Skip to main content

Image of Glasgow skyline

Welcome to our ‘Insights from COP26’ page where we will be posting blogs and insights from our delegation at the event.

  • Blog 10 – “COP26: What’s the message on Gender Day?” - by Dr Jessica Lehman, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography (12 November 2021)

“Women and girls are on the frontlines of climate change”, “Climate change is sexist”, “Climate action should have gender equality as a prerequisite”, “Women are not the polluters of the world."

These were the kinds of statements ringing through the meeting rooms and corridors at COP26 on Tuesday, 9 Nov, the day of the conference designated Gender/Science and Innovation Day.

A Presidency Event, titled “Advancing Gender Equality in Climate Action” was a highlight of the day. The event began with a tender exchange between Brianna Fruean, a young climate activist from Samoa, and Little Amal, the 3.5m tall puppet who has been traveling across Europe to bring attention to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. The stage was then taken by a number of high-profile speakers, including US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Director of UN Women Åsa Regnér, Maldives Special Envoy for Climate Change Sabra Noordeen, and founders of climate action groups from various countries.

A range of views and perspectives was represented at this and other Gender day events. However, much of the rhetoric, especially from Global North actors, seemed stuck in tropes familiar from the various iterations of the Women Environment and Development paradigm, which came to prominence in the 1970s/80s. These discourses urge investment in women’s education and enterprise, emphasize gendered vulnerabilities, and assert that women play a special and central role in both development and environmental conservation.

There is no doubt that climate change has gendered impacts. And the education and empowerment of women and girls is obviously a good thing. But too often a simplified version of gender equality is presented as a panacea for the ills of climate change.

First, the practical outcomes of this discourse can serve to ‘responsibilise’ women, placing the burden of mitigating and adapting to climate change on women. Projects and programmes that centre women as key agents of environmental responsibility can actually have disempowering effects. Of these projects, Melissa Leach writes, “‘success’ has often been secured at women’s expense, by appropriating women’s labour, unremunerated, in activities which prove not to meet their needs or whose benefits they do not control” (2007: 72). Moreover, the responsibility for addressing climate change falls on women’s shoulders and not on high emitters like the fossil fuel industry. In addition, the role of men is obscured and the simplistic and essentialising notion that women have a closer relationship to nature is further entrenched.

Second, these discourses homogenise women and essentialise gender. At the COP presidential event, Monica Medina, United States Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, proclaimed, “The climate future is female” Why? She went on to say, “I think it is because we deliver life.” Statements like this reinscribe gender norms, painting women as inherently peaceful, nurturing, in harmony with nature, and biologically reproductive. This flattens the identities and lived experiences of women, and is damaging to those who don’t conform to these norms, especially many LGBTQ+ people.

Third, enthusiasm for ‘investing in women’ and ‘educating girls’ implies a flip-side: what Michelle Murphy calls “a set of unspoken devaluations: of births to be averted; of the less valuable women that uncapitalized girls grow up to be […] and of boys who offer lower rates of return” (2017: 123). Particularly troubling is the frequent inference that educated/capitalized women and girls will have fewer children. Not only has population growth been repeatedly disproven as a major cause of environmental degradation, but this belief, particularly in its more coercive versions, has often been aligned with eugenics logics and human rights abuses. While the Malthusian rhetoric of population control was not explicit in most of the rhetoric shared inside the COP, one didn’t have to look far: Population Matters, a UK charity devoted to reducing population size, brought a giant inflatable baby to Glasgow, emblazoned with a singlet calling for smaller families. 

Finally, including women without pushing for more systemic change won’t accomplish our climate goals. Sometimes, women are the polluters of the world. A fossil fuel company with a woman CEO is not going to produce fewer emissions than one with a man at the helm.

It bears mention, of course, that gender narratives were not uniform across the panel, and on these topics the broader climate movement is far richer, more nuanced, and plurivocal than I’ve outlined here. Notably, but not surprisingly, many more substantive and radical statements at COP26 Gender day came from speakers from the Global South, some of whom were only able to participate via pre-recorded video messages. For example, Angelica Schenerock of the organization Agua y Vida identified patriarchy and capitalism as the root causes of climate change. Tarcila Rivera Zea, an indigenous activist from Peru, spoke of the importance of indigenous women having their own language and land, and of eliminating racism at all levels.

These statements bring a more intersectional and radical approach to questions of gender equality. Yet their relative marginalisation at COP echoes with broader reluctance on the part of the powerful to disrupt the status quo – whether that it concerns greenhouse gases or gender norms. As I took in the events of Gender day, at the back of my mind was a question that continues to nag: what is it about gender equality that makes it more palatable to people, like many of the powerful Global North COP delegates, who resist more systemic change? It’s hard to imagine a day at COP focussed on race, or indigenous people, or the working class. Yet everyone seems on board with championing gender inclusion. Maybe this is just a sign of how successful liberal feminism has been – perhaps to the detriment of more radical and intersectional ways of understanding the unequal impacts of climate change and how we might address them.  


