all the giant suspended world globe above the central venue here has kept spinning – focusing people’s minds on the planet everyone is here trying to save. For me – the enduring memory will be the size of the crowds travelling to Glasgow for the climate protests on Saturday morning. We knew the march would be big. We could see many people gathering but watching the tens of thousands of people marching through the rain soaked streets was a powerful illustration of how many people hold strong views that more needs doing at a global level to deal with climate change. And that in itself is the very reason why we have had a dedicated team of reporters here for the full two weeks, following developments and broadcasting across all our ITV News programmes.