COP26: the limits of frustration (and certain leadership)

Joe Biden COP26

Toni Aira, Director of the Master in Political and Institutional Communication, and Director of the Agbar Chair of International Studies in Institutional Communication, for Sustainable Development and Growth

Remember a TVE program titled Tengo una pregunta para usted, señor presidente? The format had already been successfully tested in other countries and consisted of making the chief of the Executive descend "to Earth" to account to anonymous citizens. Behind them (and good audience data) other leaders would come. Even though they were all very cautious. They wanted to project the image of politicians who were not afraid to submit to the questions of their managers, but were aware of the risks involved by a direct avalanche of questions. At any time, the surprise could be overtaken and a bad response to the price of a coffee could expose the shift politician. This exactly happened to José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero. He sought to show up close, but saying that a coffee cost eighty cents seemed Martian.

Something like the world leaders deployed in Glasgow during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). The big difference is that they could no longer save themselves from this appointment to world public opinion at this stage. They couldn't not go to this place. But it clearly brings to that television experience years ago the risk to which they have subjected the most precious and at the same time the most fragile of a politician: credibility.

In the fast-paced times we live in an era of turbo-politics, the contrast between what leaders promise and what they do is more immediate.

In the accelerated times we live, in an era of turbo-politics, the contrast between what leaders promise and what they do is more immediate. Therefore, if there is one, you first see the trap, the simulation, the posture. If we add to this a policy which, in order to impact on the scattered attention of the public, must raise the decibels of its promises, we see summits portrayed as one of the main causes of political disaffection in our time.

Too many frustrated citizens, very quickly, constantly, and in an exaggerated manner. That is what it has, the generation of exaggerated expectations that are frustrated in a short time and in a blatant manner. And that's when credibility falls in the middle, with leadership lacking the big source that encompasses them: coherence, that is, the correspondence between what you say you do and what you do. The diaphanous correlation between what you say you are and what people can check you are.

The rules in this game are harsh, but politicians who have come on top of everything in theory know how to move in this slippery field. Are we living in a social and media ecosystem which makes the anecdote category and which is intertwined with the striking and images that have told us are worth more than a thousand words? Certainly. It's good for a leader who wants to get closer and doesn't know what a coffee is worth. It is worth a President of the United States who makes important commitments and gives strong speeches against climate change wherever his predecessor had never gone, but at the same time falls asleep when other assistants take part in the climate summit or go with a convoy of dirty cars that end up in the news.

Do we live in a social and media ecosystem that makes the anecdote category and that intertwins with the striking and images that have told us are worth more than a thousand words? Certainly

Joe Biden is a clear example of the risks of political leadership in the present by not sufficiently adjusting its promises and action at all levels. It has starred in the biggest and fastest drop in popularity of a president in his country. And it was so great the expectation generated regarding the change that Donald Trump's simple relief at the head of the Oval Dispatch, that the hit was scandalous. There are the internal divisions of the democrats, the costly management of post-pandemic day-to-day and, above all, the limits of the institutional and political leadership of a president who came to office more for the demerits of the opponent than for his own merits.

But not all world leaders are Biden. Nor is he irremediably destined for failure in general management and climate in particular. COP26, apart from the necessary contributions it should give in the fight against climate change, can also be a good scoreboard for the limits of the frustration that world leaders can continue to subject their citizens to this great challenge. It can serve this purpose and, at the same time, show even more clearly the limits of certain political leadership. And from here, to help some kind of reaction, of course.

Neither Russia nor China nor Turkey have been represented at the highest level at COP26. This portrays political leaders, their countries, their societies.

Neither Russia nor China nor Turkey have been represented at the highest level at COP26. This portrays political leaders, their countries, their societies. Those who have played the game with their leaders at the forefront deserve as a reward, at least, that their rulers accompany photos and speeches with coherently aligned action. That, or else they will be punished at the elections and other leaderships will be rewarded for the action that the sustainability of the Earth demands. Both scenarios could be positive in the climate of the planet and in the climate that accompanies a polluted mass of relations between citizens and politicians all over the globe.

ODS