  • Leach, M., 2007. Earth mother myths and other ecofeminist fables: How a strategic notion rose and fell. Development and change, 38(1), pp.67-85
  • Murphy, M., 2017. The economization of life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


  • Blog 9 - “U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s” - by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law, Durham Law School (11 November 2021)

At 6pm on Wednesday, the 10th November, the US and China released an unformatted document called the “U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s”. Talks that led to this declaration started earlier in 2021 but the release of it took the climate community by surprise. It was immediately endorsed as a turning point for the wider negotiations. This morning, however, at the ministerial informal stocktaking, COP26 President Alok Sharma made no reference to the declaration, rather he stressed that “we are not there yet” and called for ministers to find compromise during the remaining hours of this conference. This means to continue working on the draft texts where brackets are still in place after the negotiations at the level of technical negotiators. Nevertheless, last nights’ declaration could be a decisive moment for this conference, and define to some extent who can claim ownership of any success story that comes out of COP26. Compromise and sharing are the order of the hour on all matters COP.

The following points make the declaration so important.

Both countries affirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement’s temperature target and are “alarmed by reports including the Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report released on August 9th, 2021, further recognize the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis.”

They are committed to tackling the seriousness of the climate crisis through accelerated action in the 2020s and recognise that this decade is critical. There is a strong focus on procedure that is shaped through “cooperation in multilateral processes”, including through the UNFCCC, “to avoid catastrophic impacts”.

The commitment goes beyond this bilateral cooperation, both countries strengthen their firm commitment to step up efforts for closing the gap between the global efforts and their aggregate effect thus far, and the efforts that are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Closing this gap is seen as “vital”, and is to be achieved through acting individually, jointly and together with other parties, through “stepped up efforts”. These efforts will include “accelerating the green and low-carbon transition and climate technology innovation.” There is an intention to seize “this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy.”

Closer Cooperation is envisaged with respect to the following areas (extracts from the declaration):

      1. regulatory frameworks and environmental standards related to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the 2020s; 
      2. maximizing the societal benefits of the clean energy transition; 
      3. policies to encourage decarbonization and electrification of end-use sectors;  
      4. key areas related to the circular economy, such as green design and renewable resource utilization; and
      5. deployment and application of technology such as CCUS and direct air capture.

The significant role of methane emissions are addressed through “increased action to control and reduce such emissions, and this is a “matter of necessity in the 2020s.”

The declaration sets out that to this end (extracts from the declaration):

    1. The two countries intend to cooperate to enhance the measurement of methane emissions; to exchange information on their respective policies and programs for strengthening management and control of methane; and to foster joint research into methane emission reduction challenges and solutions.
    2. The United States has announced the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan.
    3. Taking into account the above cooperation, as appropriate, the two sides intend to do the following before COP 27:
      1. They intend to develop additional measures to enhance methane emission control, at both the national and sub-national levels.
      2.  In addition to its recently communicated NDC, China intends to develop a comprehensive and ambitious National Action Plan on methane, aiming to achieve a significant effect on methane emissions control and reductions in the 2020s.
    4. The United States and China intend to convene a meeting in the first half of 2022 to focus on the specifics of enhancing measurement and mitigation of methane, including through standards to reduce methane from the fossil and waste sectors, as well as incentives and programs to reduce methane from the agricultural sector.

Cooperation for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will include policies to support renewable energy generation, transmission policies that balance electricity supply and demand across broad geographies, distribution policies that encourage solar, storage and energy solutions that are closer to the end user, and policies and standards to reduce electricity waste.

In terms of individual commitments, the “United States has set a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.” China commits to “phase down coal consumption” and make the best efforts to accelerate this work. Both sides “recall their respective commitments regarding the elimination of support for unabated international thermal coal power generation.”

Finally, concerning COP26, an “ambitious, balanced, and inclusive outcome on mitigation, adaptation, and support” is supported by both sides. The aim of achieving as soon as possible the finance goal of developed countries of raising jointly $100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries is stressed, and cooperation for finalising the Paris Agreement Rulebook for Articles 6 and 13 Paris Agreement and common time frames for NDCs is promised.

During the 2020s a “Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s” will be established “which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade.”

Through this cooperation, “continued policy and technical exchanges, identification of programs and projects in areas of mutual interest” could be facilitated, and “meetings of governmental and non-governmental experts” could take place, also to consider progress made and the need for additional efforts, and “reviewing the implementation of the Joint Statement and this Joint Declaration.”

This COP has seen various statements of this nature emerging, and a considerable number of agreements between “coalitions of the willing”. During the informal stocktaking on afternoon of 11th November, UN General Secretary António Guterres explicitly called on countries, financial institutions, private actors and think tanks, to build these coalitions and work together to implement the enormous transformational changes that the energy transition demands. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa reinforced the message that only through these coalitions would the necessary shift be possible. In an inclusive multilateralism, all stakeholders must be united and facilitate solidarity with communities whose lives are getting worse. 

The US-China declaration emphasizes that these individual and joint approaches remain embedded within the wider UNFCCC processes. Since international negotiations depend on the good will of all governments, going forward in pairs or small groups can accelerate progress. This is not entirely unusual, it is policy integration between states at different speeds. Moreover, such sectoral integration could spill over to other areas where differences between partnering countries exist. As the US special envoy John Kerry stated when the declaration was released, “The U.S. and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate, cooperation is the only way to get things done.” That cooperation is the way to get things done, might (need to) be re-discovered for other areas where mutual interests or common concerns exists. For the UNFCCC process, it is crucial to have this leadership that is coupled with multilateral efforts in building consensus.

