THE world is talking about Glasgow. Our status as host to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, has given us truly global recognition and profile, unlike any other time in our recent history. 

Just last week I had the honour of speaking at an event hosted from Japan and addressed by the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. 

In his address Mr Kerry made it clear that the future of our planet depends so much on what is decided here in Glasgow this November. It is a privilege to hear our city spoken of in that context but also a huge responsibility. As host, we have to ensure we do everything in our gift to deliver a successful event, for visiting delegates, activists and for own citizens.

But we also have a huge responsibility to seize this moment, to capitalise on this worldwide profile and ensure that COP is a springboard for a more equitable, cleaner, healthier and more modern Glasgow. Every aspect of our lives will change over the next decade as the world takes steps to address global warming and its impact. I want to ensure COP gives us a head start and I know from international conversations with other council leaders and mayors that our host status has also made us the envy of the world. 

Our choice as a host for an event of such significance and importance might appear a little odd to some. But our journey from the birthplace of the industrial revolution, to the collapse of heavy industry and our shipyards in the 1960s and 1970s, the dereliction and abandonment which followed, and our renaissance in recent decades, is a remarkable story and one which is resonating across the world. How we continue to transition a zero carbon future can be the template for other cities, especially those whose industrial path started long after ours.

Glasgow Times: American President Joe Biden is one of a number of world leaders due in Glasgow this year American President Joe Biden is one of a number of world leaders due in Glasgow this year

There is so much sharing of knowledge and good practice among the world’s cities right now because we all recognise that cities are the places that will deliver the change. And Glasgow is recognised as helping to lead that change.   

Our past is also hugely relevant in the conversations European and North American cities likes ours are having with those in the global south, where the impacts of global warming are most pressing. Glasgow was the engine room of the Empire and the legacies of that are still felt across the world. 

It was a humbling experience to speak at an event hosted from Rwanda and involving many African cities, and to acknowledge our role in their challenges and pledge to do what we can to ensure their voices are heard in November.   

One thing Glasgow’s voice in the build up to COP has ensured is that the lives of ordinary citizens in the transition to carbon neutrality are front and centre of what we do. And that means the people of Croftfoot or Carntyne, as much as anywhere on our planet. So we are making sure our profile as COP26 host will attract the investment for the new jobs a rapidly changing economy will demand, as well as the major infrastructure projects needed to meet our emissions targets. 

Make no mistake: the skills our young people learn, how we heat our homes, move around our city, manage waste, the look and feel of our communities – everything is changing and we must be ready to build on our growing reputation. 

This is not about two weeks in November or even about targets negotiated by world leaders. It’s about the practical changes and interventions Glasgow, and indeed the world, must put in place for the future of our planet.  COP is a generational opportunity for our city, a defining moment for citizens of Glasgow and the world.  

City centre focus... 

I’ve spent much of the last several months advocating for a national focus on city centre recovery, complementing the work of our City Centre Recovery Taskforce.

I’m very pleased that this has paid off with the first meeting of a national City Centre Recovery Taskforce, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop and with my fellow Leaders from the Scottish Cities Alliance joining me in membership

This was a really positive and constructive first meeting, with a shared understanding that there has to be particular attention paid to Scotland’s city centres. They are vital for the nation’s economic, social and cultural recovery but have particularly suffered from the economic impact of the pandemic.

That doesn’t mean that Glasgow’s other neighbourhoods will be overlooked. But to put it into context, Glasgow city centre is home to the biggest concentration of economic activity in Scotland – 170,000 jobs, not counting those in the many supply chain businesses. People from every part of Glasgow depend on our city centre for their livelihoods.

Glasgow Times: George Square George Square

The national Taskforce will focus on areas where council powers are limited and it’s difficult to make progress on the pace and scale post-lockdown recovery demands

One example of this is finding new uses for empty properties, a major blight on our city centres. Many commercial properties are owned by overseas pension funds or other distant landlords, who are not much bothered whether parts of their huge portfolios lie empty for years at a time. 

The Council’s Compulsory Purchase powers aren’t adequate to deal with that kind of challenge so we need support from government to take over empty properties and sites and find imaginative uses for them.

I’m also delighted that the Scottish Government has allocated some specific funding for city centres, with Glasgow getting £650,000, which we’ll use for marketing once our city centre businesses reopen, for events in the run-up to COP26, and for finding uses for some of those empty buildings.