Coping with COP26

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Cameron Rhodes       


photography by Kieren Mehta (he/him)

COP26 has been one of the most important events to happen to Glasgow in recent years; the talks held here may have long-lasting and irreversible effects on the future. When a city is hit with such a rush of publicity and surge of people, there will inevitably be great disruption to the lives of residents. Roads are closed, limiting transport and walking areas, with marches taking up space for hours at a time. The importance of the conference cannot be understated, but residents’ criticism of Glasgow changing its infrastructure for a fortnight is warranted. And many experiencing this disruption believe the conference is likely to be ineffective; is it all worth it?

My personal experience  of COP26 has been a mixed one. On one hand, I believe that the march on Friday 5th November was a very effective way of protesting; residents were still able to get to their homes, albeit with some pushing and shoving. Spirits were high and the speeches towards the end of the demonstration highlighted many different social issues that are intertwined with the climate crisis. This contrasts starkly with the arrangements put in place on  the first day of the conference to allow world leaders to attend a dinner at Kelvingrove Museum. Police barricaded Argyle Street and closed off roads to any traffic except the COP26 buses and police transport. My flatmates and I were unable to reach a protest we had planned to attend, and the only help offered by police officers was the suggestion of taking an hour-long route though a dark Kelvingrove park in order to get to the other side. Although this may have been a brief inconvenience for one night, I do believe there is a deeper meaning to it. When seeking actual change, unlike the avenues for politicians, the paths for normal people are very narrow. Being unable to attend the protest meant being unable to have our voices heard about an issue that politicians have consistently shown themselves to be incapable of solving; this is the 26th COP after all. When it seems all politicians are willing to do is toss a coin in a fountain for good luck, or sleep through the conferences, it often appears to be up to ordinary people to create a movement for change, and this becomes much more difficult if the city itself rejects your voice.

However, COP26 is nonetheless monumental; what takes place there could affect the world and Glasgow for years to come. For example, subway hours have been extended for the duration of the conference, inviting calls and petitions from residents to have the extended hours remain in place after COP finishes. In addition to encouraging a reduction in the use of private transportation, the extended hours would specifically help women feel safer, allowing them to get the subway home instead of walking in the dark. The message Glasgow needs to send is that the changes made for COP26 are not reserved for the elite and should instead be available to all Glasgow residents. A system of transport ticketing similar to the Oyster cards used in London has also been introduced for conference delegates. Although this is not problematic in itself, issue lies in the system being unavailable to residents. As one of the most important climate discussions of our lifetimes, COP26 is not undeserving of these beneficial infrastructure changes. However, Glaswegians have long been asking for such changes. If the conference fails, and the measures put in place to provide comfort for visitors are taken away, the image of the city to its own residents could become bitter. If COP26 ends with a positive result in the long term, these effects could be heightened with actual permanent change in Glasgow, benefitting residents and everyone involved. COP26 needs to resolve issues and introduce change for the sake of the environment and for the integrity of Glasgow as a city.

The conference has caused significant disruption to the city in its duration, understandably so, to support the influx of delegates and create accessible ways of accessing the conference. This disruption is magnified when those who the conference is meant to be  helping are prevented from going about their daily lives and contributing their voices to create change. Although it is difficult to predict whether any great change will come from COP26, I do believe that reforming Glasgow permanently, for its own residents, is a goal within reach.


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