(Bloomberg) --

If you thought figuring out the acceptable social rules for post-lockdown gatherings was a challenge, imagine trying to pull off a high-stakes climate summit with more than 100 world leaders. And no pressure, but any mistake could lower the chances of a planet-saving deal.

Even in a good year there’s an endless list of things that could go wrong at the annual United Nations-sponsored talks, known as COP26. Past hosts have come under fire for unhealthy food and insensitive artwork. Anything can set off a grumpy negotiator after an exhausting fortnight of poring over the minutiae of international law.

At Copenhagen in 2009, site of COP15, security problems led to lines that lasted for hours. China complained that one of its ministers was blocked from entering the conference three times during crucial talks. At the same summit, diplomats from island nations found their countries missing from a giant globe in the conference center. The meeting ended without the global deal countries had been aiming for.

Nothing compares to the logistical nightmare facing this year’s organizers in Glasgow, Scotland, with delegates needing to navigate virus risks. While the U.K. hosts have promised to vaccinate attendees before the event, those coming from the most at-risk countries will still need to quarantine in a hotel for five to 10 days. All attendees will be tested regularly.

“If they get it wrong, that could lead to massive queues and a great deal of disruption,’’ says Richard Black, a research fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London who has attended 10 COPs. There’s also the risk that a negotiator becomes  infected and is forced into isolation, he says. If this happens at a crucial point, it could seriously undermine the outcome of the talks.

Even the basics — the food — can shape the course of a climate conference. COP veterans still rave about the food at the Paris meeting in 2015, when they agreed to a landmark accord to keep global temperature rise well below 2C and strive for a 1.5C limit.

Delegates have a stipend each day, meaning some will want to save cash. Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, remembers local women at the 2018 talks in Katowice, Poland, who sold dumplings called pierogis along the road leading to the venue to participants looking for a cheap bite. “Vegetarian food trucks of Glasgow, get your game on,” she says. 

Transport can be a problem, as well. In Mexico in 2010, delegates grumbled about the hourlong journey from their hotels to the venue in Cancún each day. This time around some people will be commuting daily from Edinburgh, the Scottish capital that’s more than an hour’s drive away, because hotels in Glasgow are full.  Train engineers are also planning to go on strike through the summit, demanding higher wages. 

Still, it’s all about perspective. Last year’s meeting was postponed because of the virus, meaning the deadline to reach net-zero emissions is even closer.

“The planet is coming to an end,” says Mohammed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, an island nation at risk of disappearing into the Indian Ocean. “If we think bad weather and not being able to have a croissant is going to derail negotiations, then we’re starting off on a very wrong foot.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.