COP26: Architecture and Design Scotland staff reflect on events

A view of planet earth from space with swirling clouds, the sea and the African continent.
Published: 18/11/2021

During COP26 (31 October - 12 November 2021) Architecture and Design Scotland staff attended, participated in and presented at a number of events. In this blog we are gathering their reflections.

Events attended by Tim Moss

Tim Moss, Design Officer, attended two events which included, Race to Net Zero and NY Times Climate Hub Forum.

Race to Net Zero

Tim Moss, Design Officer, attended the RTPI – The Race to Net Zero event. Bringing together speakers from around the world, RTPI showcased the vital role planning can play in creating a Net Zero world.

Cities will play a vital role in ensuring climate resilience across the world. 65% of the 169 underlying UN Sustainable Development Goals are related to urban development. A big growth in ‘secondary cities’ (not capitals) across the world is expected.

Climate literacy at local level is insufficient to meet the demands of policy makers across the commonwealth. The same is true for professional skills more generally. Great case studies exist around the globe of cities rethinking how climate impacts can be mitigated.


At the event Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat,  provided an excellent series of provocations for planners to take forward both locally and globally. She spoke to how to address issues with climate and change at policy level. She discussed the UN Future Cities Task Force currently being implemented.

The event heard results from a survey of built environment professionals across the Commonwealth. There was a notable lack in professional skills in the countries where they were needed the most – areas with fast growing urban areas. Elsewhere, there is a widespread perception in many countries that the planning system is weak to meet the climate challenges.

NY Times Climate Hub Forum: Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger

Tim also attended the NY Times Climate Hub Forum: Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger: ‘New Materials for the Construction Industry’ and ‘The Design Imperative: Adapting Homes and Communities to Mitigate Climate Risks’

If the concrete industry was a nation, it would rank just behind China and Russia as an emitter. The event highlighted infrastructure deficit where WHO funding has disproportionately gone towards large infrastructure projects rather than meeting the needs of poorer residents.

Much of our views on decarbonising our cities focusses on ‘Global North’ solutions: viewing housing as single family rather than multi-family, focussing on electric cars, and ignoring low cost innovations.

Planning as a get around

The event included quite limited discussion on how new construction materials can be used. The first focussed on a panel of entrepreneurs largely promoting their wares. The latter focussed on technology being the solution along with rethinking the global south as enabling forces for positive change. Both portrayed planning and local government policy as something to ‘get around’ rather than actually work with effectively with any great thought.

Events attended by Gerard O'Brien

Senior Design Office, Gerard O’Brien, attended a series of talks on nature based solutions for climate-positive cities with an emphasis on tree planting.

Nature based solutions for climate-positive cities

The event took place at the opulent Glasgow City Chambers, backed by the sound of marchers passing by. Included inspiring talks on Glasgow’s plans for major tree planting by Max Hislop, Director of the Clyde Climate Forest, and the benefits of nature based solutions for communities from Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council.

Being in Glasgow at this time felt momentous and the talks and discussions equally so. The mix of speakers from local and more international projects with local emphasis made for a good combination and interesting afternoon. All the speakers were enthusiastic, positive and proactive in their approaches.

Some Striking Facts

There were some striking facts presented: 80% of global emissions come from cities, 56% of world’s population live in cities, but only 3% of the land is under cities.

  1. Nature based solutions (tree planting) is important for more than just environmental reasons, benefits include health and social benefits
  2. Glasgow is planting 18,000 trees – 2,000 trees per hectare in line with government policy….but to remember 50% of urban trees die after 10 years
  3. Financing the planting of trees and more important stewardship of these trees is a challenge.

Overall I was taken by the energy and commitment of the speakers and projects. Something that I would question was  the over emphasis on trees as an ‘asset’ –  for me the intrinsic value of nature needs to be brought to the fore.

Events attended by Laura Hainey

Laura Hainey, Principal Design Officer, attended the Mayors Alliance Green Deal, Eurocities, event at Glasgow City Chambers.

