POPE Francis will not attend the UN’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow next month, the Vatican has confirmed.
The head of the Catholic Church previously said his attendance at the summit would depend on his health – but last month said his speech was “already being prepared”.
His change in decision comes as tensions heighten over security fears around COP26, with key delegates including US President Joe Biden and the Queen both travelling from Edinburgh to the city.
The junction is dedicated for VIPs who will be escorted off the motorway to the Clyde Expressway, which is reserved for COP26 traffic.
Transport sources also warned that some lanes on the M8 – one of the UK’s busiest motorways – will have to be closed off on November 1 and 2 to accommodate the VIP delegates safely through slow moving traffic.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “Delivering such a complex event as COP26 means that some security road closures and restrictions may be needed in other areas of the country to facilitate the safety and security of world leaders, heads of state, delegates and local residents.
“We will work with partners to minimise local disruption and communicate in advance any road closures or diversions that are put in place, to allow for people to forward plan their own journeys.”
More than 100 heads of state are expected to attend the conference, which takes place from October 31 to November 12, along with representatives from around 200 countries.
News that Pope Francis would not be attending the summit likely came as a surprise to many, including the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland who previously said they were “delighted to hear that he does hope to attend and would be glad to meet with them in Glasgow”.
At the start of September, in an interview with Vatican News, the 84-year-old said: “Yes, in principle the program is that I go. It all depends on how I feel at the time.
“But in fact, my speech is already being prepared, and the plan is to be there.”
At the time, ACC Higgins said the Catholic Church leader’s attendance at the summit would escalate policing of the event beyond the 2012 Olympics in London.
However, the Vatican since confirmed its delegation to the summit would be led by Cardinal Parolin, its secretary of state.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, said: “I can specify that the delegation will be led by His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness.”
His attendance at COP26 would have marked the first time a Pontiff has come to Glasgow since Benedict XVI in 2010. This was three decades after Pope John Paul II famously addressed an estimated 300,000 worshippers in Bellahouston Park in 1982.
Despite his absence, the Buckingham Palace confirmed the Queen and senior members of the royal family will attend a series of events in Glasgow from November 1 to 5.
They are expected to stay at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh during the summit, while details of President Biden’s stay have not been made public – but it also thought to be in the capital.
Transport sources say that means drivers face delays on the M8 if the leaders plan to use the motorway to reach the summit each day, adding “there are security concerns about having to move VIPs through slow-moving traffic.”
More than 10,000 UK officers are expected to arrive in Glasgow in the days leading up to COP26, with around 2,500 Scottish officers receiving extra training in how to manage large protests.
Fresh details of security arrangements in place around the SEC in Glasgow follow the re-launch of Project Servator, a long-running Police Scotland anti-crime and anti-terror scheme, that will see front-line officers supported by specialist resources, including police dogs and horses, armed units, CCTV operators and security staff.
Meanwhile drones, small planes and even hot air balloons will be banned from the skies over much of the central belt as part of tightened security measures.
Police Scotland have said that temporary airspace restrictions will be in place from the end of October to mid-November.
Large aircraft, scheduled to carry passengers or freight will be permitted to fly as normal.
Inspector Graeme Rankin from Police Scotland’s Aviation Safety and Security Unit said: “Temporary airspace restrictions have been put in place to ensure the safety of aviators, the public and world leaders, heads of state and delegates attending the COP26 conference.
“Police Scotland have a responsibility to take measures to protect the aviating and general public who stay in, work in, visit or fly over Scotland.
“Although there is no specific threat related to the event, we will be prepared for any eventuality.
“Those looking to fly in restricted airspace between October 30 and November 13 must seek permission from Police Scotland.”