My Week at COP 26, Part 1

By Ben Eckstein

When my co-workers at Sustainable Hudson Valley announced our status as an observer at COP 26, in Glasgow, I knew there was an opportunity to witness this event – an opportunity I had to take.

Over these two weeks, climate leaders and experts from around the globe were set to convene and not only share ideas and strategies, but to develop the goals and agreements necessary to avoid a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees C. Although over 190 member states of the United Nations are attending, there is an overwhelming sentiment around the event, that unless these governments take climate action more seriously, we will not reach this goal. Despite this, COP attendees arrived full of hope and the willingness to collaborate. I was able to meet and talk to some of the most innovative people and organizations I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Although policy and innovation are at the forefront of this international event many groups and delegations were emphasizing the importance of natural solutions to be used alongside the technical ones.

Most delegations acknowledged that a combination of natural and technical solutions was necessary to achieving extremely ambitious goals. However, there were few nations that acknowledge the clear advantage that wealthier countries have towards the implementation of technical solutions. (More about this and the greenwashing that COP has been criticized for in part 2,  coming soon).


Saturday and Sunday

Within these first few days in Scotland, I was able to get accustomed to both Glasgow, and its nearby city Edenborough. Usually when traveling somewhere new, the best ways I can get a feel for a city is through historical sites, and of course, the food. (Turns out haggis is very good when paired with citrus mayo).

Along my initial adventures, I encountered a large group of a few hundred people peacefully marching to support more ambitious actions that are needed to be taken in order to save our climate and to support environmental justice for communities that are not able to advocate for themselves. One of these marchers was Nick. Nick was one of a few people that helped carry a ginkgo tree sapling from London all the way to Glasgow. They chose a Ginkgo as a symbol of faith in the resilience of all life to survive and thrive. Due to the challenges of climate change, this message is needed now more than ever. However, not all of the protests that occurred were this peaceful. These more extreme forms of advocacy seemed to be frowned upon by many Glasgow natives and COP attendees. This conflict will also be looked at with a closer lens in a future post.


Even though most experts and events are located on the COP grounds, there were many events held outside of the official event. I had the pleasure of attending one of these titled: “Water Solutions for Climate Change”. This event was hosted by Scottish Government; University of Dundee Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science; University of Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance; and the International Water Resources Association. There I heard from numerous experts and scientists that are working directly with water all around the world. Topics included coastal flood management, unique methods of freshwater collection, and how water is being looked at in many different countries.

After this we took a field trip to the town of Peebles, where one group is working to re-meander the river so that it fits its natural curved flow, instead of the straight line that was dug years ago. Eddleston Water, a 69sq km sub-catchment of the Tweed River is the Scottish Government’s long-running research study on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions to reduce the risk of flooding to downstream communities and improve wildlife habitats. On this site, natural solutions (natural damming, reuse of organic material) were primarily used.


Above is Phillip (Center). He lives just south of Edinburgh, and right inside the floodplain of the river. He is a lifelong champion of the environment, and is showing our group how he has maintained his land for over 40 years using natural solutions and innovative flood management techniques with the help of the Eddleston Water Research team.


Tuesday was my first official day at the COP conference. It was this day that I decided to visit the “green zone,” where private organizations and NGOs were located. Here was everything from large utility companies displaying their plans and goals for the coming years, to smaller organizations sharing some of the great work that they have been doing. One such organization was Clear the Air, an NGO based in England raising awareness and driving policy for cleaner air in at risk communities. Below is a photo of myself and Alex, head of Philanthropy at One Tree Planted, a non-profit out of Vermont that plants trees all over the world for every dollar donated.

This was only one of the many organizations that I was able to interact with. It was getting the opportunity to connect with unique organizations that gave these initial days a sense of collaboration and optimism towards the future. However, it is important to acknowledge that the focus of this week is less on organizations, and more on the countries that must make more ambitious commitments, and keep them. The next few days would be focused on this, and on learning about the many climate solutions that are being employed all over the world. This, as well as some much needed criticism of the event and commitments coming soon.