The cover decisions that have been published in draft versions so far, are presidential “wish lists”. They are based on the maximum agreement between Parties that appears to be possible at this point. Further changes might lie ahead, and they could go in both directions. In fact, the informal stocktaking in the morning was cut short to allow time for further negotiations in the afternoon, in the hope that more progress will be made. The US - China declaration might prove to be an incentive for that.

NGOs representing indigenous peoples and environmental organizations have already voiced some criticism of the draft decisions. They are concerned that there is an imbalance between the detailed mitigation section of the proposed COP decision 1/CP26 and the less concrete part on adaptation. This could pose a risk for adaptation finance and the recognition of the importance of climate adaptation more widely within the process.

These draft decisions have been labeled as “agreements” in some media statements. Decisions of conferences of Parties represent the outcome of the summit, they regularly include phrases that start with “welcomes”, “urges” and “recognizes”. Yet they are different from international agreements in the sense of a treaty, they are not, per se, legally binding. That does not mean that they are not important or relevant for the treaty and the refinement of states’ obligations. These decisions can elaborate on treaty provisions, and they are taken in accordance with the mandate that is included in the respective treaty. Consequently, one method of halting progress in negotiations is to argue that a certain part of a decision is not covered by the treaty based mandate.

If adopted, decisions 1/CP.26 and 1/CMA.3 will have an important interpretative function for the understanding of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, and depending on the language, they will dynamically develop the climate change regime. For example, recognizing the scientific evidence of the IPCC reports would be a decisive step in the right direction, and the reference to phasing down fossil fuels would be significant progress: neither the UNFCCC nor the Paris Agreement contain such reference. Whether legally binding agreement or political commitment: concrete domestic action in line with the best available science must follow those promises that have been made in the past, and those that will be made at COP26, and ambition must accelerate for achieving the overall promise of keeping the 1.5 Degree Celsius target within reach.  

Find out more:


  • Blog 8 – “Three days to go and a lot of heavy lifting still to do” – by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law, Durham Law School (10 November 2021)

Alok Sharma has no easy task on his hands.  On [Tuesdays] news conference he noted that while some good progress had been made, “we still have a mountain to climb over the next few days”.

As COP26 President, Sharma has invited pairs of Ministers to lead informal consultations on important and still unresolved issues that must be addressed to finalise the Paris Agreement Rulebook. These consultations are closed and will proceed through informal meetings “to allow for maximum flexibility”. The objective is to enable and accelerate progress through working rapidly towards finalising texts that reflect consensus.

The following issues are being addressed through these consultations: Mitigation and the issue of keeping 1.5 Degree Celsius within reach; Adaptation; Article 6 of the Paris Agreement; Common Time Frames; Finance; Loss & Damage; Enhanced Transparency Framework; Linkages.

There is certainly a sense of urgency and meetings last well beyond late nights and into early mornings. The draft of the “cover” Decision 1/CP.26 in the version of 10th November (at 05:48am) as proposed by the President includes a direct affirmation of climate science findings. The following draft extracts make clear what is at stake in articulating scientific targets through legal process. The Conference of Parties   

Recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this requires meaningful and effective action by all Parties in this critical decade on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge”


Also recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C by 2100 requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century”.

The draft text of Decision 1/CMA.3 (as the decision of the Parties meeting under the Paris Agreement), version of 10th November 2021, was issued shortly after the draft of Decision 1/CP.26 (at 05:51am) and includes the same wording. This renewed emphasis in both drafts on the lower temperature target that the Paris Agreement sets forth, would be a significant development. It would endorse the findings of the IPCC and the UNFCCC Synthesis report.  

As a further development, a paragraph is included that specifically mentions fossil fuels and “calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. If there is agreement, these decisions could contribute to the dynamic evolution of the international climate change regime, even though they are at sub-treaty level. The next task is, of course, to find consensus so that they can be adopted.  

Some major economies stressed in the negotiations that any elements that, in their view, go beyond the original mandate and open up the negotiations on the Paris Agreement itself, could not be supported.

In terms of climate finance, draft Decision 1/CP.26 further reads that the Conference of Parties “Notes with regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met” and it “Acknowledges the Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the USD 100 Billion Goal presented by developed country Parties and the collective actions contained therein”. This plan was developed jointly by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada and the State Secretary, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Germany, at the invitation of the COP26 President. Based on the pledges received by developed countries up to October 2021, the plan outlines the expectation that developed countries will make significant progress towards the US$100 billion goal in 2022. The plan speaks of confidence that this goal will then be met in 2023 and that it will likely be exceeded in subsequent years.

It is unclear how the impasse on negotiations on the guidance on cooperative approaches under Article 6, paragraph 2, and the Rules, modalities and procedures for the mechanism established by Article 6, paragraph 4, will be resolved. If these core problems are not solved, the Paris Agreement Rulebook would again be left unfinished, and a decision on the important market instruments postponed for a later climate summit. New texts were issued at 1am in the morning of the 10th November, with several brackets yet to be removed. The International Emissions Trading Association estimates that a potential cost reduction of implementing nationally determined contributions (NDCs) using the Article 6 instruments would amount to $250 billion per year in 2030. Market mechanisms therefore not only make achieving NDCs cheaper, they could also lead to enhanced ambition. The quality of the rules is important, in particular around accounting. COP26 has formed new “coalitions of the willing” but time is running fast at this climate summit for the heavy lifting ahead.  

