WERE it possible to wave a magic wand, where is the first place you would – here and now – wave it?

Northern Ireland? Lorry drivers the world over? Queues for petrol and diesel, where there are some dregs remaining, at crazy prices? Felixstowe docks? The NHS? Binmen in Brighton? The list appears to be endless.

Still, we should be grateful we are not those agreeable animals, pigs. Can we really be importing slaughter men to dispatch them? In an ideal world, they (the meat men, not the piggies) could at least get a ride in with a bus full of imported HGV drivers. We only need 100,000 of those. 

READ MORE: Forester's Diary: Just do it!

No, no it can't be any of these. There is one gigantic problem looming, and yet it's already here in many forms. Climate change covers our very existence. Coupled with crises caused by human nature, we now seem doomed to a much more turbulent pattern of weather systems which are going to bring floods, fires droughts, storms – you name it, we're in for it. But human nature we already have. 

Headlines about the climate alternate with those of turbulence in the Middle East, political and religious quarrels, and the somewhat callous treatment of third-world countries, short of vaccine, medical staff, facilities to administer it themselves. Already beset by shortages of food and water, they are now faced with a pandemic, and still can't agree. Then there are those who could set something of an example to the less fortunate, and the less able to influence the future, but don't. Are we really going to see countries that should be setting an example, actually doing something positive and constructive, again playing politics with our environment? You bet we are!

Or, will Glasgow's COP26 climate change conference prove that common sense and courage can prevail? Can that magic wand be found?

Forestry Journal: Alok Sharma, president of COP26, during the event in Glasgow Alok Sharma, president of COP26, during the event in Glasgow

Forests and their future represent the sharp end of all this. Forests, when left alone to get on with it, might play a major part in at least ameliorating the coming Armageddon. But they are not left alone. They are felled, grubbed up, burnt and exploited. Timber is a basic raw material. Wood is an indispensable part of our economy, without which we can't build the houses we need, would have no packaging and no books or newspapers.

Packaging is a good example. Before we had plastics, how did we wrap our foodstuffs? Well, I remember it. In paper. In tissues. In cardboard. So were all the participants in the Glasgow conference to agree that plastic waste is a very real problem on land and in the sea, and that it should be phased out over the next 30 years, there would be an inevitable surge in demand for wood products. A new emphasis on recycling, and a new, world-wide commercial planting programme to provide the raw material which is biodegradable, fixes carbon and contributes to bio-diversity at the same time.

This kind of approach is, of course, somewhat idealistic. The contribution of the well-meaning, if somewhat absurd, domestic planters of native species in our meagre woods, planting a tree for every bar of soap or other consumer item purchased just ain't going to hack it, comrades. We heard a somewhat half-hearted claim that we need to increase forest cover by vast amounts in a new planting bonanza, to which only the Scots have made a meaningful contribution. But, you might respond, it's work in hand. We will create the necessary resources of nursery stock, nothing imported, of planting gangs, not cheap labour from the EC, of skills in fencing, cultivation and drainage without any commensurate risk of flash flooding.

Forestry Journal: Timber is needed to for so many items including newspapers Timber is needed to for so many items including newspapers

We will have fire protection, management and professional planning and it will all be sold to a private sector which has largely forgotten those balmy days of the 1970s and 1980s when commercial timber production was deemed a fine investment. Oh yes. There was tax relief. But it worked, and could do again.

READ MORE: Opinion: A future of fighting fires

Or perhaps we should be investing, ourselves, in increasing forest cover elsewhere in the world, in exporting our skills and experience to where there is need? This could be much more productive than petty arguments about land use in our national parks and the preservation of that least attractive form of ecosystem, peat bogs, and that least profitable of all forms of agriculture, upland sheep farming. Or on those barest of hills, our plantable catchments and uplands?

NOTE: This aricle was originally published before COP26 had taken place