Foreword

It was with enormous pride that the UK Government hosted COP26, the most important climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement, and the biggest international summit the UK has ever organised. In the largest temporary meeting space ever built in the UK, COP26 hosted 120 world leaders and almost 40,000 delegates, a record number. Held under challenging circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were committed to providing a safe, secure and inclusive in-person event, pivotal to the success of the negotiations. 

Sustainability lies at the heart of actions on climate change, and as this report sets out, not only did we achieve internationally recognised accreditation, we challenged ourselves to go further. This degree of rigour was unprecedented in COP carbon accounting and provides an important new baseline for future events; the successful outcome of our approach also puts the UK at the forefront of sustainable event planning. 

A conference of this scale is always the result of collaboration. I would like to thank all our partners, suppliers and volunteers involved in planning and delivering the summit, whose innovation and enthusiasm contributed to the realisation of COP26. 

I am delighted to share this COP26 Sustainability Report, which details how we performed against each of our sustainability Governing Principles, and will, I hope, serve as an indispensable guide to future host countries and to the events industry.

Alok Sharma, COP26 President

Overview of COP26

COP26 was held in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK) from 31 October to 13 November 2021, under the presidency of the UK. COP stands for Conference of the Parties. Parties are the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994 which has 197 parties (196 countries and the EU). 

The 2021 Glasgow-based conference, hosted by the UK together with partners Italy, was the 26th meeting of the Parties. United Nations (UN) climate change conferences are among the largest international meetings in the world. The negotiations between governments are complex and involve officials from almost all countries, as well as representatives from civil society and the world’s media.

This was the largest international summit the UK had hosted and the most significant climate negotiations since COP21 in Paris, 2015. COP26 saw 38,000 delegates travelling from nearly 200 countries – the highest attendance ever at a COP – with an average of 13,000 delegates on site each day and more than 17,000 on peak days.

COP26 was the first large-scale event hosted in the UK since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Safety was therefore a priority and we worked closely with Public Health Agencies to manage COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements, create sufficient space for social distancing, and to coordinate the logistics to support these measures.

The UNFCCC sets minimum requirements for hosting a COP which include delivering a carbon-neutral conference. To demonstrate our leadership and ambition in sustainable event management, we committed to implementing the International Standard for Event Sustainability Management Systems (ISO20121). 

In addition, we developed a comprehensive Carbon Management Plan aligned with PAS 2060, the international standard for carbon neutrality. COP26 is the first COP to apply this standard, which prioritises identifying all emissions generated as a result of the event, as well as emissions avoidance and reduction. 

COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles

As the host country, the UK was fully committed to delivering a sustainable, carbon-neutral COP26. Using the UNFCCC’s ‘How to COP’ – which provides advice making a COP more sustainable – we developed an action plan to reduce the impacts of hosting COP26. 

To guide our approach, we developed our COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles and this report details how we performed in each of these areas:

  • Actively manage potential impacts on the environment and local community and identify opportunities to deliver environmental and social value 
  • Provide an accessible and inclusive setting for all  
  • Encourage healthy living   
  • Ensure a safe and secure atmosphere  
  • Encourage more sustainable behaviour  
  • Promote the use of responsible sources and responsible use of resources throughout the supply chain  
  • Leave a positive legacy

Our Principles and the actions sitting beneath them also aligned with a number of UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Responsible production and consumption
  • Climate action
  • Partnerships for the goals

We found alignment with these goals through our work to raise awareness on the need for emissions reduction, work collaboratively with COP26 stakeholders, our prioritisation of circular economy principles, and through providing education, training and work opportunities through the delivery of this event.

We asked prospective suppliers to demonstrate how they could support our commitments and aspirations and commit to more sustainable ways of working themselves – this formed part of the evaluation of their tenders. 

Engaging stakeholders supporting event delivery on these Principles helped to identify opportunities to deliver social value through engagement with local charities, small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) and charitable donations through the event build and disassembly. 

Early engagement also helped to identify opportunities to minimise negative event impacts, including energy consumption, carbon emissions, waste, community impacts such as disruption due to peaceful protest and mitigate these.

Key sustainability measures

Measures taken to ensure COP26 was a sustainable event included:

  • Prioritising low carbon alternative energy sources such as electric and low emission vehicles, solar panels, and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) in generators instead of diesel.
  • Avoiding waste to landfill by reusing and recycling material. Embedding our requirements into contractual obligations for supplier procurements and delivery partners.
  • Prioritising locally sourced and seasonal food items to minimise mileage and carbon emissions for transportation and support local business.
  • Encouraging delegates to use sustainable forms of transport whilst at COP, such as walking and cycling or public transport where possible.
  • Employing local people.
  • Donating furniture and accessories post-event to individuals and communities in need.
  • Building sustainability considerations into design and material choices.
  • Hosting industry-wide workshops to improve standards and capture best practice for future events.

ISO 20121 International Standard for Sustainable Event Management

Alongside our governing principles, a core aspect of embedding sustainability throughout COP26 was to develop a framework for ISO20121. By committing to ISO20121 certification, we went beyond UNFCCC requirements and demonstrated consideration of all key economic, social and environmental factors. BSI, the UK national standards body, audited our event management systems and awarded ISO20121 certification, clearly indicating that sustainability best practice was embedded throughout the planning and operation of COP26.

Recognising our partners

We partnered with Arup as our sustainability consultants and collaborated with our delivery partners, suppliers and stakeholders to encourage innovation and embed sustainability at every stage of event delivery. From the outset we wanted to ensure we generated a positive legacy for the United Kingdom and the wider events industry that would be felt way beyond COP26. The success of COP26 would not have been possible without their drive and enthusiasm, and we are proud of everything we have achieved together.

