Credit: Unsplash.

COP26 a year down the line…

By Max Mitchell

A year on from the COP26 climate conference here in Glasgow, what have we learned?

Glancing at the news the other day, I was surprised to discover that COP27 was taking place in Egypt this month. I presume I’m not alone in having almost forgotten the seemingly momentous climate summit that took place in Glasgow last year. As almost 40,000 delegates descended on the city, it was clear that some truly felt a sense of change in the air; a fresh, committed effort to tackle what many view as humanity’s most pressing issue was being concocted within spitting distance. Admittedly the more cynical contingent, myself included, doubted the power and indeed the intentions of the bureaucratic incompetence on show. Nearly a year on, how do we assess the achievements of COP26 at home and further afield?

Let’s start with what happened at the summit. The agreements reached were not enough to keep warming below 2°C. What does this mean in real terms? Seth Borenstein puts it like this: “This 2 degree warmer world … represents what scientists characterise as a profoundly disrupted climate with fiercer storms, higher seas, animal and plant extinctions, disappearing coral, melting ice and more people dying from heat, smog and infectious disease.” Of course, keeping warming below 2°C is no mean feat and COP26’s failure to solve that problem was not entirely its own fault. Snubbed by Russia and China, two of the largest emitters, it was arguably always a losing battle.

There was, however, a historic agreement limiting coal usage globally; the first such agreement since the 1997 Kyoto protocol. But even this was led with compromise as Alok Sharma wept at the anticlimactic, diluted pact to ‘phase down’ coal, rather than the desired absolutism of ‘phase out’. Even still, China’s CO2 emissions fell by 1.4% in the first three months of 2022, marking the third quarter in a row of tangible progress.

As questionable as COP26’s global successes have been, what might we say about its local impact? Glasgow was touted as a modern city at the vanguard of an environmentally conscious reorganisation of how we ought to live under the shadow of impending disaster. Prior to COP26, Glasgow reduced its carbon emissions by 41% since 2006 and in 2021 committed to achieving net-zero by the end of the decade – but at what cost to the average Glaswegian?

A stroll through the city centre will tell you.

After alighting from the exorbitantly priced and unreliable Scotrail service at Glasgow Central, the Sodom and Gomorrah of Gordon Street greets you with a nauseating wink. Turn and head South on Union Street, where ‘Greek’ Thomson’s glorious Egyptian Halls have been allowed to fall to wrack and ruin under scaffolding. Now you find yourself at the Four Corners, a fast-food outlet on each corner creates an homage to obesity. Turn right under the “Hielanman’s Umbrella” and Glasgow’s homelessness problems stare you straight in the face calling to mind Mayhew’s London. Turn right again and complete the circuit, bumping into the odd groups of dejected souls that haunt the ironically-titled Hope Street and make clear our frightening drug problem.

Walking this short route throws Glasgow’s real issues into sharp relief. From the environmentally unfriendly public transport system to the disgracefully immoral levels of drug-related deaths, it is right to be suspicious of COP26’s legacy. This is not to say we shouldn’t care about environmental aims and strategies for mitigating the climate emergency, but that the green veil does disguise the quotidian yet crucial aspects of city living that we have to get right.

If a dysfunctional and filthy city is the price we pay for excessive environmental priorities, Glasgow is indeed “The Dear Green Place.”


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