Three Months On: Reflections on the legacy of COP26

Given another winter of restrictions, variants, uncertainty, and now punishing storms, it would be easy to forget that only three months ago, Glasgow played host to the world’s largest summit on global action for climate change: COP26.

For those able to be in Glasgow at the time the memories may have lingered longer: morning queues, frenetic hallways, busy meeting rooms, lecture theatres and cafes. People, people and more people! From hardened protesters outside the conference entrance to inspirational speakers at events, marches as part of the Climate Fringe, and experts, officials and dignitaries participating within COP26 official boundaries. But for many the conference and its legacy are likely to have faded to memory as soon as headlines moved on to a new topic. With some time now since the conference to spur people on to acting rather than talking, it seems right to take a look around at the legacy of COP26 so far.

With an event of the grandeur and significance of COP26, the risk of underwhelming or anti-climactic outcomes is always high. Alongside claims from figures such as Greta Thunberg that the conference was no more than a greenwashing opportunity for governments and businesses, and disappointment in the seemingly undercooked “Glasgow Climate Pact”, there are encouraging signs that gears of change may be starting to turn across in both Government and society across Scotland.

Indeed, the ScotWind auction results announced earlier in the year bring the promise of a step change in Scotland’s sustainability journey; the potential generation capacity of 25GW from Scotland’s renewables is more than double the currently installed renewable generation. As with COP26, this step has been led by business and government. Thus, the jury is out on whether the potential for community benefit from offshore developments is delivered. Proactive developers signing Memorandums of Understanding with local authorities and community development trusts is a promising sign of wider ScotWind benefit, as is work by organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise to inform regional businesses of upcoming supply chain opportunities. However, the proof will be in the pudding as to how far and wide the benefits of ScotWind are blown.

On a community scale the level of local, regional and national cooperation and coordination that brought such a hive of activity to Glasgow and beyond, and which was oft mentioned by those within the Blue Zone of COP26, has gone from strength to strength, a new era of re-invigorated regional partnerships of organisations taking action on climate change and sustainability seems to be dawning. Supported by the Scottish Government, two Regional Community Climate Action Hubs covering the Northern Highlands and Islands and Aberdeenshire have been established and are busy taking unique approaches to supporting their networks and local communities.

Building on these trials with the intention of setting up networks which will be primed to launch a second round of hubs, the Scottish Community Climate Action Network are accepting Expressions of Interest from regions interested in establishing their own networks and building more collective action. These initiatives are encouraging to say the least and hopefully reflect a new approach to engaging and acting on climate change from the Scottish Government. Supporting well-informed organisations to act locally and find solutions that work where they work.

Despite media attention somewhat predictably moving back to sleaze and scandal in the South and the ever rising scale of the climate challenge ahead we can take heed that we are moving in the right direction and the will of communities who wish to continue to make Scotland a more sustainable place to live remains strong. COP27 is now only 9 months away and no doubt will bring with it another round to virtue signalling, target setting and enthusiastic posturing, all necessary parts of the process of changes perhaps.

The current crisis in Ukraine has of course thrown the partnership expressed at COP into doubt and the safety and sovereignty of Ukraine and its population will rightly take priority over global efforts to achieve sustainability. However, the climate crisis will not go away and now more than ever we must collaborate locally, nationally and internationally to create action and change from the many discussions of COP26. We can take some comfort in the signs of change emerging and the day-in-day-out efforts of individuals, communities and organisations working for a more sustainable future in a post COP Scotland.

Matthew Logan, Development Officer @CES

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