This Sustainability Report details the measures we took to deliver a sustainable summit, avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessons identified for future COPs and large-scale events.

Glasgow: a sustainable city

Glasgow was chosen to host COP26 due to its commitment to sustainability, world-class facilities and proven track record of staging international events, such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Glasgow was recently awarded Global Green City status and is currently ranked 4th in the world in the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index), a measure of responsible business tourism best practice.

Venues

The COP26 event space occupied the banks of the River Clyde and consisted of two distinct areas: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone.

The Blue Zone

The Scottish Events Campus (SEC) was chosen by the UK Government to host the COP26 negotiations. 

The Campus features the SEC Centre – five interconnected exhibition and meeting spaces – the Armadillo and the OVO Hydro. In addition, 78,000 m2 of temporary structures were installed to provide the space required to host the conference – the biggest temporary meeting space ever built in the UK. Totalling 197,000 m2, the size of 28 football pitches, these spaces were collectively referred to as the Blue Zone. 

The Blue Zone operated under the jurisdiction of the UN and provided a fully accessible space for conducting international negotiations between delegations, ministers and government officials. 

It was also the location for many official side events hosted by the UN, observer organisations and activities facilitated by the extraordinary number of media outlets attending the event.

Eighty-five delegations hired office space and designed pavilions to showcase their actions on climate change. 

The Blue Zone welcomed over 38,000 delegates in total, including 4000 media, and over 17,000 delegates on site on peak days. 

The Green Zone

The Glasgow Science Centre (GSC) was chosen to host the COP26 Green Zone. The Green Zone was a UK Government managed space for the public to engage with the topics discussed by the COP26 participants. 

The GSC’s mission to inspire everyone to discover and enjoy science, made it a perfect, and fully accessible, venue to welcome visitors to a dynamic and vibrant COP26 experience.

A world-class programme, along with free entry, enabled the general public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists and businesses to participate and have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks that promoted dialogue, awareness, education and commitments.

The Green Zone was open for 12 days from 1-12 November 2021. 215 events were held across 7 events spaces which included a full dome planetarium and a 360-seater cinema. Over 100 organisations were provided with exhibition space.

The Green Zone welcomed over 36,000 visitors in person, received 287,000 views of streamed content and the Google Arts and Culture page created for the Green Zone received 350,000 visits. 

A schools programme brought in approximately 1,200 pupils from local schools.

Carbon Management

Carbon Neutrality

Reducing the carbon emissions associated with delivering COP26 and achieving a carbon-neutral event was specified as a fundamental requirement by the UNFCCC. 

A Carbon Management Plan (CMP) was developed for the event and covered planning and delivery management for COP26 which adopted a carbon management hierarchy: avoid, reduce, replace and offset. The application of this hierarchy prioritised avoidance and reduction of emissions where possible, and offsetting where emissions were unavoidable. 

International travel to COP26 was a category of unavoidable emissions. While international travel generates significant emissions, coming together to build solid relationships was crucial to ensuring the global ambitions for COP26 could be reached. The UK remained committed to holding the conference in person, respecting the wishes of all parties, many of whom felt strongly that the negotiations must be in person to be successful.

These unavoidable emissions were offset through the purchase of offset credits. The Carbon Management Plan included the development of a set of requirements for carbon-offsetting, including ensuring that all offsets were UNFCCC recognised, such as Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). 

The underlying principle was to source offsets from a range of projects across different countries. This included projects that: 

  • Replace energy generated through fossil fuels with renewable energy
  • Implement energy-efficiency measures to reduce energy consumption
  • Support sequestration of carbon through reforestation and forest regeneration
  • Are Gold Standard certified 
  • Have UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) co-benefits

The UK Government committed to adopting PAS 2060, the international standard for carbon neutrality, to demonstrate leadership in carbon management, and to help develop a detailed understanding of the impacts of delivering an event of this scale. This commitment guaranteed a transparent approach to quantifying and reporting the carbon footprint of hosting COP26.  

The carbon accounting approach captured more indirect emissions categories than previous COPs. Indirect emissions are emissions that occur as a result of the conference taking place, but are not as a direct result of activities on site, such as consumption of energy. Examples of indirect emissions categories included in this calculation are those relating to emergency services and emissions from private aviation. 

The total tonnes of residual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (tCO2e) was calculated at 131,556 tCO2e. This is larger than the residual tCO2e figure for previous COPs. 

The breakdown of this figure provides a useful set of benchmark data for carbon management in future events.

COPTotal GHG emissions tCO2e (per delegate)GHG emissions from delegate travel tCO2e (per delegate)
COP1572,374 (2.16)66,374 (1.98)
COP2143,000 (0.64)33,800 (0.50)
COP2349,966 (2.26)43,056 (1.95)
COP2551,101 (2.21)43,192 (1.85)
COP26131,556 (3.42)103,955 (2.70)
Table 1. Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions recorded for previous COPs

To demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, the UK Government took the decision to expand the scope of the commitment to carbon neutrality to also include activities associated with the Green Zone. The carbon neutrality scope also broadened to include key supporting activities such as the police and security operations, Green Zone attendee travel, and the activities carried out by HMG and key suppliers in preparation for the delivery of COP26.

The broadening of the commitment has meant a significantly larger set of emission sources have been identified for COP26, captured in the Carbon Management Plan (CMP) and offset. The intention is to provide a more complete and representative quantification of the impacts arising from hosting a COP. This transparency around the scale of COP26 will also help support future events to better understand and manage their carbon impacts. 
The COP26 Carbon Management Plan: PAS 2060 Qualifying Explanatory Statement provides more content on the carbon management approach and emissions quantification.

