In early November, the United Nations Climate Change conference, COP26, took place in Glasgow and the ACU was present to engage with governments and civil society, to advocate for the key role that universities will have in supporting national governments to realise commitments made at the conference.
As an accredited organisation, the ACU was invited to take a small delegation to observe the negotiations. This was the first time that the ACU has engaged in a UN Climate Change Conference, and it was a novel experience for our entire delegation.
Held at the Scottish Events Campus on the banks of the river Clyde, for two weeks, the vast site was home to huge temporary structures housing the main Plenary rooms, alongside meeting rooms, workspaces, television studios, and an array of pavilions hosted by governments and NGOs. Our ‘Blue Zone’ access meant that alongside observation of the formal negotiations, we were able to participate in side-events, meetings and the broad range of activities hosted by the pavilions.
In the run up to the conference the ACU had ambitious plans which were ultimately curtailed by the pandemic. However, following an initial fear of cancellation, we were able to pull together a really exciting schedule of events and engagements for our delegation. Unfortunately, COVID-19 did mean that we were unable to bring along our full climate cohort as we had originally planned, however, several members of the cohort were able to engage virtually as speakers and one member, based at Strathclyde, was able to attend in person.
In an era where face-to-face meetings have become something of a rarity, the conference was notable for the opportunities to meet in person with a broad range of stakeholders. Our delegation was able to further strengthen existing partnerships and collaborations through bilateral meetings with colleagues at the British Council, Princes Foundation, and others, and through discussions on the side-lines of the negotiations, we were able to share learnings from ACU programmes including specific reference to equitable partnerships and the CIRCLE programme. We had the opportunity to speak to various funders, and discussions since the conference have led to some exciting potential partnerships.
We were also still able to go ahead with an event that we organised in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, which hosted our panel discussion exploring Antigua and Barbuda’s strategy for transitioning to the Blue Economy and the role that higher education can have in realising this transition. At a conference where mentions of higher education were few and far between, the whole panel did a brilliant job of setting out some of the myriad of ways that higher education can support climate action.
Looking ahead to future events, the UN High Level Political Forum will be a vital forum for the ACU’s policy lobbying. The experience gained from COP26 will be invaluable in ensuring that the ACU is well placed to advocate meaningfully at the highest level for the power of higher education to build a better world, and to position the ACU as a key partner in higher education.