Exhilarating and irritating - COP26 brings mixed fortunes to city | Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
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Exhilarating and irritating - COP26 brings mixed fortunes to city

By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Having a world event of the scale of COP26 dominate your town is in equal measure wildly exhilarating and deeply irritating. 

Rarely has the Chamber had the chance to meet with so many senior decision makers in so short a space of time.  Glasgow is making potential new friends at a spectacular pace. One moment I find myself in conversation with the Peruvian Ambassador to the UK, the next it is the Chief Executive of Nokia. The Chamber alone welcomed over 120 senior delegates from 80 companies and 15 countries for a two-day trade mission focused on sustainable business opportunities and new business done as a result. 

But at the same time, many city businesses in hospitality and retail have been annoyed by the impact the conference has had on their revenues. Pre-COP warnings about protester disruption, transport strikes and VIP security arrangements have chased regular local residents out of the city and drops of 30 to 40% in already subdued trade are not uncommon.  I used the subway on the first Monday morning and found myself sharing a carriage with just a handful of folk.  Transport Scotland added to the misery just before the event opened by asking Glaswegians to avoid unnecessary travel. Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games deliberately planned to make our city centre thrive; COP26 has contrived to do the opposite. 

Delegates are provided for in the conference venue and they are here to work. I spoke with one delegate from Senegal who described a typical day with a very early start, a long journey from Bathgate to the SEC, a day of constant meetings and a trek back to his hotel in the early evening.  With little time to explore the city, he wished he had been able to arrange a few days to explore Glasgow once his contribution was over. Perhaps other delegates will choose to do that. 

Spending some time at the Scottish Events Campus, vastly expanded to accommodate the tens of thousands of delegates, observers, journalists and support staff, hammers home just how complex this process truly is.  Small groups of every age and nationality march purposefully through a maze of meeting rooms, exhibition halls, catering facilities and side events. The digital information screens scroll through a bewildering array of agenda topics.  It is as if Dubai International Airport has been relocated to the banks of the Clyde for a fortnight. 

For a COP novice, understanding what progress is being made by all this activity is not easy. Depending on your perspective it could either be a major step towards tangible action or a scandalous waste of time. One very senior United Nations official I spoke with felt there had been some promising developments. There was a change in mood compared to previous COPs with a more positive expectation that actions will follow, and the corporate business community is much more visible.  Perhaps the most obvious example of that corporate presence is the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. 

Under former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s leadership, 450 financial institutions worldwide have committed to deploying £95 trillion in funds under their management towards net zero aims.  There are potential benefits for Glasgow.  Having Glasgow’s name attached to agreements like GFANZ is helping to solve a visibility problem Glasgow had as a business city.  Who knows, perhaps we can entice Mr Carney to bring GFANZ signatories to Glasgow in future years to explain their progress.  But more importantly, perhaps some of that £95 trillion will help fund the projects like the Glasgow Metro or our growing Innovation Districts that are in the city’s Greenprint for Investment.

This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 10 November 2021

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