Measures to avoid and reduce emissions

Although 97% of Scotland’s power through the grid is from renewable sources, we also made sure that the supply for the Blue Zone and Green Zone was procured through a 100% renewable electricity tariff.

Temporary structures were required to increase venue space for the negotiations. Usually temporary structures are connected to diesel generators to generate power; however we connected all temporary structures in the Blue Zone to the mains grid to reduce our reliance on generators. Where we required additional power, we used generators powered by hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) with 90% lower emissions than the industry-standard diesel units.

Other measures included:

  • A special Climate Train operated between the Netherlands and Scotland, bringing passengers to COP26 and reducing air travel.
  • A fleet of electric buses served COP26, transporting delegates to and from Glasgow Queen Street and Glasgow Central stations, operating every five minutes at peak times. 
  • Delegates were provided with a travel smartcard allowing them access to free public transport across the whole of Scotland 
  • Delegates and had the option to hire NextBikes for free
  • 240 fully electric and low emission vehicles were used to transport leaders to the World Leaders Summit. 
  • Police Scotland sourced electric vehicles to reduce the emissions associated with policing for COP26.
  • Solar panels installed on site to generate electricity and to power equipment, such as storage batteries and site lighting.
  • Through working with delivery partners, we ensured that 96% of the materials brought to site were reusable.
  • Choosing to use cold water only in temporary bathrooms to reduce energy requirements from heating 
  • The site temperature was monitored to reduce heating, ventilation and air conditioning requirements (HVAC) energy requirements. 
  • LED lighting was used across the site and carpet colours were chosen for their ability to reflect and maximise light within the venues, reducing overall lighting demand requirements

Case Study: Encouraging more sustainable travel   

All COP26 registered attendees and event volunteers were given a travel smartcard allowing use of free public transport across the whole of Scotland to encourage the use of public transport from their accommodation to the venue. Uptake of the travel smartcard proved highly popular, helping delegates to avoid travelling by private car or taxi and instead opt for more sustainable public transport, with 152,518 smartcard journeys taken.

Case Study: Conference Shuttle Bus

Registered attendees were encouraged to make use of a free, fully accessible and zero-emission conference shuttle service operated by First Bus. In total, an estimated 25,275km were travelled by attendees using this service, helping to avoid transport-related emissions and air quality impacts. In addition, the 22 single-decker e-buses have remained in service since COP26 and will continue to be operated by First Bus.

Case study: Jaguar Land Rover Electric Vehicles, and Novel Charging Solutions 

Our event partner, Jaguar Land Rover provided a fleet of 240 fully electric and low emission vehicles for world leaders to travel safely and sustainably between their accommodation and the venue. 

To address the challenge of a lack of available charging infrastructure to charge the fleet at remote locations. COP26 offered the world’s first completely off-grid, portable EV charge-post solution, powered by innovative battery storage units, with the latest Stage 5 generators run on locally sourced hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) as backup. 

This solution enabled electric vehicles to recharge at remote locations without adequate infrastructure, thereby avoiding the need to rely on diesel or petrol vehicles for the duration of COP26. 

Reduce environmental and social impacts

Prioritising energy efficiency

We worked with our suppliers to communicate the importance of prioritising energy efficiency from the procurement stage. This empowered our suppliers to identify innovative ways to generate electricity on-site, reduce energy consumption within the venues, and use lower carbon and renewable energy sources. 

A total of 692,608kWh of renewable electricity was generated on-site during COP26 through on-site solar panels. On some days during the build renewables generation covered all on-site electricity requirements. 

100% electricity consumption for COP26 was from renewable sources, either on-site generated renewable electricity (46%) or from Renewable Energy Generation Origin (REGO) certificates (54%). 

Measures taken to reduce electricity consumption on site included: 

  • On-site solar panels to power site lighting and for some power generation
  • Heating thermostat set points lowered to reduce heating requirements and conserve energy 
  • Site temperature monitored to reduce HVAC requirements
  • Advice provided to delegates and exhibitors on how to minimise energy consumption of personal devices
  • No diesel generators were used for backup. HVO generators were in place, and planned to run as cold backup only in the event of a power cut or other emergency 
  • LED lighting used across the site
  • Carpet colour chosen to maximise light reflection, minimising lighting requirements
  • Reducing the amount of hot water heated in bathrooms to save energy

The total energy consumption for venues for COP26 in comparison to previous COPs is shown in Table 9. It is difficult to compare the energy consumption between COPs due to differences in space requirements, efficiency and fuel types used. 

COP26 required a bigger build and additional space requirements than would usually be needed for a COP to accommodate social distancing. Similarly, increased ventilation requirements for Public Health measures, and increased cleaning requirements all result in increased power draw.

ConsumptionCOP15COP21COP23COP25COP26
Energy (kWh)954,204 (28)11,200,000 (166)844,201 (38)2,735,078 (50)2,133,649 (55)
Electricity (kWh)N/AN/A428,2011,394,0611,497,328 (including 692,608 from on-site renewables)
Gas (kWh)N/AN/AN/A1,341,017636,321
District Heat (kWh)N/AN/A416,000N/AN/A
Table2 Energy consumption at previous COPs with figures per delegate in brackets, where available

An additional 2,407,200 litres of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, fuel made from waste oil, were used to supplement heating requirements, providing a fossil fuel free alternative to natural gas.

Waste management approach

Waste management was central to delivering a sustainable COP26 event. Therefore, the principles of circularity and efficient resource use were embedded in the statement of requirements for suppliers, through all stages of event preparation, delivery and disassembly.

Our Strategy for COP26 was designed to:

  • Minimise waste produced by establishing a production services contract for delivery of COP26 
  • Effectively manage waste by repurposing or recycling wherever possible
  • Work with supply chain and venues to ensure that waste management processes were integrated wherever appropriate, and that waste streams could be measured to give relevant carbon metrics.
  • Achieve 100% diversion from landfill 

The conference produced two types of waste: waste associated with delegates and visitors and waste associated with the hosting of COP26 in Glasgow.

For materials and products associated with hosting the conference, we planned for most of them to be recycled, repurposed, or returned. However, when this wasn’t possible, materials entered our venue waste stream for processing with a commitment to zero waste to landfill.

Materials and products associated with hosting the conference, including the design and build, and the production for the event itself, were selected based on their ability to reuse, repurpose or recycle, with minimal waste arising from this element of event delivery. 

To facilitate recycling from delegates and visitors, the banks of bins segregated waste as follows: cans and plastic bottles, paper and cardboard, food waste and containers, confidential waste, liquids and general waste. This approach ensured that waste was effectively managed and repurposed or recycled. 

Waste performance   

The three treatment routes for materials were recycling, anaerobic digestion and incineration with energy recovery. All materials segregated and disposed of in the segregated recycling bins were recycled off site. 

Organic waste is sent to the anaerobic digestion facility. This uses bacteria to break down organic waste and release methane for fuel to generate renewable electricity.

Waste disposed of in the general waste bins went through additional sorting off-site to extract any recyclable items that had been incorrectly disposed of. 

The remaining residual waste went through a process of incineration with energy recovery, this means energy is generated through the heating process, which is then sent to the National Grid. 

The percentage of waste disposed of through incineration with energy recovery for the Blue Zone was greater than anticipated, and particularly when compared to the Green Zone.

VenueDisposal type%Tonnes
Blue ZoneRecycling53%60.8
Blue ZoneIncineration with energy recovery42%48.7
Blue ZoneAnaerobic digestion5%5.7
Green ZoneRecyling86%22.7
Green ZoneIncineration with energy recovery14%3.7
Table 3. Waste quantities and disposal methods for COP26

Due to circumstances beyond our control, a change to the waste management contractor was required in October 2021 for the Blue Zone, during event build, and just before COP26 was due to take place. This meant that there wasn’t as much time to engage with and work with the new contractor to make sure that recycling was the absolute priority for materials. 

Materials for the event build made up the greatest proportion of materials brought to site, and measures were put in place to make sure circular economy principles were embedded into the design, and waste was avoided. 

Approximately 10,341 tonnes of materials were brought to the COP26 Blue Zone site for the event built, fit out and to the Blue Zone and Green Zone by exhibitors, of which 96% or 9,961 tonnes had been reused already (had already gone through one reuse cycle) and would be reused again post-COP26. In context, the materials sent to incineration with recovery use total less than 53 tonnes, or less than 1% of this figure.

Overall waste quantities recorded were lower than for previous COPs both in total waste quantities recorded, and in the quantity per delegate figures, as shown in Table 7. 

COPWaste quantities recorded (kg)Quantity per delegate (kg) where available)
COP211,000,00015
COP23112,7545.1
COP25307,61011
COP26141,5103.7
Table 4. Volume of waste generated for previous COPs

Using water responsibly 

Measures taken to reduce water consumption on site were relatively limited due to this being a low-risk area with limited opportunities to make improvements. Where additional fixtures were installed, these were selected to be water efficient, such as taps and toilets. 

Water consumption was slightly above what would be an average benchmark consumption for a venue of this size in the UK. Expected water consumption would be approximately 645 litres per year per m2 of floor space. This would bring the average benchmark consumption to approximately 4,525,600 litres for the 13-day duration of COP26. 

Increased cleaning protocol requirements due to COVID-19, and increased adherence to public health measures such as regular hand washing for a longer period of time may have contributed to increased water consumption during the conference.

ConsumptionCOP15COP21COP23COP25COP26
All stagesN/AN/A6,757,000N/A8,243,000
During COP3,083,0003,155,2983,924,0001,049,8854,810,000
During COP per delegate924717837125
Table 5. Water consumption at different stages for previous COPs

Managing community disruption  

Publication of information relating to road closures and disruption was managed by our delivery partner, Glasgow City Council. On the ‘Get Ready Glasgow’ website, key information about road closures and disruption was publicised, and residents and businesses were notified if they were likely to be affected by closures so they could plan ahead. Glasgow City Council also developed a Travel Resources Toolkit for Businesses to help organisations communicate on potential impacts.

Community engagement

The Green Zone provided a space for the general public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists and businesses to have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks promoting dialogue, awareness, education and commitments. There were 100 exhibitors and 215 events held. 

We worked with the Glasgow Science Centre to host a variety of specific school events over the two weeks of COP26, and over 100 pupils and teachers engaged daily with climate-related activities. The programme of engagement for the Glasgow Science Centre also ensured that local groups and projects had exposure to workshops and sessions on climate change.

As part of the schools’ programme, nature photographer and TV presenter Chris Packham welcomed local pupils to the Science Show Theatre where he explored the wonders of our beautiful planet and steps everyone can take to help protect our natural world.

In the run up to the COP26 summit, the Together for our Planet campaign focused on building momentum for positive action to tackle climate change across society. The campaign showcased how individuals are making a difference in their daily lives – from the engineers working on the offshore wind farms now powering our homes and businesses, to local initiatives encouraging children and parents to walk to school. 

Through the campaign’s #OneStepGreener Ambassadors, we celebrated the steps people across Scotland and the UK are taking in their daily lives for the planet, leaving a legacy of inspiration for other people across society. 

Case Study: Glasgow City Volunteers   

Glasgow City Council recruited 1,000 volunteers who were present throughout the city to help delegates and visitors get around. They gave visitors a warm welcome and shared local knowledge.