Find out more:


  • Blog 7 - The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement  - “It always seems impossible until it is done” - by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law, Durham Law School (9 November 2021)

“It always seems impossible until it is done”, were the words of former US Vice President, Al Gore, in the COP26 Plenary. Last Friday, 5th of November, he sent an encouraging message to delegations: “we can do this together”. It is not the solution to the climate crisis that is lacking, but rather the political will. And yet Gore stressed that political will is always a “renewable resource”. His speech started with a science lesson, pointing to the devastating consequences of the most extreme weather events globally. It ended with an emphasis on solutions and solidarity with the next generation and those countries that are worst affected by climate change.

Al Gore highlighted the “Sustainability revolution” as the biggest investment opportunity in the world, with green hydrogen being the solution the fossil fuel industry had been hoping that it would never be found. In 2020, 90 percent of newly added electricity capacity worldwide came from renewable energy sources, mainly solar and wind energy. Scaling this up demands international cooperation, and  the pledge of the US, the UK and the EU to provide US$8.5 billion to help South Africa transition to solar electricity may provide a model for such targeted cooperation.

The timing for this forceful speech was certainly well chosen. It came shortly after the COP26 Presidency had announced two “soft” law instruments as major outcomes of the first week, one concerning the end to deforestation, and the second one sending “coal on its way out”.

133 Parties, including the European Union, have signed up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and together, they represent 90.07% of the planet’s forests. All signatories have committed collectively to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 (links to full statements and reports are provided at the end of this blog). The declaration is a positive step, not least because it stresses the interconnectivity of different binding international treaties. This emphasis on the interdependency of forests, biodiversity and sustainable land use is a concretisation and a re-affirmation of existing commitments, with references in the text to the collective and individual commitments that exist under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Sustainable Development Goals and under “other relevant initiatives”. The declaration is also a success because Australia, Brazil, China, as well as Russia and the US have signed up to it. The exact scope of the commitments will depend on the interpretation of critical words such as “reverse”.

A significantly smaller number of twelve signatories, including Canada, Germany, Japan, the EU, Norway and the US has agreed to the Global Forest Finance Pledge. The pledge announces the “Intention to collectively provide US$12 billion for forest-related climate finance between 2021-2025” in the hope that this will “incentivise results and support action in Official Development Assistance (ODA) eligible forest countries where increased ambition and concrete steps are shown towards ending deforestation by no later than 2030.”

The second major commitment concerns the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement. The text is not binding but somewhat resembles an international treaty, with four paragraphs setting out the commitments for signatories. It starts with a brief preamble “We, the undersigned, noting that coal power generation is the single biggest cause of global temperature increases, recognise the imperative to urgently scale-up the deployment of clean power to accelerate the energy transition.” The statement includes the shared vision to accelerate ending unabated coal power generation, in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature targets, while ensuring access to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 (SDG7)”.

This introduction is followed by four “operational” paragraphs.


The first sets the objective to

 “[R]apidly scale up our deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures in our economies, and to support other countries to do the same, recognising the leadership shown by countries making ambitious commitments, including through support from the Energy Transition Council” (ETC).

The ETC was launched by the UK Government ahead of COP26, as part of its COP26 Presidency. The purpose of the ETC is to support countries in meeting their energy demand while moving away from fossil fuels, and ensuring a just transition. The ETC connects partner countries through dialogues and involves key stakeholders for solution-oriented and needs driven approaches. As part of the 2022 strategic priorities it was agreed at COP26 that the ETC will continue at least until COP30 in 2025. A project with the ETC concerning legal support for raising ambition under the Paris Agreement is ongoing at Durham Law School.

The second paragraph of the statement refers to rapidly scaling up the technological means and policies in this decade that are necessary to

“[A]chieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for major economies and in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) globally, consistent with our climate targets and the Paris Agreement, recognising the leadership shown by countries making ambitious commitments, including through the Powering Past Coal Alliance.”

The statement defines “unabated coal power generation” as “the use of coal power that is not mitigated with technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), in accordance with the G7 and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) definition in the “Net-zero by 2050 report”. In his speech, Al Gore made clear that there is “no such thing as clean coal”. He had the numbers to support his claim. Worldwide, carbon capture and storage projects only capture 36.6 million tonnes carbon, the equivalent of less than 6 hours of global emissions per year.

One reading of the time horizon that is envisaged for the transition away from coal would be that as a general rule, by 2039 at the latest, all major economies will accomplish the shift. However, the text in the brackets “or as soon as possible thereafter” could also be understood as an alternative to the “in the 2030s” rule and, in effect, mean 2040 and beyond. A good faith interpretation must, therefore, stress that the brackets matter, and that signatories have no intention to make use of the longer time horizon.  

The third paragraph concerns the issuance of permits for new unabated coal-fired power generation projects and to cease new construction of unabated coal-fired power generation projects. It includes ending new direct governmental support for unabated international coal-fired power generation.

This commitment refers back to the mentioned IEA report that stated that for pathways consistent with limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 Degree Celsius, no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be added. The declaration makes a start on this with coal as the most polluting fossil fuel. Given that the international law principle of the permanent sovereignty over natural resources guarantees every state the right to extract, this is a significant limitation of this principle and reflects progress that must be built upon in subsequent steps.

The fourth and final paragraph pledges to strengthen the domestic and international efforts to provide a robust framework for a just and inclusive transition and to “expand access to clean energy for all”.

