COP26: What will be Glasgow’s legacy from the climate summit?

As COP26 structures and safety measures are dismantled, what will be the lasting impact of the summit on Glasgow?

As the perimeter fence around the SEC is taken down and the huge temporary structures dismantled on the site, COP26 is already beginning to feel like a distant memory. Major thoroughfares, closed for more than two weeks have reopened.

More than 20,000 delegates descended on Glasgow over the past two weeks for the United Nations conference, plus many more protesters and climate activists taking part in fringe events.

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In the Brass Monkey pub, just half a mile from the Scottish Event Campus, manager Lisa Fraser was enjoying an unusually quiet Sunday.

“During COP, there was definitely a buzz, even on week nights,” she said.

“We had a lot of custom from the workmen who were building it for weeks beforehand, then during the event itself, we had had a lot of people from COP here so there was a lot of work chat about environmental issues and a lot of protesters as well. There was no issues, people were just open to discussing it with each other and with the locals.”

She believes there could be a long term legacy in the area from the event.

“We have regulars and they sat and chatted with some of the delegates. In the pub, we were always really on the ball about recycling, but especially when you’ve got environmentalists here from around the world, it makes you think more. That’s opened my eyes a bit, personally.”

Glasgow Scottish Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy agreed, saying: “Apart from anything else, if you didn’t have the climate crisis in your sights, you can’t not now because it was such a big thing for the city. We all have our part to play in it.”

However she is concerned that there could be a bitter taste in the mouths of some residents who feel that delegates were given preferential treatment over locals – but hopes it could spark an appetite for change.

Ahead of the event, residents were irritated by the distribution of free travel passes to delegates, which allowed people to use the same card to travel on the subway, train and bus system – a scheme which many have called for for a long time.

Meanwhile, the swift erection of temporary lighting in Kelvingrove Park after safety groups raised fears of women having to walk home in the dark when major thoroughfares were closed for world leaders, reignited a debate over permanent lighting in Glasgow’s parks.

“It does very much feel like it was done to Glasgow rather than done with Glasgow,” said Ms Duncan-Glancy.

“It feels like something happened to Glasgow, rather than that we, in our great city with our great people, were hosting the world.

“So hopefully people will now be thinking ‘it was possible to put lights in the park so why can’t they do it for us? It was possible for them to have the integrated transport payment card so why can’t we do that for us?’ I will certainly be asking those questions.”

Internationally, Glasgow was a hit. Videos of overseas delegates trying Irn-Bru and haggis for the first time proved popular online, while social media is awash with praise for the residents of the city which hosted the United Nations climate change conference.

Before the event, however, a row over pay for refuse collection and rail workers threatened to overshadow the conference.

Rail strikes were averted at the eleventh hour, sparing international visitors the embarrassment of cars being put on to ship international delegates 50 miles from Edinburgh during a climate change conference.

Ms Duncan-Glancy added: “The consequences of gross underfunding has meant the city was really in a state of disrepair going into COP, so to then host a climate conference and do things like hand out free travel passes to people who were there, but not to people who live in Glasgow and have been looking for those kinds of things for years, was a wee bit hypocritical.”

On Twitter, delegate Solitaire Townsend thanked the people of Glasgow for being “unfailingly charming and patient” with delegates, while Karl Mathieson, senior correspondent for Politico Europe, said that “the Scots smashed it”.

“Great town. Great people,” he added.

However, delegate Grégoire Baribeau acknowledged the upheaval to residents.

“Indeed a wonderful city, from what I saw during the hour or two that I wasn’t stuck in a windowless conference room,” he said. “I felt bad for how much of an annoyance COP26 must’ve been to Glaswegians. Thanks Glasgow!”

Kaukab Stewart, SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, pointed to recent environmental-related infrastructure projects such as electric bike schemes, cycle routes opening along the canal and the conversion of Glasgow’s bus fleet to electric.

Glasgow was selected as the destination for the conference, officially hosted by the UK Government, more than two years ago, in a move which many saw as a chance to shore up unionist sentiment.

She was also keen to capitalise on the idea of an integrated transport card, which she is due to raise with the Scottish Government.

“The legacy has already started,” she said. “It’s given [these projects] a turbo boost. If it was ever going to go off the agenda, which it wouldn’t, it’s reinforced that. Because we’ve had road closures, people have been forced onto public transport out of necessity and that’s given people an extra boost to get out of their cars.”

A former teacher until she took up her post in Holyrood in May, Ms Stewart is happy that Glasgow’s hosting of the conference has put climate change on the agenda in Scottish schools. Glaswegian schoolchildren were asked to plant a million trees to mark the conference.

“It’s literally planting for the future, which is amazing,” she said. “In schools, we taught about environmental issues anyway, but to have that context of your own host city and the practical ‘what does that look like in Glasgow’, the children have really enjoyed that. The recognition factor is so iconic.”

In the local community, groups were visited by delegates from the global south, where lives are severely affected by climate change.

“I live in the constituency myself and everyone is talking about it. It’s opened up the debates in community centres and churches and I think it has been really important for them to hear first hand how other peoples lives are affected.

“The amount of people who have said to me they’re looking at reassessing their own lives is fantastic. All of these high powered talks are going on at a global level, but people are thinking ‘what can I do?’

She added: “Obviously there was disruption, but there were very few complaints, people realised there was a bigger picture and they did rapidly adapt to road closures and so on and could see it was temporary and we coped with it our usual Glaswegian friendly hospitable manner.”

Scottish Conservative Glasgow MSP Annie Wells said it was a “huge honour for Glasgow” to host the summit.

She said: “Glasgow will be remembered for being a host city where many crucial steps were taken to tackle our climate emergency in its climate pact, which now bears its name. Everyone recognises that there is more to be done which could be shown in the frustration in protests across the city in the last two weeks and we must ensure their voices continue to be listened to.

“The hope is that this summit will have made people more climate-aware, but the onus is on Governments to lead from the front.”

A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman