Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive; Sophie Walker, RSGS Projects & Events Officer

As the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow for the most important UN climate conference to date, the UK and Scotland will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate real purpose and commitment to this defining challenge of our times.

RSGS has in its own way demonstrated a great deal of leadership in this arena over the last several months, including an ambitious programme of work related to COP26. We are grateful to all of you who contributed to our appeal mailing earlier this year, and wanted to take this opportunity to report on some of our most exciting projects.

The first is our planned special edition of The Geographer, which will feature some of the foremost voices in Scotland and around the globe on the state of the climate, the significance of the UN conference, and the many positive solutions that already exist, at all levels of society, which we can all pursue going forwards to make the next decade one of hope and genuine change. We also intend to celebrate the progress that has already been made, especially in Scotland, where we have such a unique opportunity to share our achievements and ambition at COP26.

We will be promoting the most recent Young Geographer magazine, The Climate Justice Edition, to contacts and attendees at COP26; thanks again to our fantastic team of young editors.  

Our upcoming feature-length documentary, Scotland: Our Climate Journey, aims to go to the heart of this story, looking not only at where we are now on the journey to net-zero emissions, but how far we have come, and where we are going. We will be arranging screenings of the film, produced in partnership with Balfour Beatty and Finbar Production,  in time for COP26 in November, in the hope that it will inspire audiences around the world to follow Scotland’s example and redouble efforts to protect the planet.

We will be providing another wee ‘drop of inspiration’ in the form of a net-zero 45%-proof 26-year-old single-malt whisky, produced in partnership with SCIAF and Glenfiddich. The whisky will be presented to world leaders and delegations at COP26, in much the same way our Chief Executive arranged for the UN conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

Another project with special relevance to the Glasgow conference is our publication of a new illustrated children’s book on the life and adventures of James Croll, one of the world’s first climate scientists, who famously began his studies while working as a janitor at Glasgow’s Andersonian college in the 1860s. As 2021 is the bicentenary of his birth, this is the perfect moment to share his story, and the book is already being shared with schools in Glasgow and Tayside, celebrating Glasgow’s historical contribution to climate science and his incredible life story.

A longer-term RSGS commitment ahead of COP26 was to host at least six Climate Emergency Summits to generate solutions to the climate emergency. We have now hosted a dozen of these popular thematic events, enabling motivated people from different sectors and organisations to come together and, with their collective expertise, to highlight ideas and examples of good practice which are then circulated amongst senior policymakers in both the UK and Scottish governments. Our topics so far have included transport, nature-based solutions, procurement, construction, food, creative industries and many more.

One exciting outcome of these events was the launch of a geopolymer production scheme, bringing together researcher Roisin Hyde from Queen’s University Belfast, construction firms, water and waste experts, and funders to help establish the first full demonstration project of low-carbon cement alternatives, due to appear as a constructed feature at the Glasgow Science Centre in November.

Another outcome of the Summits has been our ambitious Five for the Future survey, active across all of our social media platforms and many of our networks, which asks ordinary people across Scotland to answer five questions about the change they would like to see ahead of COP26 and beyond in order to generate a ‘People’s Protocol’ on climate change which will be circulated to senior policymakers.

More locally, we have led a highly successful online summit looking at how Perth could aspire to become the most sustainable small city in Europe in the coming decades, and we will be looking to host one or two key figures during COP26 if it is indeed able to proceed in-person.

Lastly and perhaps most excitingly for our own geographical community, the RSGS hosted a gathering of the world’s geographical societies in collaboration with the International Geographical Union and Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) to discuss our collective and respective responses to the climate emergency, our efforts to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and our potential to make a real difference in the decades ahead. A report records the recommendations of this gathering, and contains a joint declaration of action which geographical societies around the world have been asked to sign.

2021 promises us a very busy year-end, but with your help we know that it will be a very successful and high-profile one: of the 18 projects we said that we wanted to deliver for COP26, almost all are complete, and the rest either in progress or contingent on the event taking place. We hope you approve of our work in all of these endeavours, and we look forward to sharing more of our progress in the countdown to COP26.