Mayors Alliance Green Deal event

The event featured Mayors from a number of European Cities – Oslo, Zagreb, Lyon, Prague, Budapest, Bristol, Utrecht and Marseille.  

It was very interesting to hear the different perspectives and challenges from the cities, for example:

  • increased car use post pandemic in Zagreb and Prague
  • housing crisis and depopulation in Budapest
  • delivering local food networks in Lyon
  • balancing public transport funding in Oslo
  • diversity in climate change representation in Bristol
  • the 10 minute neighbourhood and bike traffic jams in Utrecht
  • bringing everyone on board in Marseille

Events attended by Danny McKendry

Danny McKendry, Principal Landscape Architect, attended a number of events during the duration of COP26.

Sustainable Glasgow Landings

Danny and Laura presented the work of Architecture and Design Scotland at the Sustainable Glasgow Landings – hosted by Glasgow City Council and organised by New Practice. It was very useful for us to actively present our most current work at this eclectic event on the edge of COP26.

We learned that a wide range of people are interested in our work and that local authorities value our leading role in enabling sustainable placemaking. There was understandable public and professional frustration at the lack of scale and pace of ‘rollout’ of our values in to practice, given the ’emergency’ why is it it taking so long for ‘change on the ground’?

Danny also attended a number of events, including: North Atlantic Climate Perspectives, which was hosted by the Scottish Government and Nordic Ministerial Council.

The reception highlighted the need to learn from our neighbours who are in a similar climate – for example 60% of Estonia is served by district heating. The discussion around rural futures and 20 min neighbourhoods are being discussed in other countries.

Poignant Moments

Danny also attended the Laudate Si – Faithful Action event at the NYT climate hub which included interesting discussion around the power of local and global faith movements to mobilise lots of people positively in response to climate change.

The event included the preview of a new film “Laudate Si” which contained very poignant imagery and soundscape of the death knell being tolled for 140 species. The event highlighted the need to diversify who we talk to.

Scottish Communities Climate Action Network We Are Net Zero Nation! at COP26 Green Zone Glasgow

This exhibition showed how Scottish communities have taken action to tackle the climate emergency and achieve the net-zero targets necessary to do so. A diverse and wide-ranging showcase of projects and services of those who are leading the way on climate action within their local communities.

It was good to be reminded of the energy and enterprise of communities across Scotland, especially those advocating more nature based solutions.

Events attended by Ness Wright

Ness Wright, Senior Design Officer, attended a number of events including, Design Council’s Design for Planet festival, Leadership for Climate Resilience and Climate Fresk workshop.

Design for Planet

In-person at V&A Dundee and online event to catalyse the 1.69 million designers in the UK to include climate impacts in their work, across multiple sectors. 

Main reflection includes the need to include climate in all projects at Architecture and Design Scotland, and responsibility to lead the way as Scotland’s design champion. The event allowed us to consider the shift in the role of designers.

From ‘designer as god’ to designer as a facilitator of dialogue and supporting local/community knowledge on the front line. “Innovation is happening on the frontline – it is not restricted to workshops”.

“Why would we think about place-making that isn’t climate proofed?” Ruth Wolstenholme, Sniffer

Leadership for Climate Resilience, hosted by Sniffer/Adaptation Scotland, explored what it means to lead climate-related work and shared six inspiring examples of different leadership styles. We need brave and bold leadership to take action that meets the scale of change needed to avoid climate breakdown. The need for multiple types and levels of leadership, that can only be achieved through good collaboration.

Climate Fresk workshop – Climate Fresk is a great tool for learning about the causes and effects of climate change, in a hands-on and active learning style.

Highlights from the event included:

  1. Someone has converted the lengthy International Panel on Climate Change reports into a simple card game that is much easier to understand, hurrah!
  2. Human activity causes many knock on effects that are not always linear or logical e.g. CO2 emissions are making it harder for crustaceans to produce shells due to ocean acidification caused by too much CO2
  3. It is much more fun talking and learning about climate change with other people – highly recommend joining a workshop (it’s also free) Plus – there is a specific construction sector version of the game too.

Header image credit: Nasa on Unsplash