Outcomes of COP26: The lasting effect of the climate conference on the Scottish public's climate activism

Some 75% of Glaswegian respondents said they were “absolutely” or “somewhat” hopeful about the nation’s ability to successfully fight off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, compared to just 65% of people in Edinburgh.

Roughly two months on from COP26, there has been both applause and criticism of the climate conference.

Some, like climate activist and Friday for Future founder Greta Thunberg, deemed it an event of greenwashing, with politicians and world leaders using it as an opportunity to score points rather than enact real change.

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Others acknowledged the steps and negotiations that were agreed on were valuable for the global climate movement.

Months on from COP26, what mood has been left behind in Scotland? Photo: JPI Media.

Undoubtedly, there were both winners and losers, but what cannot be denied is that the Glasgow-based summit drew the eyes and attention of the world for the fortnight that it ran.

More than 30,000 people flocked to Glasgow for the UN's summit on the climate crisis, taking part in protests, talks, and meetings that will shape the next year in climate action.

COP26 was certainly one of the biggest events to be held in Scotland in recent years, drawing world leaders and famous faces to both Glasgow and Edinburgh for the two weeks.

As the hosts to the biggest climate summit of the year, the people of Glasgow and Scotland as a whole were perhaps the most affected by the climate conference.

Greta Thunberg told a mass rally in Glasgow that the COP26 climate summit has been a "failure" - but did it change the outlook of the Scottish public? Photo: John Devlin.

Indeed, research conducted by not-for-profit search engine Ecosia indicates that the mood and attitude of Glaswegian and Scottish residents was significantly changed from before COP26 took place.

Here’s how sentiment around climate action has changed in Scotland since COP26.

Rise in climate activism

Following COP26, one in ten Glaswegians and one in 20 Scots now consider themselves climate activists, according to Censuswide data from 2,000 Scots.

In addition, 55% of Scots are willing to make significant changes to their lifestyles to help combat the climate crisis as a result of this year’s wildfires and floods.

In line with frequent criticism of COP26, 35% of Scots believe that the UK and Scottish governments need to do more when it comes to fighting climate change.

Indeed, funding was recently given to a youth movement, Wee Forests, aimed at tackling biodiversity loss, and Scottish innovation has reduced the waste of one of the nation’s key industries, salmon fishing.

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Scots taking personal actions

Citizens are also now taking matters into their own hands in a variety of different ways.

In general, 55% of Scottish people are now willing to make changes to their general lifestyle in an effort to limit the effects of the climate crisis.

More specifically, 41% of Scots have reduced their meat intake to help combat the climate crisis, with a further 12% stating that they were willing to eat less meat-based meals per week.

Reducing meat consumption means that smaller amounts of greenhouse gases, like methane CO2, and nitrous oxide are produced as a by-product of livestock farming.

In addition, large swathes of the world’s arable land are used not only to farm livestock, but also to grow crops in order to feed them.

Reducing the global dependence on livestock farming would free up land, save water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Holding to account

Climate action is certainly not limited to individual actions, however.

31 members of the FTSE 100, the index of Britain’s largest listed companies, are currently emitting CO2 at rates consistent with global temperature increases of 2.7C or more by 2050, according to analysis by Arabesque, a company that provides climate data to investors.

This directly goes against the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C, as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement and doubled down on at COP26.

Changing the actions of companies such as these can make a real difference in ways that individual actions simply cannot.

Indeed, 36% of people think it’s the responsibility of everyday people to solve the problem. 33% of Scots believe the UK and devolved governments are ultimately responsible for solving the climate crisis and only 5% think it is doing so very sufficiently in the wake of COP26.

When it comes to cities, people in Edinburgh are most likely to put the responsibility on the government, more so than any other city surveyed in the UK, with 59% of the city’s population backing the statement.

As a result, Ecosia’s survey data shows that 47% of Scots want action taken against the most polluting fossil fuel companies.

Specific actions that have proven to be popular with Scots include a total ban on fossil fuel pollution, instead of weakening commitments to reduce them, and a drastic increase in tree planting.

Coming out of COP26, the wording around reducing use of unabated coal was changed at the last minute due to pressure from India and China, being downgraded from "phasing out” coal to the more conservative “phasing down”.

This sparked widespread criticism from many European countries at the time, despite being a historic moment in that it’s the first time that fossil fuels have been mentioned in a UN climate agreement.

Other ideas that have proven popular with Scots aside from banning fossil fuels include the use of carbon reduction technology and planting more trees.

Looking ahead

Despite the challenges posed by the climate crisis, Scottish people – and particularly Glaswegians - are hopeful for the future.

Some 75% of Glaswegian respondents said they were “absolutely” or “somewhat” hopeful about the nation’s ability to successfully fight off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, compared to just 65% of people in Edinburgh.

Scotland has already had many environmental wins on both a national and local scale in 2021, and with the growing interest and energy of the Scottish public, we can hope to see even more in 2022.

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