The Queen as Britain’s top diplomat will be sorely missed by Boris Johnson at COP26
The Queen is the UK’s top diplomat, the one British figure that visiting politicians are always excited to meet. Her depth of experience is unparalleled, and reminds each generation of leaders that there is nothing new under the political sun.
Her Majesty was due to be one of the hosts of next week’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, echoing her turn at the head of the G7 gathering in Cornwall earlier this year where she charmed Joe Biden at the Eden Project.
Instead, Boris Johnson’s back-up will come in the form of other royals, such as Prince Charles and Prince William, who are slightly less universally known and adored. The sense of a generational passing of the baton will be diminished, and the Prime Minister will not be able to appeal to the nation’s ultimate authority as he pushes for action.
Mr Johnson’s sky-high ambitions for COP have already been scaled back: the rich world will fall short of a previous promise to commit $100bn in climate finance, and there is little chance that countries will pledge emissions cuts sufficient to keep global warming below 1.5C. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are among the leaders giving the event a miss, citing Covid-19 as an excuse.
The Queen’s absence adds to the sense that the summit risks ending up as a damp squib, or at best a staging post which takes the world forward but at a pace which is still far too slow to meet the scale of the challenge. This would be a bitter blow for Mr Johnson’s “global Britain” agenda.
Ministers will now be putting even more faith in another 95-year-old: Sir David Attenborough will be in attendance in Glasgow, and his moral clarity may do something to make up for the ill health of his fellow nonagenarian.