The overall positive development of this Global Coal to clean Power Transition Statement is that it increased the membership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, with Ukraine, Poland and Singapore bringing the total number of participating signatories to 46. If China, India and the US were to join, this would increase the significance of the commitment considerably. Finally, it is worth mentioning that not every signatory could agree to everything. Botswana, Hungary, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Morocco, for example, endorsed some but not all elements of the four paragraphs. Some subnational units also signed up, such as Jeju, Special Self-Governing Province, Republic of Korea, The State of Hawaii, and The State of Oregon, as well as the Australian Capital Territory Act Government. Signatory corporate actors include ASWA Power, Carbon Tracker, EDF Group, Legal and General and Ørsted.

Find out more:

Read about the work of Dr Petra Minnerop including the ETC project.

Interested in studying law? Take a look at our undergraduate and postgraduate oportunities.

Read the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the The Global Forest Finance Pledge

Read the The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, the G7 Definition of unabated coal power generation and the International Energy Agency “Net-zero by 2050 report”.


  • Blog 6 - Corporate and policy confusion whilst a pathway to net-zero emerges - by Dr Andrew Smallbone, Department of Engineering (8 November 2021) 

The City of Glasgow knows it’s in the world’s gaze with COP26 banners and posters covering the anti-vax graffiti.

It’s very much an event of our time, for many, the first for a while not on Zoom. Paranoid delegates are travelling on packed trains from Edinburgh in COP26-branded facemasks. We share the joy of waiting in a queue for a shuttlebus whilst being politely asked by protestors if “you have read the latest IPCCC report?” and “would you like help in interpreting it?”. I wasn’t sure if they were interpreting it right or not but I wasn’t going to spend long disagreeing.

As you travel on the bus, it’s clear that our high streets have changed. Every brand we know has rebranded and they are more ethically minded than they were before the UN turned-up. From fast fashion to the supermarkets everybody is shamelessly suggesting that their corporation has just done something quite magical for climate change and now it’s over to somebody else to do the rest. Much of it is quite absurd. The links between climate change and estate agents are quite tenuous and often confusing climate change with something else. It all lacks credibility but the elephants do look rather good on a poster.

The venue is out of the centre, a more dystopian environment, monitored by a very visible police presence and secure zones only for delegates. Despite the 26,000 delegates, it feels very quiet. Covid-19 tests, security scans and then into the “Green Zone” where more of the corporate sponsors are out to prove that they have done more since the last poster and are still mixing-up climate change with something else.

Inside is again full of confusion. We’re here to urgently understand and find solutions for climate change but it’s a venue mostly full of people succeeding in broadening its scope to also include their pet projects. Addressing climate change is difficult enough but it seems its being used as a platform to highlight many of the world’s other pressing societal and environmental issues. Reducing single use plastic, recycling, cricket pitch management etc. are important sustainability issues in their own right but it’s supposed to be “a minute to midnight on the doomsday clock” and we’re still talking about the choice of cups! We need to move on to the more critical and urgent questions like “how do we replace natural gas?”, “how far can a net-zero aeroplane really fly?” or “how do we make agriculture emissions net-zero?“. These aren’t solved by a hashtag and require national infrastructural solutions which will take from now to 2050 to deliver.

Beyond the tedious need to make “personal pledges” to switch brands to “save a cute animal”, a new more important focus around climate change is emerging. Confidence is growing that a net-zero policy can be achieved at least on a national or collective basis with implications for nation states and corporations if they refuse to deliver.

The transition to net-zero has always been seen as something that’s impossibly expensive. Of course its very likely that it’s going to cost more than business as usual. However, its clear that corporate and political leadership are now coming to terms with this. Most are panicking and confusing climate change with something that can be fixed overnight with a false marketing opportunity. However, this is starting to feel more than aspirational and real-world plans are being shaped and funded.

We see an emergence of new technologies across renewables, transport and hydrogen which can be scaled-up. The cost of the transition to net-zero is now generally seen as the main barrier. The counter being “how much would you be prepared to pay to preserve your comfortable lifestyle for your grandchildren?”.

These numbers shouldn’t be feared as they are to be spent over decades and would in most cases be spent anyway in improving our ageing national energy and transport infrastructures.  With the right policies, net-zero is now a genuine commercial opportunity. The reality is that the scale-up of the renewable wind and solar energy sectors has delivered a form of electrical energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels.

A targeted period of state-led intervention into innovation followed by commercial revenues from mass production and scale-up is an effective and proven model. This has delivered on cost targets and we now have a positive case study for how other key technologies of a net-zero world can be delivered over the next 30 years. The big price tag for addressing climate change is shrinking – by how much? – who knows just yet but the key thing is that it’s looking more feasible than ever before.

The event was full of technology demonstrations showing what’s possible across heating, electricity, transport, agriculture and manufacturing. However it urgently needs decisions and commitment to be made as 30 years is not much time to build a new energy system.

As I left the confusion and hypocrisy of the venue, it struck me as to the importance that scientists and engineers have in delivering and presenting the realities and challenges to corporate and political leadership. Furthermore, Engineers will be responsible for bringing forward the solutions for a net-zero world. This is a huge opportunity but a huge amount of pressure as the alternative to this reality is stark.

 Find out more:

Read more about the work of Dr Andrew Smallbone and his latest project on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming.

