COP26: Thousands of delegates yet to get rooms in Glasgow

Thousands of delegates travelling to Scotland for COP26 have still not been able to secure somewhere to stay, with the event facing an “accommodation crisis,” a parliamentary committee has been told.
COP26 starts in Glasgow in less than a week. COP26 starts in Glasgow in less than a week.
COP26 starts in Glasgow in less than a week.

The Scottish Affairs Committee heard that the UK government’s official accommodation provider for the climate change summit has only secured around a third of the hotel rooms in the Greater Glasgow area, and had not done enough to “satisfy demand.”

The joint chair of the Greater Glasgow Hoteliers’ Association admitted that there was not enough official accommodation for the event, which will see up to 30,000 delegates and more than 120 world leaders descend on the city.

Those behind the COP26 homestay network, meanwhile, have so far unsuccessfully attempted to secure emergency accommodation in sports halls and community halls in the city, with around 3000 people on their waiting list.

With less than a week to go before the summit begins, the problems surrounding accommodation poses a major headache for the UK government, which is hosting the conference, particularly with planned strike action from transport unions set to disrupt those intent on travelling to Glasgow from further afield.

Only last month, the Climate Action Network, which represents around 1500 climate civil society organisations, called for COP26 to be postponed due to the rising costs of accommodation and travel, as well as access to Covid-19 vaccines. It warned that the gathering risked excluding government delegates, campaigners, and journalists from Global South nations.

Appearing before the committee, Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, told MPs that all delegates had been able to secure accommodation ahead of the fortnight-long conference.

However, Dr Kat Jones, COP26 project manager at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, a coalition of civil society organisations campaigning together on climate change, said that claim was “not true,” with many delegates left unable to find hotels due to the COP26 certification process.

“There are thousands of delegates who don’t have accommodation because often these badges are not given out until a few weeks beforehand, and most of the accommodation was booked in Glasgow months and months ago,” she said.

“A lot of these delegations that are coming from far afield have to wait until they have the number of badges to book accommodation and travel, and that’s only happening over the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve had contacts from many delegates, many many, and even official delegations from countries, who are not finding accommodation. This is definitely an accommodation crisis we’ve got.”

Janice Fisher, joint chair of the Greater Glasgow Hoteliers’ Association, acknowledged that there was not enough official accommodation within the campus.

She told the committee that MCI Group, a Swiss firm appointed by the UK government as the official accommodation provider for COP26, had a mandate to secure 15,000 rooms on behalf of the United Nations.

But she said: “Within two miles of the exhibition centre, there are actually only 9750 hotel rooms available. Within 20 miles that increases to 14,399.

“MCI only secured one third of that accommodation because they were asked to secure accommodation in other parts of the country as well to encourage a range of offers and pricing.”

She later added: “They would say themselves they did not secure enough to satisfy demand for what is required for the COP.”

Dr Jones said that the COP26 homestay network, a grassroots initiative designed to bring people together and to encourage people in the central belt to host visitors, had been “absolutely swamped,” with over 1,000 people signed up.

“The problem is that’s not enough to meet the demand,” she said. “There is infinite demand.”

Ms Black asked whether the homestay network had become a “sticking plaster” to tackle accommodation issues.

Dr Jones replied: “We have had huge interest in it. We’ve got a waiting list of around 3000 people who haven’t yet found accommodation.

“We needed to keep places for indigenous groups and global south delegations who do not book through the official channels because they can’t afford it.

“You can’t book on the hope you’re going to get 10 badges, and you only get three, and you’re travelling from the Pacific Islands. These people book a month in advance.”

Dr Jones also revealed that the homestay network has even been approached by one ministerial delegation unable to find somewhere to stay, with organisers directing them to the UK government in order to secure rooms.