The whole world is looking: how to save Glasgow, the city of COP26

This piece by Emanuela Barbiroglio will be published in The Beam #12. Subscribe now to read more on the subject.

Glasgow is not just the next COP destination: it provides blatant evidence of why a global climate conference is needed in the first place. In fact, extreme weather events are already affecting people’s lives and data shows flood events occurred in 2015 – based on complete datasets of property damage, transport impacts and emergency service expenditures –  had an approximate £10 million cost. But a new collaboration will help Glasgow City Region build resilience, by involving businesses and communities. The Beam spoke with those working behind the scenes of the programme.

Clyde Rebuilt, as the programme is called, is bringing together community groups, local councils, universities, businesses and government agencies. The new collective will cooperate in the belief that climate change can best be tackled if different groups from one city or region join forces to find solutions to their specific problems.

It is part of a broader ‘Deep demonstration resilient regions’ programme along with Andalusia in Spain, Nouvelle Aquitaine in France and the Dolomites area in Italy – three European regions that are also at risk from the impact of climate change.

“It’s often said that nations claim, but regions and cities deliver. That’s what we are about,” says James Curran, the chair of an existing group of 15 local organizations called Climate Ready Clyde that, together with EIT Climate-KIC, make up Clyde Rebuilt. Besides, management is provided by the Scottish sustainability charity Sniffer with climate-and-culture experts at Creative Carbon Scotland and climate-change finance experts at Paul Watkiss Associates.

The programme has a long-term vision: a Glasgow City Region that flourishes in a future climate. Indeed, the great River Clyde provides a central flow to our vision, taking in the rich diversity of urban and rural contexts across the region.

So people like Curran will explore how to deliver deep-rooted change that allows the entire area to adapt to climate change and bring lasting benefits for communities by understanding and overcoming political, cultural and economic barriers. They will seek out adaptation ideas that can help create new jobs, bring about nature-based solutions and promote green and blue space because these improvements can bring wider health and well-being benefits, in addition to helping Scotland meet its net-zero commitments.

“It is hard for communities and businesses to act and understand what those implications mean for their places,” Kit England, Climate Ready Clyde manager at Sniffer, explains. “But the regional transition has to be fair, just and inclusive. Doing that well requires everyone to be able to have a say in that process.”

While adaptation might not always have been at the forefront in the journey towards net zero, Curran notes that things are definitely changing, as “there is a lot of climate damage already happening and the message is coming hard.”

“We need to step up,” he adds. “Adaptation is also a key driver to the circular economy, which – I believe – is going to make a great industrial revolution and Glasgow City Region has understood that.”

Clyde Rebuilt is pooling the knowledge of people and organizations across Glasgow City Region to identify and understand the barriers to adaptation. They will then use funding calls to gather innovative solutions to floods and other climate-related events, while developing interest from funders, investors and philanthropists.

Creative Carbon Scotland has already begun to engage with dynamic cultural organisations which would have useful knowledge and contacts to contribute. These include Glasgow Women’s Library (the only museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives and achievements), Rig Arts (a socially engaged arts company in Inverclyde) and Lateral North (an architecture practice working region-wide).

“To build deep-rooted resilience, we need to change across socio-economic-political-environmental systems,” the project lead at EIT Climate-KIC, Ellie Tonks, says. That means developing innovations through local culture and including the most vulnerable and young people: they also have unique knowledge, perspectives, energy and networks that are essential to successful systemic change.

“Together, we are paving the way for practically what it means to work deeply on climate resilience in a region. And that is paving the way for the Adaptation Mission and the EU Green Deal,” Tonks adds.

“Early learning”, England explains, “is helping the European Commission achieve the Green Deal – which includes an adaptation mission with a commitment to support 200 regions across Europe to go through a similar process.”

“The themes for next COP are related to our agenda, around adaptation and resilience, nature-based solutions and finance,” England adds. “We are conscious that the world will be looking at what we are doing and therefore our responses need to be at the global leading edge of that to inspire others to act in the same way.”

All eyes will be on Glasgow at the beginning of next year, when preparation for the delayed COP26 should start and that is why some results are expected from Clyde Rebuilt.