Discover more about undergraduate and postgraduate oportunities in our Department of Engineering


  • Blog post 5 -  Questioning the Corporation - by Professor Andrew Russell, Department of Anthropology (4 November 2021)

What do Unilever, SSE, Sky, Scottish Power, Sainsbury’s, Reckitt, NatWest, National Grid, Microsoft, Hitachi and GSK have in common?  Apart from being well-known corporate conglomerates, they are all major sponsors of COP26 - the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  To become a major sponsor they had to make pledges complying with the temperature target of the Paris Agreement, and work with CDP (a not-for-profit NGO formerly known as the Carbon Delivery Project) on disclosure and meeting their environmental impact targets.

November 3rd 2021 was Finance Day at COP26. It was marked by a plenary meeting at which Mark Carney, former Director of the Bank of England, made an announcement about the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ).  GFANZ has garnered commitments from 450 firms with $130 trillion in assets to head for zero net emissions by 2050 and to support low and middle-income countries to do the same.  Gillian Tett, chair of the editorial board of the Financial Times and trained as a social anthropologist (Tett 2021), moderated the meeting at which Carney spoke.  For her, this COP is remarkable compared to previous COPs because “the money men and the money women are in town”.  She cautioned, though, that with all talk of trillions of dollars, we need to remember that people, not metrics, are at the receiving end of climate change and that equity, inclusion and social justice must be part of the financial package.

This is heady stuff for an anthropologist used to attending the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) COPs where, at next week’s FCTC COP9, discussion is likely to revolve around the proposal to set up a $50m ‘FCTC Investment Fund’ worth around $2m per year.  This reflects the distinctive approach of the FCTC and its highly significant Article 5.3.  Article 5.3 seeks to keep the tobacco industry, with its history of dirty tricks and weasel words, firmly out of tobacco control policies and practice. Nothing like Article 5.3 exists for the UNFCCC – although many environmental campaigners argue that something should.  Not all corporations can be UNFCCC COP sponsors – some that tried (e.g. Shell) were rejected due to the inadequacy of their net zero plans and  commitments.

In marked contrast to tobacco, big business plays a central role in climate change discussions.  Financial institutions such as NatWest can be part of the discussions under the Paris Agreement because of its important Article 2.1(c) that states finance flows must be “consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”. What is clear from walking around the massive COP26 venue is that companies which might hitherto have been ‘part of the problem’ are now acting up as ‘part of the solution’.  Some call this greenwashing.  Yet there seems to be more going on than some kind of superficial corporate social responsibility agenda.  Gillian Tett joked that maybe the distinctive pink colour of the Financial Times should change to green for all the environmentally-focussed articles it has contained recently.

There are those who would argue that ultimately corporations can never operate for the good of all humanity – the ‘fiduciary imperative’, to put the welfare and best interests of the corporation and its shareholders above all else, is too strong for that.  Anthropologists Stuart Kirsch and Pete Benson (2010) describe ‘harm industries’ such as tobacco and mining that are never going to be of net benefit to the health of people and planet.  Others extend this analysis, arguing that every corporation represents the ‘pathological pursuit of profit and power’ (Bakan 2005).   Yet taken another way, as well as profit, corporations act for the global fulfilment of consumer desires.  Mark Fisher (2012) argues that we shall never dispense with our Starbucks and our Walmarts completely, whatever reservations we might have about using them, because we are too fond of their convenience and conviviality.  Yet the climate crisis calls for urgent modification and moderation of such desires – to break down an addiction to carbon that is, arguably, just as potent an addiction as that to tobacco. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many people’s priorities and tempered desires for carbon-emitting pleasures, like flying, previously regarded as normal.  Maybe now is the time for a radical shift into uncharted financial waters.  Global conventions such as the UNFCCC and the FCTC, for all their faults, may be all we have; the UNFCCC in particular, with its subsidiary Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, are probably the biggest and most extensive forms of global consensus-building ever undertaken for secular purposes.  They are certainly our best chance of proceeding with Tett’s priorities of equity, inclusivity and justice for all.    


Bakan, J. (2005) The Corporation:  The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Benson, P. and S. Kirsch (2010) ‘Capitalism and the Politics of Resignation’, Current Anthropology, 51(4): 459-86.

Fisher, M. (2012) ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’, in F. Campagna and E. Campiglio (eds) What We Are Fighting For: A Radical Collective Manifesto.  London: Pluto Press, pp. 131–39.

Tett, G. (2021) Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life.  London: Random House Business Books.

  • Blog post 4 - After the World Leaders Summit - by Dr Petra Minnerop, Durham Law School (3 November 2021)

Head of States, royalty and celebrities have left Glasgow and negotiators of UNFCCC Parties go back to work. What is it like to be a negotiator or legal adviser at a climate summit? Speaking to some of them, it becomes evident that their days are very long, filled with consultations, meetings, networking – and finding compromise. For most negotiators and legal advisers, the work of finalising the Paris Agreement Rulebook and reviewing the implementation of the UNFCCC and the progress made under the Paris Agreement started a week before the official start date in Glasgow. They will spend three weeks at the Conference Centre. Meetings take place in various forms, as COP – the meeting of Parties under the UNFCCC, as CMP – the meeting of Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, and as CMA – the meeting of Parties under the Paris Agreement. In addition, there are meetings of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, as well as working groups and other smaller meetings and events in countries’ pavilions. For the first time, this COP hosts also a Science pavilion. All of this is centred in the UNFCCC managed ‘Blue Zone’.

