Glasgow hopes for green revival despite troubled Cop26 build-up

Scotland's largest city plays down concerns over rats and bin strikes and says it is ready to host world leaders

Glasgow is traditionally known as the “Dear Green Place”, a label which admirers see as fitting for a city with big green ambitions, and which is about to become synonymous with tackling climate change.

But sceptics say rodents and overflowing bins will make Scotland’s biggest city a laughing stock when delegates from 196 countries gather there to save the planet.

Glasgow will be under the spotlight for nearly two weeks starting on Sunday, when Cop26 finally arrives after more than two years of preparations.

About 30,000 people are expected to descend on the city, raising concerns about an explosion of coronavirus cases. But for Glasgow’s businesses, it is a welcome boost in trade after months of lockdown.

“For a city the size of Glasgow to be holding an event the size of Cop, that is a real step forward for Glasgow,” said Stuart Patrick, the chief executive of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

“It comes at a good time, particularly for the hoteliers of the city that are obviously getting visitor numbers that we haven’t seen for some months.”

More broadly, Mr Patrick said, the summit is a chance to sell Glasgow to leaders and investors who would otherwise rarely stop by the city.

“We are able to introduce ourselves as a city to literally thousands of decision-makers that previously would never have been here,” he said. “That’s got to be good news for us.

“I won’t deny that the weather’s never going to be at its best in November. Nonetheless, we’re obviously hopeful that enough folk will get a sense, a flavour of Glasgow and will want to come back as leisure visitors.”

The dignitaries in Glasgow will include US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a host of other leaders who are under pressure to take decisive action on climate change.

Scientists say time is running out to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – the goal of the 2016 Paris Agreement – and predict that the consequences will be catastrophic if this is not achieved.

Britain's key goals for Glasgow include curbing carbon emissions, especially by phasing out coal power, and diverting money to developing countries to help them adapt.

Rich countries such as the UK are expected to lead the way in tackling climate change, having done the most to cause it over the centuries, Mr Johnson told G20 leaders on the eve of the summit.

“The next few days are a critical moment for world leaders to demonstrate that they can show the climate ambition needed,” his spokesman said.

Political spat

Glasgow’s leaders say the city is enjoying a green renaissance and turning a page on post-industrial poverty that has scarred parts of the city since the end of its shipbuilding heyday.

A “greenprint” of planned investments in Glasgow includes a clean fashion industry hub, a revamped transit network and planting 18 million trees planted in the area.

The UK government, which chose Glasgow as the Cop26 venue in 2019, said it was the “ideal location to showcase the diverse culture and world-leading innovation that the UK has to offer”.

The conference was due in 2020 but postponed by a year because of the pandemic.

City council leader Susan Aitken, speaking at a preview event this week, said there were opportunities for Glaswegians in the construction sector as homes are redesigned to conserve energy.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow were credited with turning old industrial land into an eco-friendly housing development with energy-efficient homes.

“When Glasgow got Cop26 … we wanted to show that we knew what action looks like and what that would entail,” Ms Aitken said.

Ms Aitken, like the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, is from the Scottish National Party. But the summit is being organised by the Conservative government in London, a political rival.

This has contributed to a sometimes-fractious build-up. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week attacked what she said was an inexplicable decision by UK ministers not to fund a Scottish carbon capture project.

In the other direction, Conservative MPs in London took aim at Ms Aitken over what they described as the tatty state of Glasgow ahead of Cop26.

The city is “ready, with caveats”, Ms Aitken told MPs when she appeared before the London Parliament's Scottish affairs committee.

Stories of bin collectors being tormented by rodents were overblown, said Ms Aitken.

In any case, “all cities have rats”, she added.

Cleaning staff have put in 12,000 hours of overtime in the lead up to Cop26, with 150 extra bins installed around the city.

But many workers are poised to go on strike during the summit. They will be cheered on by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist who has invited them to join her protesting on the sidelines.

Glasgow council workers and school support staff are set to take up her invitation, although railway staff reached a last-minute deal to prevent a strike.

Engineering heritage

The summit is being held at the Scottish Event Campus, an exhibition centre complex in central Glasgow that includes a 14,300-seater stadium.

It drew criticism when it emerged that two of the SEC venues received the second-worst grade in an energy efficiency assessment.

A methane leak from a pipeline near one of the venues, spewing out a greenhouse gas responsible for about 30 per cent of global warming, was a further blow to Glasgow’s image.

But the host city hopes to use the summit to showcase the green innovation which it hopes will be a path to prosperity for Glasgow.

Mr Patrick said Glasgow’s record as an engineering city left it well placed to face the challenges of going green.

The world’s first known wind turbine was built in the 1880s by James Blyth, a scientist at what became the University of Strathclyde. Today, Britain’s largest wind farm lies a short distance outside Glasgow.

Near Glasgow Airport a Scottish manufacturing institute is working with US aviation giant Boeing on how to make aircraft lighter to reduce their carbon footprint.

“There are a whole host of examples of where Glasgow’s engineering heritage is still in full play,” said Mr Patrick.

“In the long run, the city should see benefits that come from all those challenges being laid out by Cop26. We’ve got enough capability in the city to respond to that.”

Updated: October 31st 2021, 8:00 AM