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

Not a moment to lose – some COP26 emerging themes

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Even with all eyes still on Glasgow, negotiators working through the night and the clock ticking as the parties try to thrash out a deal which will have a chance of delivering on the Paris Agreement – many are already considering what has been achieved at Glasgow. SPICe will reflect on this further, including what it means for Scotland, in the coming weeks, but for now we can take a little retrospective on the engagement the Scottish Parliament has had in and around the talks. This has included partnership with Scotland’s Futures Forum, the Nordic Council and the advisory Climate Change Committee.

Wednesday this week saw the culmination of Scottish parliamentary activity with the Presiding Officer and the Vice President of the Nordic Council, Annette Lind, jointly hosting an event explicitly around the role of parliaments in the climate emergency.

Full recording of the Nordic Council and Scottish Parliament event

Now viewable online (see the video above), this event developed themes which had been picked up in an earlier event run by the Scottish Parliament in the Scottish Climate Ambition Zone in the Lighthouse in central Glasgow. A SPICe blog is also available summarising that event.

The role of Parliaments

The key role of parliaments was discussed in much more detail at the Globe Legislators’ Summit held at the Scottish Parliament over the middle weekend of COP26. SPICe has produced a blog outlining the first day and a blog detailing the second day of the summit – and we’ll draw more from the summit in the weeks to come. Former US President Al Gore made one comment, in opening the summit, which has resonated through the UN plenary sessions, He talked about political will being a renewable resource – a topic amplified by Globe International Chief Executive Malini Mehra in a speech on the world stage at COP26 later in the week.

Some key themes

There were some key themes which emerged from all of these events:

  1. The voice of the global south is essential. Hearing parliamentarians’ voices from Kenya and Brazil on the direct implications of climate change on people and nature on the front line was sobering – and helped to remind those in the global north (including Scotland) that decisions made here – everyday, not just at COP26) have a direct and tangible impact on others around the world. It is down to individual, organisational and political choices as to whether that impact is positive or negative.
  2. The impacts of climate change are most felt by indigenous communities, and by women and girls. Time and again this came up during the events the Scottish Parliament was involved in or hosted. This reflects threads heard throughout COP26. What also came through was that often these are also the people best placed to deliver solutions – this might not be because they know or care about climate change as an existential threat – rather that they live with its consequences every day, and so must come up with ways to change. SPICe has blogged on the issue of gender equality and climate much more extensively.
  3. Climate change is a magnifier. It makes all the other challenges we face around the world even harder to deal with – food security, access to water, migration, conflict, social cohesion, access to healthcare, gender inequality. This is why climate change is such an integral part of the challenge in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Even without the climate and ecological crises, these issues are significant and multifaceted. Directly related, Christina Figueres (architect of the Paris Agreement) and others tell time and again that there is not a moment to lose.
  4. The role of parliaments is paramount – there was widespread agreement in our three events that the functions of scrutiny and oversight; making good law; and ensuring budgets align with government commitments are ever more important – in fact essential. Even aside from any globally agreed Glasgow text, COP26 has seen a raft of individual, bilateral and other government announcements. Taken together these might help us limit warning to 1.5 degrees Celsius – but parliamentary roles are essential in ensuring delivery. 
  5. The convening power of parliaments is critical – of course in bringing politicians together, but also in allowing and amplifying the voice of citizens. A marked moment at the Legislators’ Summit saw an Afghan voice given a COP26 platform – with no formal government represented at the UN, the chance to hear from the front line in Afghanistan was ever more important.  Equally there have been continued calls to listen to the voices of children and young people more – not just because they are the future, but they are the ‘now’!

MSP engagement

Aside from events, COP26 gave some MSPs the opportunity to engage directly at the talks – on the day of the event with the Nordic Council in the Blue Zone, MSPs -including the conveners of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport, and the Economy and Fair Work Committees – took part in a shared conversation on climate change with counterparts from across the Nordic Nations. Later that day other Members of the Net Zero Committee, together with the Convener of the Finance Committee, and other MSPs met up with Brazilian MPs from the Brazilian Network for Political Action on Sustainability. The Presiding Officer met with the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency – a key influencer and driver of change in one of the world’s largest emitting nations. 

Image of Members of the Scottish Parliament at COP26 standing under a large globe and in front of a sign that says COP26.
MSPs at COP26

Alongside there has been the opportunity to share learning from – and amplify the existence of – the Scottish Parliament’s own Sustainable Development Impact Assessment Tool with other parliamentarians, and with UN agencies. There have been interesting discussions around how parliamentarians can access the technical support they need to scrutinise effectively on climate and other systemic issues. This was a theme picked up by the Climate Change Committee, with whom the Parliament has partnered on events during COP26.

Graeme Cook, Head of Research and Sustainable Development Scrutiny