THE prestigious COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow should go ahead in November as planned, as a fully physical summit, with a “huge presence” of world leaders and delegates in attendance, Alister Jack has insisted.

The Conference of the Parties event, which it is hoped will agree an international deal on reducing carbon emissions, was due to take place last November at the city’s SEC but was postponed for a year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The expectation then was that some 200 world leaders, including new US president Joe Biden, Xi Jinping, the president of China, and Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, who in the mid-1990s studied law at Glasgow Caledonian University, would attend along with 30,000 delegates.

The Scottish Secretary expressed confidence that the worldwide rollout of vaccines in the coming months should help ensure expectations of a large turnout are fulfilled during the 11 days of what will be the biggest and most important international summit ever to be held in Britain.

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In an interview with The Herald on Sunday, Mr Jack was pressed if there was any possibility the COP26 conference could be postponed again.

“No-one has asked me that question before. My answer would be on the basis of the vaccine rollout, we should be very confident in proceeding with COP26 in November,” declared the Secretary of State.

“We are proposing a physical summit and we’re hoping we have the pandemic firmly in the rear-view mirror by then. We have been phenomenally successful as a United Kingdom in rolling out this vaccine; in fact, we have been world leaders in rolling out this vaccine. Let’s praise ourselves on that.”

But it was pointed out that, while the UK and other countries might, hopefully, be largely clear of the pandemic by November, this might not necessarily be the case in many other countries. How could there be a guarantee that the event could be 100 per cent a physical one?

“If that is the case, those decisions will be taken at the time,” said Jack. “You can still move Government ministers around the world if they have been tested. It’s entirely possible to do that and if they were coming from areas [that still had the virus] they would have to prove they were tested and we have that. The tests, whether it’s lateral flow or PCR [swab tests], they are getting better.”

Asked if he was, therefore, personally confident that COP26 would go ahead as planned as a fully physical event, he replied: “Yes, with a physical presence and all the physical bits and pieces that were planned around it.”

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Earlier this week, Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, stressed how public health advice was at the heart of planning for the summit.

“It’s a UK Government-led process but Scottish public health leaders are in those conversations and there are plans for everything from cancellation to holding a full COP26 with everything in between, perhaps just the negotiators, perhaps just a virtual event ... all of that will depend on where the UK is [in terms of Covid infection rates] but also where the rest of the world is because in terms of travel it’s about where people are coming from.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, pointing out how it was not within her “gift” to cancel COP26 given it was a United Nations summit, noted: “I very much hope COP26 can go ahead but, clearly, we will all need to consider the position.”

It has been suggested the summit would be a money-spinner for Scotland and, in particular, Glasgow with hotels filled with guests that would help bring in a £70 million-plus windfall. The Scottish Secretary was asked if this would still be the case.

“There may be less presence on the basis that people may be more reluctant to travel but there will still be a huge presence in Glasgow,” he added.

Meantime, Jack stressed how he was keen another international event happening in Scotland and England this summer would also go ahead as planned: the Euro 2021 football tournament.

“I’m very keen that the contest goes ahead,” declared the Secretary of State, pointing to how, with the help of the British Army in the vaccine programme, he was hopeful people would get vaccinated in good time.