An accessible and inclusive setting 

Green Zone General Access 

Hosted at the Glasgow Science Centre, the public had the opportunity to attend a range of events and exhibits at the Green Zone to learn more about climate change, climate action, the COP26 campaigns and stakeholder action. Tickets were required, to prevent the overbooking of events, and available free of charge through an online booking system.

Accessibility assessment 

Inclusivity and accessibility were key priorities for the COP26 summit and the venue was designed to facilitate that. The SEC venue holds gold level accessibility status and the COP26 production company, Identity, partnered with accessibility consultant, Attitude is Everything (AiE) to ensure that the entire venue, including temporary structures, was fully accessible.

Working in collaboration with AiE embedded a culture of accessibility and made certain the requirements of people with disabilities were considered at every stage of the project. This was achieved through site design reviews and on-site audits to ensure implementation.

As well as ensuring an accessible venue, a fully accessible shuttle service for delegates ran from 07:00 to 23:00 hours from the nearest station to the main entrance of the venue. The conference shuttle was also supported by two fully accessible vehicles that could be requested for journeys to and from locations in Glasgow to the venue from 06.00 to 01.00 hrs.

Inclusivity in volunteer hiring process

Glasgow City Council designed the COP26 volunteer programme recruitment process to be inclusive. Ahead of recruitment, the programme leaders outlined aspirations concerning volunteer demographics. In total, over 10,000 people applied for volunteer roles. 

Glasgow City Council worked to identify underrepresented groups through the recruitment process. For example, fewer than expected applicants had long-term health conditions or a disability or came from the most deprived areas of Scotland. So, by inviting proportionally more applicants from these groups through to the next stage of the recruitment process, the Council improved representation, ensuring people from across a range of demographics had the opportunity to be involved.

Digital Platform

We worked with Identity, the UN and other partners to develop an enhanced web-based app to make the conference more inclusive. The digital platform provided two core functions:

  1. enabling virtual participation (either active or passive) with tailored access for different user groups into meetings and events taking place within the Blue Zone, and 
  2. provided a suite of tools to enhance participants’ experience including the ability to tailor their personal schedule; use the map to plan their route; interact with content through virtual exhibits and the Principal Partner pages and network with other Blue Zone registered participants.   

The COP Platform had 13,744 unique users (~2,700 each day during COP) – half of all users were Observers, another third from Parties, and the remainder were split between Media and UN staff.

More than 1,550 sessions were re-cast on the COP Platform, including negotiation sessions, side events and Global Climate Action events. It also provided contingency for a small number of participants that had to self-isolate due to COVID-19 to participate actively in the negotiations.

Encourage healthy living

Case Study: Cycling and Active Travel

Encouraging participants, delegates, visitors and volunteers to use cycling and active travel to attend the event was critical to both avoiding emissions and environmental impacts and promoting healthy modes of transport.

Information on the modes of travel available to delegates were communicated through the delegate information packs, the COP26 app, as well as through the UNFCCC website and advertisements in close proximity to the Blue Zone at the nearby NextBike cycle parking areas. 

Glasgow’s extensive network of active travel routes and shared-use footpaths made it easy to walk, wheel, or cycle to the event. To promote active travel across the city, Glasgow City Council made their bike-share scheme Nextbike free-to-use for all registered attendees, COP26 volunteers and residents for the conference duration.

Thanks to NextBike’s sponsors, residents were able to take advantage of automatic free rides in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, including:

  • Free 30-minute rides on standard bikes
  • Free 10-minute rides on ScottishPower e-bikes

Rentals were 40% higher during COP26 than the same period in 2020, with approximately 9,000 more hires over the two-week period. 

Case study: Plant-forward, healthy catering  

A catering strategy was developed to support decision making for the catering offer for COP26. Core objectives for the strategy were identified in the early planning stages, and communicated to suppliers to make sure these were realistic and achievable. These included: 

  • A plant forward menu: 50% of menu choices to be vegan and vegetarian, and reducing the meat content of meat-based dishes, through replacement with plant-based foods
  • A locally sourced and seasonal menu: 85% of food sourced from Scotland, 15% from the wider UK, and 5% sourced from overseas
  • A lower carbon menu: calculating the carbon footprint of each menu option, and providing a higher proportion of options with a lower carbon footprint
  • An inclusive menu: plant-forward dishes widely accessible to those with dietary, allergen, and cultural or religious requirements 
  • An affordable menu: affordable and in line with prices at previous COPs
  • Imaginative menus: representing the best of the UK and the international nature of the event

Levy, the COP26 catering supplier for the Blue Zone strove to achieve a balance by providing meat-based options, but also reducing the total meat content of these meals, in a ‘plant forward’ approach, thereby reducing their overall carbon footprint, as well as providing more vegan and vegetarian options. 

At least 75% of the catering menu items were healthier choices and accredited by the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life Served Here’ scheme. These meals use ingredients traceable to farm, which are sourced locally and produced more sustainably. 

Influencing behaviour

Levy partnered with Norwegian start-up and environmental consultants, Klimato, to ensure that each of the menu items offered at venues inside the SEC came with an indication of their carbon footprint. Menus were displayed at all catering locations and tills, communicating the carbon footprint of each menu choice available at each catering location. 

Today, an average meal has a carbon footprint of 1.7 kg CO2e in the UK. According to the WWF, we need to get this number down below 0.5 kg CO2e to reach the goals defined in the Paris Agreement

A quote from Levy included in each menu.
Hot meals served in the Blue ZoneRetail mix objective for COP26 Blue Zone %Actual purchased options for COP26 Blue Zone %
Plant based (100% vegan)42%39%
Vegetarian (including eggs and dairy)18%22%
Fish11%25%
Meat29%14%
Table 6. Overview of retail mix objective and purchased options within the Blue Zone

Uptake of vegan options was slightly lower than expected for the Blue Zone, but overall uptake of meat-free options was slightly higher than expected, at 61% total. Preference for fish-based dishes was significantly higher than expected, and meat-based dishes lower than expected. 

