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What has COP26 got to do with the Scottish Parliament?

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Since the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen there has been a growing understanding of the critical role that legislatures at all levels have to play in tackling the climate and ecological crises. Whilst governments can commit to targets, actions and spend, only parliaments are mandated by the people of a country to hold those governments to account on such commitments – to ensure that the law passed is fit for purpose, and that government budgets align with what they say they will do.

Criticism can be made of governments, for example, the policies they choose, how those policies are designed and delivered, and whether budget aligns to priorities. Equally, there are challenges for parliaments in how they can effectively scrutinise what are complex and deep-rooted issues; none more so than the threat of the climate and ecological crises.

It is this concept of accountability, and delivery, which is so important at COP26. In the first few days we have heard of many commitments, on finance, on Nationally Determined Contributions (what countries will actually do to reach their 2015 Paris Agreement commitments), on nature-based solutions – but the proof is in the delivery. Parliaments are uniquely well placed to monitor this progress, and this is something of great interest in and around the COP26 Blue Zone.

In addition – as forums for national debate, parliaments are uniquely well placed to deliver against Article 12 of the Paris Agreement:

“to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information”.

These are concepts explored further by the Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone MSP, in her recent Blog Glasgow and COP26 – Code Red in the Dear Green Place – and are why the Scottish Parliament is engaging with COP26. Of course, having the world on your doorstep is a unique opportunity, and the Parliament has worked to create spaces for parliamentarians and others to share ideas, and to debate the best ways forward for parliaments in the climate and ecological crises.

Collaborations with Scotland’s Futures Forum and independent advisers the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) delivered an exciting event on these issues in the Scottish Government COP26 space in Glasgow – allowing Dean Lockhart MSP (the Convener of the Net Zero, Transport and Energy Committee), Kenyan MP Hon Charity Kathambi Chepkwony, Jenny Hill from the CCC and Professor Tahseen Jafry to come together to explore best next steps. A report will be produced from this event – including an illustration of the conversation.

Partnership with Globe International sees a landmark and hybrid global legislators’ summit take place in the Scottish Parliament on 5 and 6 November – including contributions from Al Gore, COP26 President Alok Sharma, UN Special Envoy Mami Mizutori and others, on these systemic challenges for parliaments the world over. Of course, the solutions will vary country to country – but the fundamentals do not – that parliaments must be representative, well informed and flexible to changing circumstance.

Week two of COP26 sees the Scottish Parliament and Nordic Council co-host a Blue Zone event on Code Red for Parliaments: vital institutions in the climate emergency.  With contributions from the Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer, and Ms. Annette Lind, Vice President of the Nordic Council – and including provocations from Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, and perspectives from Nordic and Scottish young people – this event will further unpack how parliaments must evolve as institutions, and explore how they can best access the advice and analysis they need. 

Alongside, SPICe is seeking to lift the lid on COP26 – you can follow this activity from our COP26 hub and from researchers on the ground in Glasgow. We’ll have more blogs from all the events mentioned in this blog.

Graeme Cook, Head of Research and Sustainable Development Scrutiny