COP26 may have fallen short on taking dramatic action to reduce emissions, but Glasgow leaves a legacy to be proud of, writes Mike Robinson, CEO of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

There is understandable disappointment with the outcome of Glasgow COP26 because it didn’t categorically solve the climate crisis. Whilst it undoubtedly took some steps in the right direction I don’t think any of us thought the steps would be so small. The commitments of various countries are leading us closer to 2.4°C and many nations continue to drag their feet.  

This is an improvement on the 3.7°C forecast increase based on commitments at Paris six years ago, but falls well short of the 1.5°C we all wanted and need. But whilst COP26 didn’t solve the climate crisis, it is also wrong to portray it as an abject failure. To do so is to misunderstand the UN process.  Anyone who has ever tried to solve a problem through a committee will surely empathise with how difficult it can be to reach consensus.  

On one level the fact that all the world’s governments have agreed to anything at all is quite remarkable in itself.  
The UN COP process is slow, cumbersome and tortuously complex. It is a massive global political negotiation which, by its very nature, is a compromise and one in which you can only really move at the rate of the slowest participant. We do need other processes and we need to accelerate this one, but this is the only political one we have.
We all wanted a Glasgow agreement that changed the world, set a global path to net zero and beyond and which projected Scotland’s leadership on the international stage and perhaps inspired others. But I think that opportunity still exists and to a degree the COP did manage that.  Glasgow did do a great job of hosting it and there are many messages on social media expressing gratitude from delegations for the friendliness and warmth of hospitality from the host city. 

Scotland was recognised for its ambitious legislation on climate change, enhanced by several small but important announcements. As a result, Scotland’s leadership on climate change action has probably never had such a high profile on the international stage. 
Whilst we still have a great deal to do to deliver against our own targets and commitments, we also have a great deal to share in terms of our academic and business expertise, the policy momentum and the passion and commitment of the people of Scotland.   

The UK retains the chair of COP26 up until COP27 starts in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in November 2022. Therefore, the next 12-months are a huge opportunity to build on the Commitments of Glasgow and to nail down real action in all sorts of spheres of business and public sector activity.   
There is work to do alongside the many other progressive nations, including building new alliances with countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Costa Rica and to some extent the EU, and with major sub-national players like California. As the world wakes up to the need to take bold action, however late in the day, there is a huge opportunity for Scottish business and academia to work with the least progressive nations. This includes the USA, Canada, and Australia, with our strong historical and political connections, to help them get up to speed quickly and to share our learning and expertise.

Whilst some governments may still be reluctant to take action, the clear signals from Glasgow have left the rest of us in no doubt as to the direction of travel. We are already seeing responses in the stock market valuation of coal companies and mining companies since COP26. As every nation in the world comes under renewed pressure to bring back even more stringent targets to COP27, we will only see stronger and stronger reactions from the private sector as they reposition their businesses to account for net zero plans.

I would like to think that the momentum generated in Glasgow will carry us through to Sharm el-Sheikh with a massive shift across all sectors to tackling this critical issue. 
For this to be successful we need an enlightened majority, not an angry minority, so we need to stop this being a divisive issue and start making it an inclusive one, where everyone is clear about the role that they have and is encouraged to help solve this issue. The real legacy of Glasgow is in the global reaction and the actions this creates. If we want a Glasgow Agreement to be proud of, we still have work to do.

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