Delegate behaviour may have been influenced by the visible carbon labelling on the menu boards, indicating that meat, and particularly beef containing options had the highest carbon footprint of all menu choices. 

Providing this information enabled participants to make informed choices about their meals, directing them to the lower carbon plant-forward items. This approach resulted in vegetarian and plant-based dishes accounting for the majority of retail sales from over 125,000 menu items. In comparison, beef featured just twice on the 60-dish menu and made up only 3% of sales.

Meals served in the Green ZoneRetail mix objective for COP26 Green Zone %Actual purchased options for COP26 Green Zone %
Vegetarian (including eggs and dairy)50%70%
Meat and fish50%30%
Table 7. Overview of retail mix objective and purchased options within the Blue Zone
Carbon outputKg CO2e% Menu options
Low0.1-0.565
Medium0.6-1.524
High1.6+11
Table 8. Carbon output of COP26 Blue Zone Retail Menus

Uptake of vegan and vegetarian options was significantly higher than anticipated in the Green Zone, and higher proportionally than the Green Zone, at 70%. 

The carbon impact of catering was reduced in both the BZ and the GZ by increasing the number of vegetarian meal options. Approximately 61% of meals served in BZ were plant based or vegetarian, and 70% of GZ meals were plant based or vegetarian. 

Selection of meat-free options resulted in an approximate saving of 108 tCO2e across the full preparation and delivery phases for COP26.

A safe and secure atmosphere 

Collaborating to deliver a safe and secure event

Planning to deliver a safe and secure COP26 was a collaborative effort by the UK Government and key delivery partners from Scotland and the wider UK. 

Through monthly Safety and Security Delivery Steering Group Meetings, with over 70 attendees from 18 organisations, measures to deliver COP26 safely, including management of COVID-19 testing protocols, the facilitation of peaceful protest, and management of on-site security, were discussed, and risks were monitored leading up to, and during, event delivery. 

Constant engagement with stakeholders took place outside of these meetings, culminating in the development and communication of the COP26 Concept of Operations (CONOPS) plan, which documented our approach to the event delivery. This intensive planning process ensured the COP was delivered safely and securely. 

COVID-19

Postponed from its original 2020 date due to the pandemic, COP26 was the largest in-door event globally hosted during the pandemic.

Protecting the health of participants, visitors and local community was at the foremost of event planning and preparation. A comprehensive set of COVID-19 mitigation measures were implemented to protect the safety of all those involved.  These measures were developed in consultation with public health officials, Clinical staff, the NHS and Chief Medical Officers.

As a COP26 Principal Partner, Reckitt provided critical support in the design and implementation of COVID protocols across both Zones, providing expertise and supplying materials, such as hand sanitising stations and disinfectant.

Full COVID vaccination, with any global COVID vaccination, was strongly encouraged for all those attending the summit. To ensure an inclusive summit a programme of vaccinations was made available to those who would otherwise have been unable to get one. 

Vaccines were supplied to people in Seventy-five countries, delivered through FCDO Services, the UN Department of Operational Support (UNDOS), and, where appropriate, through a country’s vaccination programme. 

To support COP the UK and Scottish Governments amended travel legislation to recognise all COVID-19 vaccines for the purpose of quarantine free UK entry for COP.

Travel and Hygiene Measures

Strict COVID-19 testing measures were in place throughout the event to ensure the safety of all participants and the local community. All international delegates were asked to do a PCR test before travelling to COP. 

All participants accredited by the UNFCCC secretariat and issued with badges to attend the Conference were asked to subscribe to a ‘COVID Code of Conduct’ which included committing to daily testing and showing the results on entry to the COP26 Blue Zone.

All delegates were required to test for COVID before leaving their accommodation each morning, and show that test result in order to enter the venue. This ensured the local community, sharing public transport, were not exposed.

In practice, this meant that all those attending COP26, regardless of vaccination status, were required to show a negative Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test result, taken on the day of entry. This allowed the deployment of appropriate isolation and contact tracing measures in the event of a positive result.

Further public health measures included physical distancing, face-coverings, and a comprehensive set of hygiene and ventilation systems throughout the venue. Additional temporary structures were built to accommodate physical distancing requirements and optimise attendance, ensuring the safety of participants.

All delegates were issued with a personal Hygiene Kit, which included a reusable face covering and, refillable hand-sanitiser (650 refill stations were positioned across the venue).

Sustainable behaviour 

Engagement with the COP26 Team 

Over 400 hours of online training, briefings and workshops on sustainable development issues were delivered to COP26 team members, including Partners, Sponsors, Value in Kind providers and Suppliers. Additional briefings and guidance were developed and shared in written format for review by delivery partners, sponsors and value-in-kind contributors. 

Monthly sustainability briefings were provided to over 100 individuals from 20 stakeholder organisations at main delivery steering group meetings for operational governance. 

Identity worked with Tracker+ to develop a bespoke solution for monitoring the carbon footprint of hosting COP26 which allowed the supply chain to directly enter information on their emissions generating products and activities.

Sustainability messaging for delegates  

Direct engagement with delegations on embedding sustainable decision making into their pavilion designs and, where possible, monitoring the impacts of materials via Tracker+ gave the most comprehensive overview of the impacts of the delegation pavilions captured for any COP to date. Orientation Events, working with Identity, provided one to one support to delegations on designing the most sustainable pavilion possible, and captured information on their materials.

