Boris, Biden and Bezos: Editor-in-Chief Lucy Dunn diaries day three at COP26.
I’d learned my lesson from the previous day: turning up early means early. I’d asked some of the journalists I’d been with on Monday what time they came in for. “Quarter to six,” one said, a bit too matter-of-factly for a reference to the crack of dawn. “The press briefing was at 6.45am, and I had to get stuff set up. Up at 4am this morning.” A morning person, but not that much, I arrived at COP26 at 7.45am on Tuesday. The crowds were already forming, but this time it was more organised: people were queuing in double or triple file, and it seemed to be plodding in at an alright pace.
Croissant and coffee bought, I headed along to the media hub to see what other events I could try and wangle access to. I was particularly keen to get into the methane talks - it was due to be a big one, and I was interested, on a personal level, in what would arise in the discussions. I stood in the queue, only one person in front of me. She gestured for me to go in front, but I let her go first, partly because I was curious about what she was asking for. The imposter syndrome was, as I’d said, wearing off, but I was very conscious of what other press wanted in on, to help guide my own whereabouts during the conference.
It was the forest talks she was asking about, and mentioned Boris and Biden. My interest piqued, I made a mental note of the advice they had given her, and added it to my list. “Boris is due to speak at 9.30am,” the secretariat told her, “so you’ll have to head along now, I’d assume.” She hurried away, with me just behind her. My name wasn’t down on the list this time though, and I worried that would be the dealbreaker.
At the meeting point, my heart sank further. There were a lot of journalists hanging around who would likely all get priority over me. Late as per, Tim strolled over once again at a leisurely pace. “He’s worked in the UN for 40 years,” a reporter told me. “He’s seen it all before.”
“He’s worked in the UN for 40 years,” a reporter told me. “He’s seen it all before.”
He started reading out names on a list. I braced myself to be told to go away. After the fifth name said here, he stopped and looked up at the crowd of us in front of him. “Okay, okay, it’s the right group,” and he folded up his sheet. “Right, follow me.”
There were no pink or orange slips issued today: as long as you were part of the crowd, you got through. But when he started talking about the National Statements, I realised that maybe I was part of the wrong crowd. “Is this for the forest talks?” a girl next to me whispered. I knew less than she did at this point. “I think so…” I hesitated. She walked up to Tim. I followed.
He paused as she asked if she could have access there instead. “Stick with me,” he said finally, “I’ll try and get you in.” As the rest of the crowd dispersed towards the National Statements side, I hung around too. He came back, motioning for us to stay on his heels. He muttered something to the UN security guard at the door of the adjacent room, and it opened.
The forest talks
Walking inside, I felt like we’d just entered a rainforest exhibition. Changed from the blue lighting of the day before, the room was lit in varying shades of green and had assortments of leaves projected across the walls. Before we could walk any further, though, he stopped us. “I don’t actually have clearance for non-government approved press to be in here,” he told us, dropping his voice, “so lie low. Sit at the back and don’t draw attention to yourself.” We nodded, bemused, as he left.
She was working freelance for Business Insider. We sat and chatted at the back about the difficulty of getting into journalism, and what each of us was planning on writing about, whilst more delegates entered. "I've heard the housing situation is so bad," she said, "that there are a lot of delegates too stressed about where they're staying they can't properly prepare for the actual conference." An overhead voice boomed around the room, stating the talks were to begin in five minutes. A David Attenborough documentary - a voiceover, sadly not in-person - eased us in. And shortly after that, onto the stage walked Boris Johnson.
"There are a lot of delegates too stressed about where they're staying they can't properly prepare for the actual conference."
The first panel consisted of the Presidents of Colombia and Indonesia. Each seat had a translation headset lying across it, which came in handy for when Joko Widodo started speaking in Indonesian. Everyone in the room picked up their headsets, tuning into the channel. Everyone, that is, except for Boris - who sat centre-stage, looking pleasantly into space.
The next panel included Biden, and by this point, I had moved forward a couple of rows. There were a lot of people taking pictures, and I doubted I would be outed in the middle of a speech. So, I chanced my luck, and sat in the third row, at the unoccupied desk of the president of Singapore.
After Biden left the stage, I checked the time, keen not to miss the methane talks. Just as I was considering leaving, the overhead voice boomed above me: “And now, welcome the founder of Amazon… Jeff Bezos.” I turned around, and there he stood, right in front of me.
The methane pledge
Held not in a plenary, but in “Room 04”, the crowds outside of the methane pledge were huge. I pushed my way to the front, seeing a host of cameras around the edges of the barrier set up for the invited delegates. Whilst this separated them from us at the site of the door, there was no demarcated path for the world leaders to walk down, so every time someone important approached, UN security pushed us to either side of the corridor, splitting us down the middle.
John Kerry, Justin Trudeau and Colombian president Iván Duque all strode by, and each time we were thrown back. Pushed next to two photographers who had retained good positions right at the corner of the barrier, I heard them joking about the chaos. Joining in, we made introductions. “Getty Images,” the guy told me when I asked who he worked for. “I met someone from Getty yesterday!” I told him excitedly, glad my networking was starting to pay off. “I’ve actually got a couple questions about selling pictures,” I said, launching into a spiel. I saw him eye my camera, a good one for profoundly amateur photos, but no match for the massive ones they all had. “Our desks are just as you go up the stairs in the media hub,” he told me, “Come and have a chat after this.”
We didn’t get into the methane pledge talks because they hit capacity fairly early on. It seemed as though several delegates didn’t get in either, and one particularly persistent man almost got carried off by security. The photos weren’t bad, though, and The Glasgow Guardian now has a drive full of stock pictures of presidents and prime ministers, for the next time we cover global political events…
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