Reflections on COP26


Studio Bark’s Nick Newman and Tom Bennett travelled to Glasgow last month for COP26. Below is a summary of what happened and some reflections on the experience.



We arrived in Glasgow at the midpoint of the two-week summit. On our first full day in the city Saturday 6th November, we joined thousands for a march called by the COP26 Coalition calling for climate justice and for world leaders to act on their previous pledges. Spirits were high despite wet and windy conditions with chants of ‘blah blah blah’ and ‘what do we want? Climate justice!”. In these moments of collective coming together, the feeling that ‘another world is possible’ becomes palpable.


– Photo: Studio Bark’s Nick Newman and Tom Bennett

Simultaneous to large demonstrations in Glasgow and other cities Central Saint Martin’s held an over-weekend ‘Carnival of Crisis’. The focal point of ACAN’s presence at this was a full-size ‘confession booth’ constructed using the U-Build system. Over the course of 3 days ACAN ran an iteration of their ‘architects admit’ initiative, inviting people to engage in an act that may be simultaneously cathartic, diagnostic, fun and serious, and to confess their environmental sins.


– Photo: Members of ACAN march in Glasgow

ACAN also maintained a strong presence in Glasgow, holding two exhibition spaces, one at Many Studios and another at the New Glasgow Society. In the week prior to our arrival, ACAN had held a series of events, talks and even a comedy night at the Many Studios space. In the second week these two spaces remained open to the public, displaying a series of posters describing ACAN’s thematic groups and international network.


– Photo: Members of ACAN with confession booth at CSM

Glasgow was awash with fringe events during these two weeks on all manner of connected issues, including the ‘people’s summit’ which offered talks from a range of grassroots perspectives. On Tuesday 9th November we attended a talk about the ‘Great Climate Justice Caravan’ which is proposed for 2022. The proposal draws upon historic precedents such as Ghandi’s Salt March or the civil rights march from Selma to Mongomery. The idea is to have a series of walking caravans in multiple countries, visiting sites of extraction and/or climate impact, connecting with communities on the ground. A very exciting proposal with truly epic potential and one to watch for next year.


A focus for Architects at COP26 was Built Environment Day on Thursday 11th November, the last themed day of the conference. To coincide with this ACAN had called for a social media action based upon the idea of a banner drop – the idea being to put forward messages about climate impacts or solutions relating to the built environment.


– Photo: ACAN COP space at Many Studios

In preparation for this, myself and Nick had visited the amazing ruins of St Peter’s seminary, just outside of the city. We chose this quite sublime hulk of abandoned brick, steel and concrete to share some messages about the embodied carbon impact of construction materials in addition to some more general slogans which would play upon the word ‘concrete’.


– Photo: St Peters Seminary

Towards the end of Built Environment day people from ACAN and associated group gathered at the Sustainable Landing Hub, a meanwhile venue created by New Practice which hosted a series of excellent fringe events. The final two sessions were hosted firstly by ACAN with the keynote given by Scott McAulay, the Glaswegian founder of the Anthropocene Architecture School. After these sessions we were kindly invited to the zero carbon demonstrator home by its architect Peter Smith and enjoyed some social drinks and a chance to reflect upon the two weeks.


– Photo: COP26 Zero Carbon House by Peter Smith of Roderick James Architects at Glasgow Landing Hub



The outcome from the official negotiations of COP26 was bitterly disappointing. But given that the previous 25 such COP conferences have failed to deliver much, this didn’t come as a shock. Glasgow was an opportunity for the global political class to demonstrate how they are making good on the promises of Paris. Instead the host, the UK government, was embroiled in a political corruption scandal while leaders of wealthy nations continued a long standing tradition of failing to own their historic contribution to the problem.

What the experience has also reaffirmed though, is a genuine desire on the part of civil society to bring about the far reaching changes that will be needed in order to turn things around and ensure some kind of habitable future. Whether or not we rise to this challenge depends upon all of us.


– Members of ACAN at the Sustainable Landing Hub on Built Environment Day


Useful Links:


ACAN’s Eve Choy spoke on the AJ Climate Champions Podcast


Dezeen’s COP roundups 



written by Tom Bennett

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