Delegates were also provided with information and guidance on their options to behave more sustainably during COP26, such as information on the COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles, how to stay safe and follow COVID-19 protocols, information on local cycling and walking routes and tips on how to reduce the energy consumption of their laptops and other hardware during COP.

Sustainability guidance for volunteers, exhibitors and suppliers  

Volunteer guidance focused on how individual actions and influence could contribute to overall event sustainability and a sustainable legacy. The power of volunteers to encourage participants to make sustainable choices by providing appropriate information and leading by example was emphasised as part of their onboarding.

Exhibitor guidance focused on the impact of their materials and procurement choices, and discouraged any disposable items, such as paper handouts and merchandise. Applicants for exhibitor space at the Green Zone were asked to explain how they would embed our COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles into their exhibits, and their applications were assessed on this basis.

Supplier guidance focused on the impacts of the wider supply chain and the sub-consultants chosen to help deliver the contract, business travel impacts, and behaviours on site, such as catering choices and waste management. All site-based staff received an induction covering the Sustainability Governing Principles and their role in delivering a sustainable summit.

Case Study: Printing Reduction  

COP26 was the first COP not to have a Document Reproduction Centre, reducing printing of documents and encouraging delegates access these online instead. PaperCut software was used to reduce unnecessary printing by requiring digital approval of documents, in recognition that some delegates would need to print but that behavioural interventions could reduce potential waste. This measure resulted in a saving of over 19,000 sheets of paper. In total 1033kg of paper was used during the conference, an 80% reduction from previous COPs. 

EventPaper consumption (kg)Total kg paper use/no. participants
COP2351660.32
COP2554400.19
COP2610330.03
Table 9. Paper consumption at COP26 and previous COPs

Responsible sources and supply chain resource use

Supply chain management 

COP26 was an early adopter of the UK Government’s commitment to embed social value and measures to combat climate change into major contracts. A focus for achieving a sustainable COP26 was ensuring a sustainable supply chain with a 10% weighting given to sustainability and social value during the supplier selection process.

Sustainable requirements were incorporated into the procurement process from the outset. Expectations for suppliers were aligned with our COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles and communicated at tender stage. Suppliers were evaluated on their sustainability and carbon approach, alongside demonstrating beneficial outcomes for the local environment, economy and society, and value for money. 

By communicating the emissions reduction and sustainability ambitions upfront, we ensured that everyone involved was truly committed to the Governing Principles of sustainable development. This also encouraged suppliers to consider how they could improve the sustainability outcomes of their goods and services in the contract and propose innovative ways of working. 

We worked collaboratively with our suppliers throughout planning and delivery of the event and it is clear that they embraced the COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles and stepped up to this challenge.

Minimising materials use

A range of innovative measures were taken to prioritise waste avoidance through design and to plan for re-use post-COP where avoidance was not possible. 

Some of the measures taken to minimise materials use included:

  • Prioritising the use of reused and reusable temporary structures for the temporary event build
  • Finding opportunities to avoid unnecessary materials entirely through design 
  • Discouraging promotional giveaways and handouts, which were then noticeably absent from the event
  • Sourcing reusable cups that are fully recyclable at end of life to serve hot drinks helped COP26 to avoid generating waste through 95,000 single use cups

In total 96% of materials brought to the Blue Zone for the event build for COP26 were primarily rented and reusable, including the temporary structures for the event (99%) and on average the content of recycled content within materials brought to site was 25%.To achieve sufficient space for social distancing requirements, the temporary build consisted of the largest temporary structures available for hire in the UK and additional installations from Europe. 

Embedding circular economy principles, prioritising reuse and repurposing over purchasing new, and making sure materials were re-purposed or donated where they did not have a clear event reuse stream, helped us to achieve this high level of waste avoidance. 

Rather than adopting a traditional event build, where the structure walls are covered and decorated and necessitating non-essential materials use, a lower specification design was used for several areas which reduced materials use through avoidance.

Circular economy and social value 

A huge number of items were donated to local charities, projects and low-income families. These donations were facilitated by EventCycle who help event planners to reduce leftover materials by repurposing and redistributing them to charities & community groups that are in need, creating a positive social impact in the process.

Donations included:

  • 15,000m2 of carpets
  • 3,000m2 of graphics
  • 1,201m2 of textiles
  • 2,300kg of sandbags
  • 2715 scenic set-pieces
  • 240 litres of paint
  • 90 doors
  • 15 whiteboards
  • 6 tonnes of wood
  • 6 wheelchairs
  • 5 reception desks 
  • 5 fridges

Case Study: Donation to Spruce Carpets 

Spruce Carpets broker carpet solutions for low-income families, and work closely with the Glasgow Care Foundation, Glasgow City Council and Lanarkshire County Council to store and fit flooring for local residents. As well as this they provide training and volunteering opportunities for people who have been excluded from the labour market and want to work.

A total of 15,000m2 of higher quality twist carpet was donated to Spruce Carpets once COP26 was over. In the 30 years of their existence they told us that “this is the largest single donation we have ever received”. The donation filled three arctic lorries. Spruce Carpets also received two carpet booms that will support them in their warehouse.

Since the donation, the 15,000m2 of twist carpet donated to Spruce Carpets has been distributed, providing support to a total of 1800 families across the Glasgow area.

Case Study: Glasgow Wood Recycling  

Glasgow Wood Recycling is part of the nationwide network of Community wood recycling social enterprises that offer cost-effective and efficient collections of all wood, removing this from the event waste stream. The wood is reused in the most environmentally beneficial way, shortening supply chains, saving energy and reducing carbon and will enable Glasgow Wood Recycling to provide opportunities for people who are marginalised in society.

Glasgow Wood Recycling received 51 pallets worth of wood from the Identity production services. 

