Boris even manages to arrive late in the Last Chance Saloon | Jean Cracé

When one of the themes of your speech is that the clock is minus one midnight and you have 60 seconds left to save the world, this is not the best look to take to the stage 30 minutes later than expected. . Better late than never is not quite the message of Cop26. The time to stroll is over. Countries must act now. But then maybe Boris Johnson and the other world leaders were having the same problems getting into the Glasgow site as all the other bettors.

Johnson is a bit of a late convert to the reality of the climate crisis. We know it and he knows it. He even admitted that it wasn’t until he got to Downing Street and academics guided him through science that the penny really fell. So you might think the Prime Minister would have chosen to play it pretty frankly by welcoming everyone to Glasgow. Thank them all for coming and make them aware of their responsibility to save the planet.

Only Boris just can’t get serious. He needs attention. He needs to laugh. So he started what should have been a call to world leaders to put aside their self-interest and work constructively with a reference to James Bond. If he had stopped there, he might have gotten away with it. But Bertie Booster is compulsively in need. So the rest of his brief speech was littered with bad gags. The cows fart. Boris may still be Prime Minister in 2060 when he is 94 years old. Other references to the fact that not everyone can look like James Bond.

All of this was greeted by the silence of world leaders gathered under the marquee. And the quieter it was, the more desperate Johnson became. You could see flashes of panic in his eyes. Which is not to say that there was no good material between the laughter attempts. There was a recognition that the world was now in the faint hope saloon and the kids wouldn’t forgive the helpers in Glasgow if they blew it up. That more “blah, blah, blah” – Greta ThunbergTM – wouldn’t be enough. This action was now necessary to save humanity.

“We can do it,” said Bertie Booster. And we can. Only you could tell from the answer – or the lack of it – that everyone was wondering if Johnson was the man to lead us to the carbon neutral Promised Land. Boris had once again misjudged his audience. They had come for gravity and he was just too light, too casual, too blatantly amoral not only for the most serious game but also for the only game in town.

If you are looking for a good atmosphere without much stake, then Boris is your man. When the stakes are this high, then not so much. Prince Charles even appeared to check his phone during Boris’ speech. Because deep down Bertie Booster is just another interested chancellor. He can’t even speak, let alone walk. His budget last week – and it was his more than Brand Rishi’s – didn’t even mention the climate crisis once. Indeed, it even reduced the rights of air passengers. Not to mention the reopening of coal mines.

After several exhortations from climate activists in the Pacific and the Andes, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Prince Charles gave brief but dignified speeches, explaining the realities of the situation. The Prince of Wales even went so far as to say that the world should be on a war footing. Then it was left to David Attenborough, 95, to inject much needed emotion and passion into the procedure.

Against a powerful backdrop of film, statistics and music, Attenborough put his heart on the line. When he says the world is in an apocalyptic scenario, then you believe him. He is a man who dedicated his life to saving the natural world. Not an apparatchik who has attended countless previous climate change conferences where he has learned to hedge his bets and make the vaguest of promises he’s pretty much certain he’ll never stand a chance of keeping. There was electricity in the lobby when Attenborough said we could turn tragedy into triumph. Or maybe it was just a sense of collective guilt.

Certainly Attenborough seemed to galvanize the politicians who followed. Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, did not mince words. The climate crisis was not for her an academic subject: it was a reality. If nothing was done, his island would disappear. “We want to exist in 100 years,” she said. And she dared to suggest that Cop26 could already be a failure due to the no-show of Presidents Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but explained the financial realities. Developed countries had accumulated £ 9 billion of quantitative easing to deal with Covid. So providing £ 500 billion a year for developing countries shouldn’t be an impossibility. Although by now the richest countries have not even kept their pledge of £ 100 billion a year.

The opening session ended with Italian Mario Draghi expressing his disappointment that the recent G20 in Rome ended with such a weak deal on climate change. But now, most world leaders were fed up with being reminded of their failures and were starting to get restless. It was time for their lunch and a few side meetings. It would be nice if the Cop26 was a success, but no one was counting on it. And some didn’t even seem bothered. Given the choice of their national interest or saving the planet, then the world could burn down.

A farewell to calm from John Crace (Guardian Faber, £ 9.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy from Delivery charges may apply.

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