Reflecting on COP26

In November, world-leaders and policy makers were in Glasgow to engage in some of the most vital climate talks of our time. Rachel Sandison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement) and Chair of the University's COP26 Working Group, and Professor Jaime Toney, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions, share some reflections on a historic fortnight.

COP26 at the University of Glasgow

Rachel Sandison

Last month the eyes of the world were on Glasgow as over 190 world leaders, along with local government, industry, NGOs and activists, gathered in the city in an urgent bid to tackle climate change and accelerate the race to net zero.

COP26 has felt vital, and both the city and the University have played key roles in connecting people, sharing ideas and galvanising our communities in addressing one of the most pressing issues we face today.

"For me personally, COP26 reinforced the power of people, partnership and possibility."

Throughout COP26 the University delivered a comprehensive programme of events. Over 200 physical, hybrid and virtual events have taken place, bringing together both local and international partners from a multitude of sectors. These activities have played an incredibly important role in profiling our world-changing people and the work being undertaken to address climate change and climate justice, as well as critically highlighting the impact of inaction. From panel debates, podcasts and webinars, to exhibitions, showcases and community events, our programme has been interdisciplinary, multigenerational and rich with opportunities for discussion and debate, which we hope has inspired all who participated.

During this time, our Gilmorehill campus also acted as a focal point for the media, where we have supported global news coverage and shared our expertise with the world.

I would like to thank every member of our community who has led on, contributed to, or engaged with, our activities and those across the city – you have given Glasgow an unforgettable experience.

But, COP26 has never simply been about two weeks in November. We hope that what has been achieved in our city, through the historic Glasgow Climate Pact, is the next step on the world’s journey to saving itself from the impact of warming global temperatures and climate change.

At the University we too are focused on the important legacy that the summit will leave, not just for us, but, hopefully for the world. It is now vital that we deliver the ambitious goals set out in our Glasgow Green sustainability strategy and through collaboration share actions, research and initiatives to build awareness and make commitments for the future. Universities are drivers of change and engines of sustainable development and the time to harness our vast potential is now.

For me personally, COP26 reinforced the power of people, partnership and possibility. This is an extraordinary moment in history – as David Attenborough said at the opening of the summit, it is time to "rewrite our story", and I have no doubt that, together, we can pen a new chapter.

Professor Jaime Toney

COP26 proved to be a rollercoaster of slow approaches, fast descents and many feelings both highs and lows.

As a climate scientist I made a point of attending and participating in a wide range of events, not just the science, and the complexity and emotions tied up in the issues surrounding climate change reinforced the sense of urgency with which we need to act.

"I was re-energised by participating in events where I, and a larger team of researchers, have been able to forge partnerships."

Out of the packed programme of events, both at the University and in the official Green Zone, for me, what resonated the most is Youth Champion Ricardo Pineda’s frank discussion about the impacts that his home community in Honduras is already undergoing due to sea level rise when he spoke during the Intergenerational Dialogue on Climate Interventions.

There were so many reminders from vulnerable nations and indigenous cultures that the developed nations are not doing enough to protect people now, and future generations, from the climate change that we have caused. We know from hindsight that the Glasgow Agreement does not go far enough to put us on a pathway to achieving the 1.5-degrees Celsius target, and we need to put the pressure on to go back next year with more demanding targets.

One bit of hope is that wealthy countries recognised that they need to allow poorer countries to use a larger portion of the funds that they receive for adaptation rather than mitigation.

While I watched with interest the high-level negotiations, I was re-energised by participating in events where I, representing the Centre for Sustainable Solutions and a larger team of researchers, have been able to forge partnerships at the city level, where collaborative and inclusive change is possible and scalable.

Through partnership with the city and C40 Cities (a global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis) we are involve in creating a City Portrait with changemakers across Glasgow that will help create a shared vision for a just and sustainable future where both Glasgow’s people and nature flourish.