‘Rat-like’ Cop26 mascot sets the seal on Glasgow’s inglorious buildup to climate summit

·3 min read
The seal made its first appearance in 2018, left, with its rat-like features now reprised for the Cop26 summit, right
The seal made its first appearance in 2018, left, with its rat-like features now reprised for the Cop26 summit, right

It was supposed to be a symbol of the international effort to tackle climate change and leave the world in a better state for the next generation. 

But on Monday the Government was scrambling to distance itself from the new face of Cop26: a £1,600 taxpayer-funded seal dressed in a blue cheerleading uniform and Glasgow-themed bobble hat. 

The mascot, which was signed off by Boris Johnson’s administration, will be patrolling the streets of Glasgow from next week as world leaders descend on the city for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. 

Watch: David Attenborough: 'We must act now on climate change'

Known affectionately as “Bonnie”, the bug-eyed grey seal costume has previously been trotted out for the multi-sport European Championships, which took part in the city in 2018, and the Euro swimming championships the following year.

In keeping with Cop26’s green agenda, the mascot is being recycled once again, with Glasgow City Council proudly publishing a series of pictures of Bonnie in a new blue and lime green costume.

However, the first glimpses of the summit’smascot have gone down less well in Westminster, with horrified government officials suggesting on Monday it looked more like a “rat” than a seal. 

“King of the Glasgow rats,” joked one Whitehall insider - a reference to recent reports suggesting that the city’s rubbish-strewn streets had spawned a plague of rats just weeks before the summit was due to commence.

Bonnie, pictured with Berlin 2018 mascot Berlino and Paul Bristow and Marc Jorg, directors of the European Championships, was used to promote the multi-sport event in 2018 - Mark Runnacles/Getty
Bonnie, pictured with Berlin 2018 mascot Berlino and Paul Bristow and Marc Jorg, directors of the European Championships, was used to promote the multi-sport event in 2018 - Mark Runnacles/Getty

Others questioned whether Bonnie was in fact a cross between a human and a seal, given that she possesses two legs rather than hind flippers. 

Approached for comment on Monday afternoon, sources in the Cop26 team, which is stationed in Number 9 Downing Street, sought to distance themselves from the mascot by directing enquiries to Glasgow City Council. 

Others made clear that it was “very much” the council’s mascot, adding that it would be used for public engagement around the summit and would not be permitted inside the so-called “blue zone” - the UN-managed space where the international climate negotiations are due to take place.

Watch: Cop26 success is not guaranteed, says Nicola Sturgeon

But when The Telegraph approached the council with the same questions, a spokesman clarified that the plans for the mascot had been discussed with the Government beforehand and that it had “signed off on the outfit”.

The council also confirmed that the total cost for production and delivery amounted to £1,645. 

For roughly the same price, Bonnie could have been dressed in an Alexander McQueen black corset midi dress, or a cut-out maxi dress by Victoria Beckham

While this was paid for from its volunteer marketing budget, the council also stated that although devolved, this funding ultimately came from the UK Government. 

On Monday night, Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “Ministers could have bought a dress from an A-list fashion designer such as Stella McCartney for what they’ve spent dressing this giant seal. 

“I don’t think a mascot will persuade big emitters like China or Russia to sign a deal, so let’s double down on what will - and that’s not a big seal in a dress.” 

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