COP26: World’s friendliest city set to host climate crisis summit

Glasgow is due to host UN’s climate conference that is seen by many as the last chance to avert a global environmental catastrophe.

With a population of 600,000, Glasgow is Scotland's biggest city [File: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo]

Glasgow, Scotland – It was once dubbed Europe’s murder capital, but this year it was voted the world’s friendliest city.

Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and home to one of the most bitter football rivalries, has rarely lacked drama – and this week will take centre stage as the host of a highly anticipated summit seen by many as the last chance to avert a global climate catastrophe.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, will begin on October 31 and last for 12 days when the likes of the United Kingdom, the United States, China and India are expected to thrash out plans to reduce carbon emissions.

By its conclusion, this city of contrasts will either be hailed as the scene of a spectacular success or lamented as the place where dreams of a better tomorrow were extinguished.

“For me, COP coming to Glasgow is a huge deal and I am excited, but also nervous,” resident Lorna Celnik told Al Jazeera.

“Excited because the eyes of the world will be on my home city, and nervous about how the city will be portrayed and how delegates will rate their experience,” Celnik, a human resources director, explained.

“Excited because of the potential that world leaders might actually make significant commitments to help mitigate the climate crisis, but nervous that they might not reach agreement or that commitments will fall short of the change that is actually required to make a difference.”

The fact that Glasgow, home to about 600,000 people, will host such a significant event should be of no surprise to those who know the city well.

Ever since the 1707 Act of Union, which saw Scotland and England unite to form Great Britain, Glasgow has been making international waves – for good and ill.

Indeed, when Scotland gave up its sovereignty – albeit not its nationhood – in the early 18th century, its highly educated workforce – it had four universities to England’s two – quickly exploited the transatlantic slave trade, with Glasgow among its dubious beneficiaries.

While in recent times the city has been forced to face up to its past links with slavery – which saw it grow fat off the proceeds of human misery – other more modern concerns have been preoccupying Glaswegians.

Among them was the city’s reputation as a hotbed of violence and thuggery.

‘Murder capital of Europe’

The 1935 novel No Mean City depicted Glasgow as a den of razor-wielding gangs – and this status appeared to have little changed 70 years later when the World Health Organization referred to Glasgow as the “murder capital of Europe”.

Yet a way out of the crisis was found. The formation in 2005 of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which sought inspiration from the US, saw knife crime treated not simply as an issue of policing but one of public health.

Soon Glasgow’s streets became safer as homicides across Scotland plummeted within 10 years.

Glasgow’s 1451-established higher education establishment – the University of Glasgow – is currently ranked the 86th best university in the world.

It is responsible for educating some of the most famous figures on the planet, such as economist Adam Smith, television pioneer John Logie Baird and Scotland’s current First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon.

Politics, culture and innovation have been part of Glasgow’s makeup for generations. Now, the hosting of COP26 represents something of an extension of this.

From the city’s football rivalry between Celtic, with its Irish Roman Catholic roots, and Rangers, a club of Protestant extraction, to its status as one of only two cities in Scotland to vote Yes to Scottish statehood in 2014’s independence referendum – which saw Scots opt relatively narrowly to remain in the UK – Glasgow, once styled the “second city” of the British Empire, has stood apart from Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, with pride.

As such, many residents have been taking more than a fleeting interest in the arrival of COP to Glasgow.

Penny Chivas, originally from Australia, has lived and worked as a dance artist in Glasgow (or in local parlance, “Glasga”) for more than 10 years.

“The work happening on the ground feels very exciting – loads of talks, performances and artworks, and generally inspiration to keep calling leaders to account,” said Chivas, who will also be performing her own dance Burnt Out – based on her experiences of being in Australian bushfires – to coincide with COP26.

But compared with the ravages of bushfires in Australia, do Scots really appreciate the actuality of our changing climate?

Penny Chivas,  who has lived and worked as a dance artist in Glasgow for more than 10 years, will be performing her own dance to coincide with COP26 [Brian Hartley/Al Jazeera]

‘Immune to climate change’

“I think we think Scotland is a little immune somehow to climate change, but as a cyclist here I have seen, even in the last 11 years, the weather get wetter and wetter, but somehow this doesn’t get the reaction it should,” Chivas told Al Jazeera.

“Australia really does have it tough. I remember about 15 years ago in Melbourne, trains being limited on their speeds in case the rails buckled with the heat. That at the time was unusual, and now it’s ‘normal’.”

While other residents are not as engaged as the likes of Chivas, a general consensus exists in Glasgow on the importance of the summit.

“While I wouldn’t say I was excited, as such, by COP coming to Glasgow, I’m not completely uninterested in it,” solicitor Alan O’Dowd told Al Jazeera.

“In theory, it should be one of the most significant global events of the year, but I’m not convinced that the international community has the level of engagement with the subject of climate change for it to truly make a difference.”

During the conference, large swathes of Glasgow will come to a standstill – a prospect that, among other concerns, many city residents fear.

“I want it to be a success for the world but also for the city,” chartered engineer Matthew Celnik, husband of Lorna, told Al Jazeera.

“However … I’m also concerned about the circumstances – the ongoing pandemic, potential strike action and the disruption for local residents.”

If “People Make Glasgow” – as the city’s slogan proclaims – then people of all kinds are about to make Glasgow the centre of the world.

Source: Al Jazeera