They also provided 60 normal sized pallets and 9 long sized pallets to support the derig.

The donation to Glasgow Wood Recycling was organized via Event Cycle.

Case Study: Graphics Reuse 

Of the 3,000m2 of graphics used at COP26, 2,000m2 will be transformed into new items.

Event Cycle distributed 500m2 of graphics fabric to Glasgow Play Resource who will use this for arts and crafts and 1,500m2 amongst 3 designers to transform the fabric into tote bags, pencil cases, laptop bags and boxes. 

The items are then sold on the designers’ shops and 10% of their profits go to designated charities. If only tote bags were to be made out of 1,500 m2 of graphics, then that would amount to a second life of approximately 1200 tote bags.

Apart from the 2,000m2 of fabric that was saved from recycling, additional graphics are now being used within Glasgow City Council museums to continue to campaign for Climate Change.

Case Study: Donation of Set Flats and Scenic Pieces

An assortment of items contained within 52 pallets, including set flats, MDF cut sheets, circular MDF discs, fabric stage skirting, and stage carpet, were carefully removed from the show and transported to Glasgow the Caring City, less than a mile from the venue. 

The charity works in three key areas: Health, Security and Education. Within these areas their work is spread between local projects, international projects and emergency relief projects responding quickly and efficiently to disasters and emergencies.  

The wooden set flats were used to create a Winter Wonderland experience. Initially open for free to 300 local kids, the experience was then opened up to all local primary & nursery schools and community groups before Christmas.

Leave a Positive Legacy

Achieving positive legacy impacts through the actions taken in planning and hosting COP26 was a major factor in our planning process, and something we communicated within the COP26 team, and to our suppliers and partners from the earliest stages of event planning. 

A lot of projects and actions which were aligned with our other six Sustainability Governing Principles had legacy impacts, as well as other positive impacts, such as social value, sustainable use of resources and encouraging more sustainable behaviours.

We hope that we have provided valuable lessons for future major events hosts to take from our experience. Particularly the value of early engagement and collaboration with event delivery partners and suppliers to embed sustainability and low carbon considerations from the outset. 

For COP26 this led to the development of the low carbon menu concept, the development of a carbon monitoring tool for pavilions and site build giving an extremely detailed account of all materials flows to site and their carbon footprint, and the recruitment of specialist social value and sustainability consultants to work closely with delegates on sustainable pavilion design, social benefit and circular economy principles, maximising the community benefit from hosting COP. 

COP26 Donations 

Since COP26, the donations coordinated by Event Cycle to Glasgow the Caring City have had another lease of life as well. The grotto has since been dismantled with the materials being reconstructed into a studio space. One studio is set to be used both as a space for food hygiene training and preparation for an upcoming food festival. This will give young students the opportunity to apply their training in a commercial setting.

Another space is going to become a music studio, while two others are set to feature expanded art gallery areas. Additionally, two new soundproofing booths have been created for the use of the local community. Other flats have been used to extend the fitness suite and gym for women-only exercise spaces, classes, and changing rooms. And the carpet has been used for music studio and gym soundproofing.

The 15,000m2 of twist carpet donated to Spruce Carpets has been distributed, providing support to a total of 1800 families across the Glasgow area. 

Low carbon and renewable electricity 

Typically, when temporary structures are required to provide additional accommodation for an event, these structures must be powered by generators, usually diesel. In collaboration with Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN), UK Government provided a suite of new power installations to reduce the reliance on power from diesel generators for the temporary structures. 

Scotland is a world leader in renewable electricity generation, the nation’s grid has an exceptionally low carbon intensity so drawing electricity from the grid is a much better option for sourcing power. 

Improvements to the SEC and its capabilities as a major events venue included a new 6.7kV electricity substation to link to mains power and four smaller substations, one in each SEC car park. The latter will offer capacity for electric vehicle (EV) charging points in the future.

These improvements represent a significant investment in the local area and the SEC and FCDO Services also provided the SEC with a full cabling report to enable them to future proof the network. The new connection and substations will support the SEC with their long-term plans to expand their campus and commitment to become a Net Zero campus by 2030. 

Following COP26 our ISO 20121 management system documentation developed to achieve certification for the event was also shared with the SEC to support their ambition to achieve certification to ISO 20121 for their venue and emissions reduction aspirations.

Promotion and development of international standards

We worked with BSI to explore the potential for increasing sustainability in post-event legacy and consider how the UK Government and UK events industry can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as leaders in commissioning and running sustainable events. The information gathered as part of this roundtable will be used to inform any future update of ISO 20121. 

It was also important to the UK Government to support a transparent approach to carbon management and accounting for COP26, using PAS 2060 to consider the direct and indirect 

emissions attributable to hosting COP26 in Glasgow. This has resulted in the development of a detailed carbon baseline capturing a broad range of impacts for the event, including the most detailed accounting of build materials impacts from any COP. 

Case Study: IKEA Furniture 

As part of our commitment to leave a positive legacy following COP26, the furniture and accessories provided by COP26 Partner IKEA have been rehomed to projects and organisations in Glasgow and the wider region with the support of our partners, Glasgow City Council.

In addition, approximately 6,000 furniture items and home furnishing accessories used throughout the event have been donated to community groups and third sector organisations throughout Glasgow and Scotland, valued at over £500,000.  All IKEA furniture supplied to the Green Zone Café area was provided to the Glasgow Science centre, a registered charity, for use after the event. 

A total of 58 organisations received donations of furniture. Each one was carefully screened according to inclusivity and sustainability criteria, amongst others. We selected opportunities which not only made the most positive impact on local lives but would ensure that the highest possible number of individuals would benefit and that circularity and reuse was fully considered.


With thanks to our principal partners

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