COP26 on the ground
Arriving in Glasgow Central railway station, it becomes clear that you have arrived in the city of COP. The main station hall is draped in COP26 banners and every inch of advertising space in the city is used to highlight the environmental credentials of companies or to associate themselves with this conference. A personal highlight was seeing the CO-OP supermarket rebrand itself as ‘CO-OP26’.
With an estimated 35 000 delegates arriving in the city, this has put significant strain on accommodation. Room prices have skyrocketed with many having to resort to other ways of finding affordable housing during these two weeks. One solution is the COP26 Homestay Network, where visitors can stay for free with local Glaswegians offering up their spare rooms. I found my room using this network and have very much enjoyed the experience of staying with my hosts, who have introduced me to many local delicacies such as ‘pizza crunch’ and ‘square sausage’.
Efforts have also been made to make moving around Glasgow greener during this time. Many of the buses operating in the city are electric buses, taking participants to the various events venues around the city. Furthermore, the public bikes have been made available free of charge to all, making commuting all the more painless, despite some of the steep roads in the city.
I cycled my public bike to the main conference location, the ‘Blue Zone’. Here I found huge metal barricades and an army of police officers ensuring that only official delegates are able to enter the negotiations inside. For members of the public, there is additionally a ‘Green Zone’, where talks are held over the course of the two weeks.
Protests are common around COPs, and just outside the Blue Zone, a group of around 25 indigenous peoples had gathered to voice their concerns about what was occurring within the conference halls. Leading the group was Tom Goldtooth, based in the United States, who declared, “we want to share with you a message: carbon offsetting is tearing us apart...we need real solutions...keep fossil fuels in the ground.” To emphasise this message, they had taken a full page in the Financial Times, which the whole group was holding aloft.
Following Goldtooth, Ruth Miller shared how the climate crisis was affecting her community, “we in the Arctic are experiencing the climate crisis at 2-4 times the rate of the rest of the world”. Minhahi Bastida Munoz, based in Mexico, added, “remember who we are as human species...we came here to take care and give care to Mother Earth”. From listening to these, often silenced, voices, it dawned on me how important indigenous peoples are in the fight against climate change, as they are often the main protagonists in the fight against deforestation.
It is not only indigenous peoples bringing their energy to the streets of Glasgow. Walking around it seems that COP has brought a real buzz to the city. Local Niamh MacPhail agrees, “[there is an] increased energy in the city because everyone has been gearing up for this for months and for it to finally happen, it's like this massive wave of feelings.”