As an architecture, COP26 fell foul of all of the regulations. For two weeks, with a notable choreographed chaoticness, the ‘Blue Zone’ negotiating space was removed temporarily from Glasgow as the city was redrawn as a patchwork of private and public occupancy. At times, navigating the COP26 programme felt like a mapless orienteering exercise with few doors and even fewer windows.
The Blue Zone and its ‘phasedown’ outcome illustrated a noticeable lack of any alarm and a conscious attempt to construct a hospitable environment for the negotiators and not the negotiated. As part of the negotiating assemblage, 503 representatives from fossil fuel companies were present. If this lobby were a country it would have the most delegates present in Glasgow (followed by Brazil with 479 negotiators). Within this delegation are over 100 fossil fuel companies and 30 trade associations seemingly present for their own negotiations.
Conscious measures were taken by organisers of COP26 to ensure the protection of those tasked with protecting the planet and inscribed a new geography of spatial significance to the city. Miles of steel hoarding, concrete jersey walls, and an overwhelming presence of fluorescent yellow boundaries redefined the public’s potential for meaningful participation.
In a reactive resistance to this, the existing streets were reclaimed by activists and imbued with a new sense of civic visibility. Rallies, protests and performances redefined the streets of the city as stages for solidarity. Attending the Friday for Future Global Climate Strike was, by some measure, the most resonant experience of our attendance. There was a much-welcomed clarity in hearing the collective voice of the 25,000 strong young persons, parents, teachers, and activists as they marched, sang, and drummed their way from Kelvingrove Park to George Square. Culminating with a rally headlined by Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg, the echoes of ‘blah, blah, blah’ would have been clearly heard by those who would prefer not to listen.
COP26 shone most brightly through the presence of young and future generations.. At 21, Bruno Rodríguez’ demands to protect the rights of nature to avoid “jeopardizing the future of younger generations” illuminated the Fifth International Rights of Nature Tribunal. RCA School of Architecture Dean Adrian Lahoud’s screening of Climate Crimes at the Glasgow Planetarium sparked the inquisitive curiosity and questions of audience members barely older than the 2015 Paris agreement. And Luisa Naubauer, who at 23 successfully filed a revolutionary complaint against her governing representatives in Germany over their insufficient action on reducing emissions, was loudly heard through the trees of Es Devlin’s scenography as an inspiring force in future climate leadership.
It was during Naubauer’s explanation of the ‘gaps’ within current climate law that the influence of staging, technology, and financial backing on the volume and legibility of climate messaging was at its most distinctive. The spatial inequalities were reflected through the production value of events. Some audiences were treated to a spectacle with elevated stages and sponsored sofas and pot plants, crystal clear zoom conferencing on 10-metre cinema-quality screens, and numerous camera operators and sound and lighting technicians. While others crowded small seminar rooms and struggled to operate microphones.
Throughout the week there was a taste of unsettling franchising of the conference which benefited those with the most substantive marketing budget, slickest video conferencing software, and just-for-profit innovation. COP branded whiskeys, formula E cars, PR for techno-solutionism were not to be found at the windowless, basement temporary headquarters of Global Justice Now, a tireless organiser of the COP26 Coalition who resisted the attempts of disenfranchisement and curated the most extraordinarily dense programme of alternative events in the name of climate solidarity.
In its opening and headline event, the People’s Tribunal, a number of judges, rapporteurs, and witnesses including: Lumumba Di-Aping, Vijay Prashad, Pablo Solon, Nnimmo Bassey, and Adrian Lahoud gathered to share evidence in view of simulating a charge against the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change over their inability or unwillingness to address the climate catastrophe. Delivering its verdict, the jury found the convention guilty of six serious charges calling for COP to “disband in its current form and be reconstituted from the ground up” as a means of redress.
Offering his dissent with usual vigour Di-Aping closed the tribunal:
The UNFCCC has allowed itself to be converted at best into a catering company for the G7, at worst into a carbon noose for the global south.
It is through words like Di-Aping’s in which COP’s are battled. As the conference drew to a close, the negotiations once again sucked the world into a whirlpool of jargon. In true British last-minute style, one of the most controversial moments of the 14 days occurred in overtime of the negotiations. “Phase-out unabated coal power” was changed to “phase-down” and this subtle difference set in motion generations of future planetary consequences.
‘Phasing-down’ may well be an accurate echo of the official ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, but Glasgow has shown that the legacy of the conference as a whole does not have to be exclusive to what goes on inside, but how it can inspire those outside. Observing coalitions between geographies, stakeholders, expertise, generations, words and action, spaces and people offers to us a warm respite for the justified malaise that we share. It was in this solidarity - outside - that we observed a vibrant, intelligent, and inspiring phasing-up of collective energy that continues to march on towards COP27.
—Nico Alexandroff, Benjamin Mehigan