Syria was cheered, as it seldom is on the international stage, in 2018, when it signed up, at the start of the UN climate talks in Bonn, to the Paris climate agreement.
It was not that anyone seriously expected its people – struggling in the midst of a hideous, desperate war, turned into a proxy battlefield by regional and great powers – to make a big contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But it did strike a diplomatic blow against the United States.
For just as the final state in the world was signing up to tackle the existential threat of the climate emergency facing humankind, the leader of its wealthiest, Donald Trump, was filing notification of his intention to withdraw from his responsibility to act.
It is not that the US has actually left; the terms of the agreement mean that cannot happen until 2020. But Syria made a real point by signing up to action against climate breakdown when it did. Diplomacy, at least when not in the hands of Boris Johnson, is a subtle art.
But there’s nothing subtle about what is happening in the UK on Monday and Tuesday. Her Majesty’s Government, and Her Majesty at its direction, is rolling out the red carpet for that same Donald Trump. He will be only the third US president to make a state visit, and the Queen has hosted 112 such visits since 1952, less than two a year.
There are many reasons to get angry about this: the US president’s racist, xenophobic and misogynistic remarks and actions can start the list. But when I think about the young climate strikers who I’ve seen out on the streets of London, I’m sure they’d be angry about all of those things.
But they know that Trump’s attitudes to women, to ethnic minorities, to other nations, to most people of the world, are reflective of a politics that is disappearing, a dying populism of older generations.
His actions as US president, however, – particularly should he manage, under the extremely undemocratic American system, to win another term – have the potential to cause serious damage to the efforts to tackle the climate emergency, the threat that is making so many of our young people feel they can’t be certain they will have a future.
That’s just one very good reason why the UK should not be providing a state visit for the US president. Of course there are many more. The benefits of this visit are all with Trump. Standing poised at the exit door of No 10, Theresa May certainly isn’t going to benefit.
Britain is certainly not going to get any benefits should we Brexit and be trying to negotiate a trade deal with the US. They’ll be pushing just as hard as they can to force hormone-laced beef and chlorine-washed chicken on a reluctant UK public, destroying our farmers in the process. And for their profiteering health companies to have further access into our NHS.
It certainly isn’t going to help with our relationship with China – so recently scarred by Gavin Williamson’s “gunboat diplomacy”.
But it is certain Trump is going to enjoy – and you get the impression the man who posed with Nigel Farage in a golden lift, and who revels in his ties with the Saudi royal family really enjoy – the occasion. And, given the nature of his supporters and financial associates, benefit politically from it.
Morally, politically, diplomatically, it was an indefensible, reprehensible decision by the British government to offer and go through with a state visit. The good news is that the British people know that well – and they’ll be out on the streets, as they have been for Extinction Rebellion in demanding the kind of climate action Trump is trying to prevent, as they were in opposition to his “Muslim ban” last year.
I’ll be proud to be with them. Many of the young people who his climate change decisions could most impact on will be in school or college. But I’ll be thinking of them and their futures as I join the protests.