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COP26: When the world beats a path to Glasgow

Scotland and the UK will grab the limelight when the 26th UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow in November. Richard Higgins considers what comes next.

COP26 will bring together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners – the ‘parties’ to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – to agree coordinated action to tackle what many consider the biggest threat to life on our planet.

Originally scheduled for November 2020 but postponed due to Covid and the lockdown, the conference will unfold at the Scottish Event Campus on 1-12 November – unless it is delayed again. It’s a high-level talking shop occurring at top governmental and diplomatic level, so in a sense the implications are all global, but let no one underestimate the importance to the UK and Scotland.

The fight against global warming should gain valuable additional impact and support since our close ally the US returned to the 2015 Paris climate accord soon after Joe Biden became president. That committed world leaders to tackle climate change, holding the increase in average temperatures to well below 2˚ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5˚.

The UK’s COP26 presidency makes the country a big player in environmental affairs. Whatever one’s views on Brexit, the UK can act alone on climate change while continuing to build alliances with the EU and beyond. December’s Energy White Paper contained a surprising amount of detail on how the UK will fulfil its promise to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This Government wants everyone involved, being “committed to working with all countries and joining forces with civil society, companies and people on the frontline of climate change to inspire action ahead of COP26”.

Land, farming, infrastructure and property all have big roles to play. The transition driven by COP26 and its predecessors will be undertaken by, and resonate through, all areas of activity –energy production and distribution, transport, infrastructure, property and in the growing field of natural capital, whereby land, forests and rivers are curated to deliver services while protecting the environment.

Increasingly, investors are dropping dirty industries for clean alternatives while the UK is emerging as the global centre for ESG finance, promoting environmental, social outcomes and good governance in business.

In February 2020, the Bank of England launched a COP26 Private Finance Agenda to help fund the global economy transition. This aims to ensure professional financial decisions take climate change into account, with every company, bank, insurer and investor adjusting business models for a low-carbon world.

Young people are witness to rising temperatures, destructive storms and failing crops, whether directly attributable to climate change or not. Targeting the next generation worldwide, Italy, as COP26 organising partner, is this year running a series of virtual meetings and some special live events in Milan.

The Scottish Government set out its stall as a champion of the energy transition with a strategy to phase out sales of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, 10 years ahead of the rest of the UK, though the Westminster government has since moved the UK target date to 2030. In its 28 January Budget, the Scottish Government pledged £1.9bn to tackle climate change and create green jobs. Ministers aim to transform heat and energy efficiency of buildings and cut fuel poverty while decarbonising an area accounting for much of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Scotland stands to benefit more than most from the energy transition due to its history and accumulated skills as an oil and gas provider, natural resources such as hydro-electricity, offshore wind and tidal generation, forestry and woodlands, and as host to leading research institutions. The Highland port of Nigg is transforming from the UK’s largest producer of oil and gas installations to its biggest offshore wind supplier of steel towers and foundations for offshore wind, showing a sector adapting fast in a new, green industrial age.

Assuming we’re free of lockdown by November, COP26 will provide a valuable international marketing opportunity for Glasgow, whose council is recruiting volunteers to ensure things run smoothly, and potentially a major boost to the West of Scotland economy.For the rest of us, after two years of uncertainty and disruption, a decade on from a financial crisis, let’s aim for green recovery, embracing a greener future that creates sustainable jobs and addresses the challenges of health, climate change and biodiversity loss.