Shining a light on COP26 in Glasgow

Jamie Stewart

With under a month to go before the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, excitement is building, and not just for those working in energy and climate. For anyone who watches, reads or listens to the mainstream media, the COP conference is hard to miss. In the not too distant past, one or two climate themed articles might have made it through to the UK media in a month. But with COP on the horizon, and a number of climate related events, such as the warning of a code red for humanity, raising the need for urgent action, barely an hour passes without a climate related story hitting the headlines.

For those living and working in the host city, such as my colleagues at the University of Strathclyde, the prospect of world leaders arriving in Scotland brings a range of exciting opportunities.

With the UK holding the COP presidency along with Italy and hosting the conference, a light is shining on us and expectations are high. Ahead of the conference, action so far has seen the UK and Scottish Governments commit to significant and world leading interim emission reduction targets of 78% by 2035 for the UK and 75% by 2030 in Scotland. The SNP led Scottish Government has also recently entered into a formal agreement with the Scottish Green Party, which sees the two Green Party co-leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, take up ministerial roles in Government for the first time in the UK.  

Pressure, expectation and opportunity

While these actions showcase leading ambition, hosting COP brings pressure and expectation on the UK to set out how that ambition will actually be delivered. For example, the UK Government has committed to publish a Net Zero Strategy ahead of COP, Government departments are expected to set out net zero proposals for sectors across the economy (such as the UK Government’s anticipated Heat Decarbonisation Strategy) and the Treasury is expected to publish the long-awaited results of its Net Zero Review.

This focus presents an opportunity for universities and academic consortiums like UKERC to support policy makers, in the run up to COP and after, in understanding the most sustainable, equitable and robust pathways needed for effective net zero delivery. This is also a key aim of the Centre for Energy Policy at Strathclyde where we have recently published a Net Zero Principles Framework to aid thinking in this area. In this way the UK can take world leading climate action and support countries around the globe to do the same.

As well as supporting net zero policy making, hosting the COP in Glasgow brings a range of other opportunities. The University of Strathclyde is delighted to host the 16th Conference of Youth (COY) in the days ahead of COP. The COY brings together young delegates from over 140 countries and serves as a space for capacity building and policy training to prepare young people for their participation at COP and formally bring their voices to the UNFCCC processes. 

Meet and collaborate

For universities in the host city and nation, other events around COP also present rare platforms to collaborate and disseminate research insights. Collaboration is one of the four COP26 goals set out by the presidency, with the others being mitigation, adaption, and finance. Along with the important international climate negotiations, the two week long period of the conference provides a focal point for civil society organisations, policymakers, universities and businesses from all around the world to meet, collaborate and share best practice. Although the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic still present some very real challenges and increase the pressure on physical spaces in which to meet, we look forward to welcoming those in the UKERC community and beyond to Glasgow.

Information on events and activities can be found on the COP26 Universities Network website, Network’s “Climate Innovation Showcase” pages, the University of Strathclyde COP26 webpage and on the UKERC website.

This article was first published by the UK Energy Research Centre.