Negotiators hardly ever go into the ‘Green zone’ where civil society is showcasing novel climate solutions, academic research, innovation and entrepreneurship and many good practices – their  schedules are too busy. At 10pm every night, the schedule for the next day is published. In the morning, negotiating groups, for example the least developed country (LDC) Parties have a coordinating meeting where the delegations come together to inform and clarify positions. Following that, experts on the many and sometimes highly technical issues, such as loss and damage, enhanced transparency, biennial reporting formats, or cooperative market-based approaches, enter separate meeting rooms. Meetings there can last several hours. This week is dominated by informal consultations and sharing of statements on governments' positions and the results of sub-body working groups, many of these having taken place as session meetings spread over the entire year. In that sense, COP-ing never starts or ends, it rather culminates at a climate summit. Due to COVID restrictions this year, observers only have a slim chance of attending these meetings in person – and even the access for some negotiators and advisers can be restrained, limiting access to two negotiators per delegation. There is some anticipation that this might change in the second week, after positions have become clearer and are nearing a compromise. Compromise will be necessary, and reading the positions that are available on the UNFCCC website already indicates that some ‘deals’ will be incredibly hard fought for. Delegations of 197 sovereign States naturally disagree on the importance attached to various agenda items and technical issues, as detailed as some of these may appear to be. The day for negotiators and legal advisers often does not end before midnight, and when the official premises close, work continues in meetings elsewhere or remotely from hotel accommodation.

The expected end product this year is not another international treaty but a long list of Parties’ decisions that further clarify how provisions of the Paris Agreement are to be understood and implemented. The Paris Agreement sets forth a set of provisions that need to be fleshed out further.  On some issues, no agreement could be found when the Paris Agreement was concluded in 2015, leaving them open for further negotiations and subsequent agreement. Some of these issues remained unresolved at COP24 in Katowice when the so-called Paris Agreement Rulebook was adopted. These outstanding items must now be addressed to fully operationalise the Paris Agreement. Stakes are high and the language matters. Words for implementing guidelines are carefully chosen by negotiating Parties. A “shall” replaced by “should” will turn a legal obligation into a strong recommendation; a rule that is accompanied by “as appropriate” gives considerable leeway to a Party’s discretion when implementing it.

Disparities and divisions can appear to be insurmountable. Yet at the same time, seeing the world come together in Glasgow with masks on every single face is a stark reminder that there is no escape on this planet and only hope coupled with persistent efforts and creativity can move us forward. On the way out, all delegates, Parties and Observers, leave for the same exits, passing an exceedingly high number of security personnel and police officers, heading for designated COP26 buses. Outside the conference area, angry youth demonstrators have turned against the traffic and organised a march through the city, demanding intergenerational equity and social justice. The bus driver kindly explains the walking direction to the train station. Tomorrow, negotiators will be back to continue their busy meeting schedule, and they will do so until the very end of the conference, hopefully removing bracket after bracket from the negotiating texts and bringing us closer to keeping the 1.5 Degree Celsius target alive.

Find out more:

Read about the work of Dr Petra Minnerop

Interested in studying law? Take a look at our and oportunities.

  • Blog post 3 - Questioning 'the general public' - by Professor Andrew Russell, Department of Anthropology (3 November 2021)

The ‘Green Zone’ is a unique feature of COP26, “open to the public at the Glasgow Science Centre”.  Separated from the negotiations, side events, exhibits and cultural displays taking place in the ‘Blue Zone’ across the River Clyde, the Green Zone is, in theory, open to all.  The Blue Zone, by contrast, is open only to representatives of the 197 countries or ‘Parties’ to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as representatives of the plethora of International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) accredited in advance by the UNFCCC.   The Green Zone is described in the stakeholder involvement document as “a platform for the general public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists, business and others to have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks that promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments”. 

The ‘general public’ is always an ambiguous and contested category at transnational mega-events such as this. A comparison with the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) COPs may be useful here.  Both the FCTC and the UNFCCC share something of a ‘cultural imaginary’ of a non-partisan local person coming in to find out more about what is going on at the COP.  Yet it is questionable just how many members of the general public are attending any of the events being put on in the Green Zone.  Most people without a prior commitment to COP26 to whom I have spoken in and around Glasgow, having seen maps covered in red indicating areas where travel disruption during COP26 is likely, have no intention of going near the place.  A threatened strike by Scotrail RMT workers, called off at the last minute, and the possibility of demonstrations and police cordons have furthered people’s resolve not to get involved.  The only people I spoke to during my sortie into the Green Zone who were not accredited with the main COP26 were representatives of Christian evangelical groups eager to share their own solutions to the climate crisis with me.

Unlike the UNFCCC, early FCTC COPs made space in their plenary sessions and even their Committee meetings for ‘Members of the Public’ (MoPs) to sit at the back of the auditorium and – as ‘non-participants’ – to listen to what was going on.  The reality of the situation, however, was that most MoPs were far from naïve locals, but instead were tobacco industry representatives seeking to monitor what was going on, the better to undermine it.  Delegates from Low and Middle Income countries in particular expressed concerns that they could not speak openly in meetings where MoPs were present for fear that what they said would get back to their government sponsors, some of whom were in the pockets of the industry.  Thus as the COPs developed, access for MoPs became more and more restricted.  The venues also became less accessible to those without passes or correct documentation.

