The Scottish Parliament on the world stage – report from Day 1 of the GLOBE Legislators’ Summit

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COP26 is taking place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021. For a background on what a United Nations COP is, see our blog on a brief history, or our SPICe briefing for a longer version, and our SPICe hub for material on COP26.

While all eyes have been on the COP26 Blue and Green Zones in Glasgow where the official negotiations and side events are taking place, for global parliamentarians the COP has also taken them to the Scottish Parliament.

Today and tomorrow, 5-6 November, GLOBE and the Scottish Parliament are hosting the GLOBE International Legislators’ Summit, a meeting of cross-party elected representatives from around the world dedicated to improving governance for sustainable development.

What is the GLOBE International Legislators’ Summit?

GLOBE, which stands for ‘The Global Legislators Organisation’, was founded by parliamentarians from the US, European Union, Japan, and Russia in 1991 to give a voice to legislators during the ‘Rio Earth Summit’ – the major UN conference in 1992 which resulted in several international agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

GLOBE has since hosted a legislators’ summit in connection with each COP. The Summit aims to give a role for cross-party parliamentarians and democratic institutions in the COP process, which otherwise sees the negotiations carried out by governments, rather than parliaments.

Typically, outcomes can include calls to action, regional action plans, task forces or campaigns, and more generally amplifies the role of parliaments and other elected assemblies in scrutinising their government’s climate change actions.

More information on the Summit and its aims is available in a SPICe briefing, published in the three official UN languages.

What happened on Day 1?

The Summit hosted speakers from around the world, including Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker of the People’s Majlis (Maldives Parliament) and former President of the Maldives, former Vice President of the USA, Al Gore, who is also one of the founders of GLOBE, and Osprey Orielle Lake, the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network. They were joined by those from closer to home such as Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, and Dean Lockhart, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

Several themes came through strongly during the sessions. Delegates shared disappointment that pledges to date have not delivered the action needed to halt climate change, and consequently that the pledges that have so-far been seen from COP26 will be nothing without action. In the words of Jairam Ramesh, representative from the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, “there should be no dissonance between what a country pledges internationally and what it does domestically”.

Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, one of the keynote speakers of the day, called for a radical departure from business as usual and for a Glasgow Climate Emergency Pact, to establish annual climate ambition platforms working towards 2030 at each COP between 2022 and 2025. The aim would be to enhance the ambition beyond countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – the pledges each country makes to tackle climate change – every year, rather than every five years.

Another theme – apt in this context of joining together elected representatives from around the world – was the role of parliaments and elected assemblies in holding governments to account for the pledges that they have made. The role of legislators in passing laws to reflect the commitments and need for action was frequently raised, as part of the need to translate international agreements made at UN climate conferences into long-term national policy. As Mohamed Nasheed noted in response to a question from a member of the Parliament of Uganda,

“Democracy is the most important adaptation measure”.

There was also a strong focus on protecting those who are most vulnerable from climate change, and who have done the least to contribute to it. Delegates from small island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu spoke passionately about the tangible and immediate threat to the survival of their low-lying nations posed by climate change. There was discussion around ensuring that climate action is intersectional – leading to justice for women and children, people of colour, the poorest in society, and people with disabilities. The delegates also noted that developed countries – such as Scotland and the UK – who have benefited economically from activities which create pollution and rely on resource extraction across the world have a greater responsibility in tackling the climate crisis.

There were also parallels drawn between the actions taken in tackling Covid-19 and the scale of action needed to tackle the climate emergency. The rapid technological advancements to produce vaccines, the influxes of government funding, support for jobs, a whole-of-government response and public communication to encourage behaviour change were all highlighted as key measures in the covid response which are applicable to climate change.

There were debates about tricky issues like food choices and meat consumption, and calls to end fossil fuel extraction and the financing that supports it from national subsidies, international institutions and private companies. Speaking to delegates, Osprey Orielle Lake, who is also co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation, raised the amount of private investment in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, and asked “How can we successfully navigate COP26 with these impossible numbers?”

But there was also recognition of the challenges facing economies dependent on fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive sectors, and the need for a just transition, with public investment required for the toughest transition sectors.

Changes to the financial landscape to support the transition was also debated. Speakers raised the potential in the large amounts of private finance available to support climate change activities. The need for new forms of investment to support sustainable projects, blended public-private finance, as well as the need for funding for both mitigation and adaptation was raised. Professor Dan Esty, from Yale University, emphasised that to have robust environmental, social and governance reporting in the financial sector, there is a need to specify the metrics as well as how you report on them to avoid corporate reporting being inconsistent, and complicating the task of identifying leaders and laggards.

At times, delegates looked at climate change from a broader economic perspective. Jairam Ramesh from the Upper House of the Indian Parliament noted that as long as countries measure and monitor economic growth and see prosperity through the narrow lens of gross domestic product (GDP), they will be hamstrung in climate action.  

The gathering was also reminded that climate change is only one of the nine planetary boundaries, and that there are issues in many environmental spheres, like biodiversity, ocean acidification, atmospheric pollution, and freshwater use. Moreover, there are links between environmental challenges and other problems we face, such as in public health.

‘The Moment’

In one of the most memorable moments from Day 1, delegates had the opportunity to hear from representatives from the Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament on their COP26 initiative, ‘The Moment’. Children and young people were encouraged to speak to their elected representatives in a national day of action on 29 October 2021. The key asks from the day were presented at the Summit.

The representatives from the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament called on decision makers to prove to young people that they are listening to their concerns and urgently tackling climate change.

The young people raised concerns about reliance on electric vehicles because of pollution from creating lithium batteries, the need to support active travel, and to take an intersectional approach to climate change to ensure climate justice for the most vulnerable groups. They also raised a preference for planting native trees, and the need for better climate education beyond littering, which teaches about the “bigger picture” and “more sustainable ways to live”. One of the children highlighted Scotland’s well documented concentration of land ownership, and proposed an ongoing dialogue with landowners on the links between land use and climate change.

The key message from the young people involved was “there’s no going back if it gets too bad”. They emphasised that children should be listened to on all days, and that decision-makers need to hear from a wide variety of people, especially those whose voices are seldom heard. To the delegates of the Summit, one of the representatives of the Children’s Parliament said “don’t be afraid to speak in front of big crowds of people, climate change isn’t something you should be embarrassed about.”

Day 2: 6 November

The summit continues tomorrow. The day will kick off with the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, President of COP26 with an update from the COP26 negotiations, followed by speakers on diverse topics such as the links between the climate and nature emergencies, the role of the courts in the climate crisis and how environmental democracy can deliver action. SPICe will be back tomorrow with reports from the second and final day of the Summit.

Anna Brand, Senior Researcher