COP 26 blog – A step out into a new world

STEM Education Officer Mairi Thomson reflects on her visit to COP 26 and its legacy.

Leaving for the launch of the New York Times Climate Hub I was struck by the poignancy of the moment: this would be the first time I had been on a train since the pandemic began. Like many, my ‘working from home’ life had quickly adjusted to the daily commute to the back room. It had been easy, all too easy, to avoid the city these last 18 months, managing to strike a balance of working, dog walking and family but the forgotten jacket on the train quickly transported me to the present reminding me this was different!


The city was strangely quiet. I had expected to see scenes of activism just like the ones that had filled my television in the days before. I don’t think people had wearied – just that the carefully curated road closures had led me a different path. The hum of helicopters, the chatter of languages, the green lanyards and the camera bags told me I had reached the Climate Hub.

Through security and COVID checks, inside was an oasis of calm. A reverence for nature greeted me through the living art installation by ES Devlin.  197 trees and plants temporarily installed to represent the 197 countries who ratified the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.  The art cleverly nudged me to breathe in the importance of this COP and to pause and reflect on not only the enormity of the crisis facing humanity but also the urgency.

Each of the evening’s contributors offered up something unique from their perspective.  The New York Times editor in chief spoke of journalists seeking truth to tell the most urgent climate change stories of our time, how they use drones to go places people can’t and how using local photographers shows both intimacy and fear. Describing Greenland’s ice sheet as Swiss cheese reminded me (in case I had forgotten) that climate change is devastatingly real.  Nicola Sturgeon reflected on the significance of COP being hosted in Glasgow, a city at the forefront of the industrial age, how the science shows us we are running out of time, how we need to reduce emissions and reach net zero but without leaving people and communities behind. Beattie Wolfe performed her song from Green to Red as we were treated to a visual representation of 800000 years of carbon emission using data from NASA.

By all measures the night was a success but what measures are our leaders, our activists or indeed am I using to determine whether this COP has been successful?  Big announcements are one thing but important action happens at a local level.  Dave Reay, expert in Carbon Management. says that the most powerful thing anyone can do in terms of taking climate action is to talk about it. Talk with family, talk with community, talk with peers. Yes! This is something I can do (and those of you who know me know I love to talk!).  So with this in mind I am stepping out into the soon to be new and post-COP world and I am filled with hope and possibility about what we can achieve together.

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