The UNFCCC has dealt with MoPs differently, not by granting them access to the main negotiating site but, instead, offering them a separate ‘Green Zone’.  Security is tight, and negative Lateral Flow Test results mandatory.  Yet even within the Blue Zone, at least for the period of the World Leaders’ Summit at COP26, those with ‘observer status’ badges have been denied access to the plenary auditoria and meeting rooms where negotiations are taking place.  This is despite many of the meetings being described in the programme as ‘Open’.  Covid-19 restrictions are only a partial explanation of these untoward restrictions.  Unlike the FCTC, though, such meetings will never be open to MoPs, although at least the opening ceremony was live-streamed on Zoom for those who were interested.

Find out more:


  • Blog 2-  The role of activists at COP26 and elsewhere - by Professor Andrew Russell, Department of Anthropology (2 November 2021)

“Don’t I know you from Greenpeace days?” said someone who came up to me in the Science Pavilion at COP26 yesterday.  Now working on green issues for a different NGO, and mistaking me for someone else partly due to our masks, her confusion reminded me how fluid the division between activism and global environmental diplomacy can be.  In the national news bulletins around COP26, the division between those inside the corridors of COP26 and those outside is portrayed in stark terms.  Greta Thunberg’s statement about COP insiders talking ‘blah, blah, blah’ without the intention of getting anything done hits a chord with climate change activists the world over. 

The division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is further demonstrated by the heavy police and security presence around the Scottish Exhibition Centre where COP26 is being held.  Partly this is because of the unusual presence of so many world leaders in one place at the same time, partly a compounded sense of oversight due to the Covid-19 restrictions – for example, the need to show one’s morning Lateral Flow Test result at the turnstile gates into the compound, the need to marshal people away from congested areas within.  The activists gathering elsewhere in the city express their sense of exclusion most vociferously.  Yet activist marginalization has been a common theme of UNFCCC COPs for most of their history.  Edward Maclin writes of his experiences in and around Copenhagen’s 2009 COP15.  He found himself in the middle of a crowd of protestors who were increasingly squeezed while a double row of Copenhagen riot police steadily advanced.  He goes on to describe how he “escaped the police kettling by wading through a waist-deep stream of cold water (unfortunately, perhaps—because I missed the assembly inside)” (Maclin, 2010: 466).

There is something of a contrast between with the role of activists at the two Framework Conventions I have had the privilege to research.  I remember talking with a former environmental activist employed by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) at the first COP I attended for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCA is an umbrella organization with observer status representing over 300 NGO groups from 100 countries. In her previous job, the FCA employee reflected, the closest she would have got to the corridors of power was banging a dustbin lid outside the conference venue, whereas with the FCA she was able to make things happen within the COP itself.  Like the woman who accosted me in the Science Pavilion, there are many current and former activists working within the structures of the UNFCCC – Maclin himself mentions how some of the Copenhagen delegates were simultaneously marching out in order to show solidarity with the activists’ who were trying to get in to organise a democratic ‘People’s Assembly’.  Such hybridity complicates the adversarial picture of ‘activists’ vs. ‘delegates’.  Such a binary is less in evidence at the FCTC where there is common cause, expressed in Article 5.3, in developing public health policies protected “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.  There is no such commonly agreed enemy at the UNFCCC, and hence the greater bifurcation of activists into those who seek to work within existing structures, and those who aim to be a thorn in the side of COP26.


Maclin, E. (2010) The 2009 UN Climate Talks: Alternate Media and Participation from Anthropologists.  American Anthropologist, 112(3): 464-6.


  • Blog post 1 - COP26 – Reflections on Day 1 - by Professor Andrew Russell, Department of Anthropology (31 October 2021)

We were standing in the pouring rain on 31st October waiting to get into the Scottish Exhibition Centre for the start of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - COP26 as it is popularly known.  As we did so the umbrella-less (or, at least, those like me who had left their umbrellas behind or whose trains had been cancelled due to floods) were well able to reflect on the unpleasant effects of climate change.  Who was to blame?  It was not only our personal failings but the failings of the organisers to provide adequate awnings that proved our inadequacies when it comes to adapting to extreme weather events.  What on earth were we were doing there at ten o’clock on a Sunday, wet through, waiting to get into what is probably the world’s last chance to agree on goals of mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration in time to avert catastrophe? 

I am attending COP26 as one of Durham University’s observer delegation.  My research interest is in the structure and organization of what Little, describing the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, calls ‘transnational mega-events’.  My comparator are the last five COPs of a different Framework Convention, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (the FCTC).  Interestingly enough, the FCTC’s 9th COP is taking place next week, online.  Compared to the UNFCCC, the FCTC COPs are much more low-key affairs.  I am sure someone is calculating the carbon emissions that have been involved in bringing an estimated 25,000 people together in Glasgow for CO26.  The planes coming into land at Glasgow Airport over my mother-in-law’s house in Bearsden to the west of the city certainly reflect an increase in air traffic.  Maybe future UNFCCC COPs should take a leaf out of the FCTC’s book and go online?  Apart from an unnecessarily high carbon footprint, such a policy would help avoid the political posturing, razzmatazz and rain that so far seems characteristic of COP26.


Little, P.E. (1995) Ritual, Power and Ethnography at the Rio Earth Summit.  Critique of Anthropology, 15(3): 265-88.Ritual, Power