Culture and connections at COP26

Climate Change Conference COP26

This month all eyes turned towards the city of Glasgow as world leaders assembled for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Inside the SEC Centre negotiations commenced and pledges were drafted. Outside the streets and public spaces filled with the clamour and passion of activists and artists engaged in a global dialogue and working side-by-side to inspire transformative action and achieve justice for the future.

At The Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow an exhibition called The Word for World is Forest brought together films highlighting conservation and activism of indigenous people. The exhibition was organised by If Not Us then Who? – an international organisation aiming to build indigenous power around the world while highlighting the role these cultures and people play in protecting the planet. Additionally, If Not Us then Who? presented a series of discussions and events designed to offer alternative perspectives on our relationship to Earth, emphasising that extractive capitalism is a choice – an increasingly bad choice at that – and that other ways of living and thinking are available to us.

The exhibition title was taken from the Ursula le Guin novel of the same name. The science fiction novel depicts the human colonisation of a new planet and vividly portrays this colonisation as a bleakly familiar process of exploitation, both of natural resources and indigenous people.

A second exhibition, The Encampment of Eternal Hope, organised by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh’s Climate House, and hosted at Glasgow gallery The Briggait, offered visitors a positive riposte to the past. This playfully immersive exhibition gave visitors the experience of walking among inflatable weapons of destruction which morphed and merged into the peaceful forms of flowers and plants. The installation was itself mutable, evolving throughout the two weeks to provide a platform for the voices of conservationists, activists, and artists through workshops such as Possible Dialogues, a conversation created by coalition of artists and activists from Colombia and Scotland.

This is a critical period for climate action. The once distant and abstract future has now become our children and our grandchildren, complete with names and faces. One such name was Little Amal, a multidisciplinary project organised by the National Theatre of Scotland. Little Amal travelled for four months, walking from the border of Syria to the centre of Glasgow. Her arrival at COP26 brought together puppetry, music, dance, and community action all in a joyful procession of hope and consideration for future generations.

One organisation who would encourage us all to consider ourselves as stakeholders in the future is The People’s Summit, a civil coalition of groups and individuals working to accelerate the speed of climate justice and to strengthen the ties of global solidarity that will be required for effective collective action. Indigenous movements, trade unions, racial justice groups, youth strikers, land workers, NGOs, grassroots community campaigns, feminist movements, and faith groups were among those that participated in a programme of digital and in-person events that were open to all during the conference – bringing a truly international and intersectional dialogue to the streets of Glasgow.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland created Climate Fringe, a website designed to share their local knowledge with international visitors and to facilitate the arrangement of spaces for exhibition and performance for travelling artists. Their directory of arts events and projects throughout the city of Glasgow can be found on the Climate Fringe website, and demonstrates one positive way in which digital platforms can help organise connections between local and international communities while fostering an ethos of democratisation and collaboration among emerging networks of artists and beyond.

In COP26’s blue zone, the British Council’s Climate Connection Pavilion brought together academics and senior governmental ministers from around the world, encouraging youth and teacher participation to push the climate emergency into a prominent position on the syllabus and in policy. In association with Julie’s Bicycle, a non-profit advocate for sustainable arts and culture, the British Council also hosted Culture, the Missing Link, an activity exploring how culture can help engender climate action which is now available to view online.

Meanwhile, the conference’s Green Zone held events such as Musicians in Exile, Glasgow’s asylum-seeking and refugee musicians who performed songs about climate change, migration, and diaspora, and The Farewell Glacier, a bittersweet collaboration between Scottish Composers Emma Donald and Isbel Pendlebury, with poet and playwright Nick Drake, that celebrated the wilderness of the Arctic regions while mourning their demise.

Many performance recordings, as well as fascinating and salient discussions and presentations from the conference are available to stream for free on the COP26 YouTube channel ensuring a rich legacy of creative work remains widely accessible. Similarly, climate-themed events and exhibitions held online and in venues across Scotland are listed on the Culture at COP website, enabling these critical conversations to continue – as they must – beyond the conclusion of the conference.

We at the Edinburgh International Culture Summit will also continue this vital conversation ourselves. Join us on day-date December for our next digital panel on our Culture Summit Hub.