OPINION: Can cities like Glasgow lead the next green industrial revolution?

by Susan Aitken | Glasgow City Council
Friday, 23 July 2021 11:58 GMT

People walk along Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, May 2, 2021. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

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As world leaders prepare to come to COP26, Glasgow is showing climate action can be inclusive and equitable

Susan Aitken is leader of the Glasgow City Council.

In 100 days’ time, Presidents and Prime Ministers, mayors and local leaders, CEOs, climate scientists, trade unionists and activists will converge on the city of Glasgow for the COP26 climate negotiations.

Their collective goal: to build on the legacy of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and tackle the global climate crisis. The Paris Agreement was an incredible achievement, as close to 200 nations agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, thereby ensuring global temperatures don’t rise to dangerous levels.

Yet progress has stalled, global emissions are still going up and the impacts of climate change are increasingly alarming, from the extreme heatwaves in North America to devastating floods in Germany. 

The legacy of COP26 must be even more ambitious. Let history remember the 2021 “Glasgow Agreement” as the turning point when we collectively reset the path for life on our shared planet.

Delivering on this ambition means recognising that action on poverty and climate change are two sides of the same coin. This must be the defining decade for climate action, and we can only succeed if the economic and social benefits, including the good-quality jobs generated by climate action, are enjoyed by all.

We have a unique opportunity to create more sustainable, healthier and more equitable cities - where tackling poverty and cutting emissions go hand in hand with the provision of good-quality jobs.

There are few greater examples of the transformational power of cities than Glasgow. We were once defined by heavy industry and our history as a titan of the Industrial Revolution. For almost 200 years the term ‘Clyde Built’ was synonymous with quality and innovation. 

But industrial decline heralded a dark chapter of dereliction and abandonment. The failure to plan by putting in place new industries when the old collapsed contributed to generational unemployment and economic inactivity.

Today, parts of our city still live with that legacy, with too many communities blighted by the impact of vacant and derelict land, poor air quality, and economic, social and health inequalities. In Glasgow, the past is a very current social justice issue. 


Yet Glasgow not only survived, we are once again seizing new opportunities to thrive.  We have a global reputation for culture, hospitality and sport. We’re home to internationally recognised universities and have rejuvenated our skills base.

We’re fast becoming a global leader in new, low-carbon economies within digital, science and technology, as well as life sciences and precision medicine.

Since 2017, my mission as city leader has been to prioritise sustainable, inclusive policies that provide essential public services, support workers and access to the labour market, and accelerate the global transition to a clean, wellbeing-focused economy. We have put tackling poverty and inequality at the centre of our strategy. 

Our Fair Work policies prioritise the living wage and other fair work practices, digital skills training, affordable, quality and accessible childcare, and access to low-carbon transit that connects people to employment and training opportunities.

Our Glasgow Standard for new-build social rented housing aims to simultaneously minimise emissions and address energy poverty. Our Spaces for People program is expanding greener streets and active travel, handing previously car-dominated places over to people.

Working with major energy suppliers, we have transformative city plans for electric vehicle charging networks and are working in partnership with the Scottish government for a new Glasgow Metro. 

Our aim is to achieve net-zero carbon by 2030 and we are proud to have joined more than 700 similarly ambitious cities around the world in the Race to Zero campaign. Our Glasgow Climate Plan and metropolitan climate change adaptation strategy are tangible signs of urban ambition delivering on national aims, mirroring action by city leaders globally.

We also know that city commitments to tackle climate change or poverty are nothing without comprehensive plans that are inclusive, green and equitable. 

I’m pleased to announce that Glasgow will join the Thriving Cities Initiative (TCI), a project with C40 Cities, to help us create a local legacy from COP26 and accelerate our ambition to transition Glasgow to a thriving city: one that supports all people to access a good life within planetary boundaries.

Through the pilot, we will work with communities, businesses and academic institutions to foster new systems, community activity and business models to reduce overall levels of consumption and create an economy where everyone is given an opportunity to thrive without harming other people or the planet.

Today, as we mark 100 days until COP26, Glasgow is joining other cities around the world and international trades union leaders to call for a just transition so that COP26 negotiations become a global launchpad for a decade defined by climate action and quality jobs for all.

Glasgow’s story isn’t unique, but if our city can rebuild stronger from the pandemic and deliver for the planet and its people, then most cities can.

In the build-up to COP26, city leadership is essential to unlocking a greener, fairer, more prosperous future. The Glasgow Agreement will, with good fortune and hard work, be negotiated in my city.

Delivering on the promise of a greener, more equitable future for us all will begin in the world’s towns and cities. I have no doubt we have the collective commitment and will to succeed.