No end to greenhouse gas problem without finding alternatives to fossil fuels - Bernard Ingham

Now that the dust is settling – or more accurately the clouds of greenhouse gases that are rising over Glasgow – we can take a judgment on the UN’s Cop26  efforts to save the planet.

Well, these jamborees are certainly getting bigger, if not better. Up to 40,000 politicians, officials, hangers on, the world’s media and thousands of “green” campaigners piled in to give the central belt of Scotland an economic boost.

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I suppose these grand affairs have never had a leader quite like Boris Johnson, Britain’s untidy Bertie Wooster of a PM, who did his level best to jolly the world along. I’ll bet they are saying across the globe: “Nobody quite does it like the Brits”.

People take part in a climate change protest in Dublin as Cop26 happned in Glasgow. Picture: Damien Storan/PA Wire.

But the most we can say for our money – and the conference cost us a tidy £100m we don’t have – is that it was par for the course, with the almost ritual extension of the deadline overnight to try to salvage something presentable from the fortnight’s talks.

As ever with these conferences, we haven’t a clue whether Glasgow will cool the globe down a bit or hold the rise to the 1.5 per cent target set in Paris six years ago. We have not made much progress since then. We might know a bit more this time next year when Cop27 brings together nearly 200 countries.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It could not be otherwise when performance is a matter for individual nations who have their own interests to look after.

Not many are like the British in inflicting a £1.3 trillion (that’s a thousand billion) bill on its voters to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. And that won’t save us from boiling since we are responsible for only about one per cent of global emissions.

On top of this we are contributing to a fund to help the developing nations to contain greenhouse gas and adapt to climate change. I am all in favour of helping the poor provided they and not the bank accounts of their political masters benefit.

I suppose the least that can be said of Britain is that it has tried to inject a note of urgency and set an example.

We may be, with varying enthusiasm, attacking the cause of the problem – greenhouse gases – without knowing whether they can be replaced reliably and economically.

Wind, waves, tides, ocean currents, solar panels, major storage batteries, hydrogen or heat pumps are not yet the answer.

They are either intermittent – and therefore unreliable – uneconomic, not as good as gas boilers or not yet available.

I simply cannot see any government – except the British – risking the wrath of the voters when the lights go out, as they are surely bound to do when there can be wild fluctuations in renewable power production with inadequate back- up.

In Britain we are probably getting by in emergencies these days by bringing in old gas plants and expensive banks of diesel generators that can be called on quickly to fire up. Figures showing that we got 50 per cent of our power from wind and solar on a windy, sunny day are meaningless. On still, dull, dark days it can be near zero. God help us if we get a harsh, cold winter.

I have looked in vain for some indication that Cop26 put a bomb behind the development of clean technology – carbon storage or conversion, converting our roads servicing from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric cars and the one sure, clean source of electricity – nuclear power or better still fusion power.

We pioneered nuclear power and did well out of it until 30 years ago when governments more or less surrendered to militant greens.

We have now had to ask the French to build at enormous cost the huge Hinkley Point plant, even though two other similar stations in Finland and France have been endlessly

delayed and not yet connected to the grid.

Meanwhile I live in hope that Cop27 will get its priorities right. You will not solve the greenhouse gas problem without finding economic and efficient alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

Cop27 should concentrate on new technology in order to change the game.