Image showing the COP26 logo and a view of the Glasgow skyline

COP26 – a view from the Blue Zone

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Whilst COP26 is all over the news just now, that doesn’t mean it is particularly accessible. This blog by our SPICe researcher on the ground in Glasgow gives a flavour of what is going on in and around the COP26 Blue Zone – where accreditation is needed to get in, either through member state delegations, or as ‘observers’ – the latter usually through civil society and other external organisations.

The COP26 site is enormous, with the Blue Zone alone spreading across the entire Scottish Events Campus on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. Added to this are a myriad of marquees and other structures – all tested during the first few wild and windy days of the summit.

In the queue to get in, one European Union delegate was telling me that he’d been to many COPs, but this one had the most security he had ever seen. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise – and the checks start way before arrival on site, or even, for many delegates, arrival in Scotland. Securing accreditation is a long process, and you have to have the correct forms and identification to get near the site.  On-site the high security, plus COVID-19 restrictions mean there have been some long queues to get in – but as you might expect, these are the places that interesting conversations are struck up. I’ve spoken to half of the San Marino delegation (did you know they had two heads of state?), delegates from Uruguay – who talked about climate policy challenges for land in such a diverse country, and to the Chief Executive of the UK Committee on Climate Change – who let me interview him a bit more formally too (I’m armed with some kit from the parliament’s communications office).

Once in, the Blue Zone at COP26 is a mixture of theatre, trade fair and meetings, meetings, meetings. With over 40,000 delegates, the site is often very busy. It is very easy to get sucked into walking around with mouth half open at the vast array of activity – one gargantuan room has ‘pavilions’ from many nations, organisations and initiatives around the world. The biggest I’ve seen so far was from the United Arab Emirates, and there are big presences from the USA too, and representation from other big players such as Russia and China. There is a Nature Zone, and one on the huge issue of methane – on which some positive traction has been made this week.

Inside the Blue Zone at COP26

There’s a UK pavilion, and the Scottish Government is partnering with ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability to create a Scotland area – yesterday I happened to be there just as an event started with UN Women partnering with the Scottish Government on an event including the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Estonia, the President of Tanzania and Scotland’s First Minister. This all female panel recognised that women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change. But, as they are at the front line, are best placed for developing solutions too – because they have to. Together these leaders were launching the new ‘Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change’. It wasn’t lost on the audience either that of the 140 world leaders at COP26, only 10 are women.

The First Minister speaking at a joint Scottish Government and Unite Nations event on women and climate change

Wandering around these pavilions can generate some nuggets too – I came across the US Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry, and the White House National Climate Advisor, Gina McCarthy, talking about the commitments the USA is now making on climate change.

US Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry addressing an event in the Blue Zone

Elsewhere on site the SSE Hydro has been transformed into an Action Zone (furniture from IKEA) and there’s a variety of eating establishments across the site (Irn Bru is available, and hot drinks are served as big or wee – there are certainly nods to Scottish cuisine and language)! The restaurants are serving Scottish fayre, and the carbon calculation of each meal is made clear.

Of course world leaders have been in Glasgow on the first two days of COP26 – there’s a myriad of types of passes which can let you near them, or not, in more controlled zones. These areas should open up more as the week progresses, together with access to more of the meeting rooms across site. Plenty of these will remain firmly closed to observers though – this is where the meat of negotiations are taking place, between individual countries, country blocs and the rest. Early indications are that progress is being made, but last night Christiana Figueres, the diplomat who steered the Paris Agreement through, was saying that commitments on the table right now only limit warming of the atmosphere to 2.7 degrees Celsius – well above the 1.5 degrees Celsius now recognised as the absolute ceiling for planetary safety.

There are tools to help delegates pilot what is going on – online apps and a COP26 platform – experience so far is that this can make things seem even busier, so it’s important to target what you are doing. I’m at COP26 both to support MSPs and events we are holding on-site, but also to learn from others, and try and take away ideas of how our own Scottish Parliament can enhance scrutiny on these vital issues.

Elsewhere at COP26, the ‘Green Zone’ is an area where there is much more public access (but ticketed). I am headed there today to explore, and to see what linkages there might be to parliaments and scrutiny.

I realise I’m privileged to be able to be in COP26 – with accreditation through our partners at Globe International – with whom we are delivering a legislators’ summit on 5 and 6 November.

The Scottish Parliament is delivering other events during these two week too – all around the importance of parliaments in the climate and ecological crises – we’ll blog on these too, and I’m tweeting this week from @graemekcook

Graeme Cook, SPICe Research