COP26: First Minister's speech - 29 October 2021

Statement given before the start of COP26 by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at media briefing at Atlantic Quay, Glasgow on Friday 29 October 2021.

Good afternoon everybody and welcome - ahead of the opening of COP26 on Monday - to the Scottish Government headquarters in Glasgow.

I am joined today by Iain Livingstone, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, and by the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch.

For the next fortnight, Glasgow - and Scotland - will be at the centre of the world’s attention. Hosting this conference is a huge honour for Scotland – and it is also a major responsibility.

And so I want to talk a little bit today about some of the ways in which we will live up to those responsibilities, and what the next fortnight is likely to mean for people in Glasgow, and for visitors here.

Hopefully by doing that, I can ensure people in Glasgow - and people coming to Glasgow - have the information they need before the summit begins.

Obviously, Glasgow has hosted large events before – and has done so successfully. But I think it’s important to recognise that COP26 is a bit different in scope, significance and scale. It could – quite literally – determine the future of the planet.

Indeed the importance of the event is why it is, even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, taking place in person. And obviously, the scale of the event is quite unprecedented, not just in terms of the numbers of people who are likely to come to Glasgow, but also of course, the status and standing of some of those world leaders who will be visiting i

In light of all of that is inevitable, given how much of a major event this is, that it will bring some disruption.

That will be particularly true over the next few days as national leaders and heads of state, together of course with more than 20,000 delegates, arrive here in Scotland from countries across the world

We also know that certain dates are going to be particularly busy, for example this coming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during the world leaders’ summit.

And there are also demonstrations planned for Friday and Saturday of next week, which I will say more about in a moment. 

In addition, the security requirements of the conference mean that throughout the next two weeks, there will be significant road closures in the area surrounding the Scottish Events Campus where COP is taking place.

In light of that, we are asking people to consider carefully unnecessary trips during the first few days of COP.

That’s especially the case for journeys around or near the SEC, but it also applies across the central belt more generally.

And it applies to journeys on public transport as well as car journeys. We are very pleased that strike action is no longer in prospect on Scotrail services during COP, or at all, but we do know that trains are still likely to be very busy.

Working from home will also help, of course, but this is already recommended as a way of reducing Covid transmission.

By avoiding where possible unnecessary trips during the busier parts of the COP summit, people will be helping to ease a bit the pressure  on our roads and our rail services and also of course helping to ensure priority access for key workers such as NHS staff.

If people do need to travel  and of course, many people will require to travel, then our advice is  to plan routes carefully.

Glasgow City Council has created a set of maps which can help you to do that, and which provide information about where and when you can congestion is expected. Those maps can be found on the travel section of the Get Ready Glasgow website – that’s at

Of course we also anticipate some disruption as a result of protests during the next two weeks and I want to say just a few words on that matter just now as well.

Scotland and Glasgow have a proud tradition of activism and of peaceful protest. In fact, I have personally taken part in many peaceful protests in the city over the past 30 years or so.

The city slogan is ‘People Make Glasgow’. That is one that I hope at the end of COP26, will be applied warmly to this summit. 

So it is absolutely the case that we - and I know this is the strong position of the United Nations - want people's voices to be heard. We want the voices of young people of wider civic society and of people from across the world to be heard loudly and clearly by those around the negotiating table.

We know there are two major scheduled demonstrations – the Friday for the Future school strike next week, and the march from Kelvingrove to Glasgow Green next Saturday on the Global Day of Action. These both provide opportunities for people to make their voices heard. And I want to thank the organisers of these demonstrations - as well as a number of other activist groups - for the engagement they have had with the City Council and with the police, to ensure that demonstrations can take place safely and securely.

We also expect that other protests that may take place without warning. That is understandable and these are harder for the city, conference organisers and the police to prepare for.

And there are just some principles,  in addition, of course to that important principle of the democratic right to protest, that I would ask those intended to pay attention to.

Firstly, whatever anyone thinks of the negotiations taking place in the conference centre -  and I can understand why many think that world leaders are not yet doing enough because when leaders are not yet doing enough and that is one of the things we hope to see change during the summit . Regardless of views on that, progress will not be made if discussions are disrupted,

And more generally – and this of course applies to all protests - I would ask that people who are demonstrating show consideration for Glasgow and for people living in this city. 

They are opening up this city to the world at what is a difficult time for those around the world, and I hope those who are travelling, welcome though they are, to make their voices heard, will recognise that.

So please also and lastly, follow our rules on Covid – they are intended to protect everyone. And also respect our emergency services – our ambulance crews, our fire crews and our police.

I know the Chief Constable will say something in a few minutes about Scotland’s approach to policing, but I want to stress that our emergency services are there to keep everyone safe.

That includes those who are here to negotiate or to protest, but of course our emergency services also have continued responsibilities to support the people of this city, no matter what is happening inside COP26. So I would ask everyone to respect and support them as they do their jobs.

The final point I want to cover relates to Covid.

This event – which is bringing people from around the world to meet indoors in large numbers while the world is still in the midst of a pandemic  - inevitably poses a risk of increased Covid transmission. I understand why that makes some people wary.

However I want to give an assurance again today that we are doing everything we can to mitigate these risks as far as is possible.

The UN, the UK Government and the Scottish Government have taken steps to ensure, as far as possible, that delegates have been fully vaccinated before arrival. Everyone coming to Glasgow from outside the Common Travel Area will need to show a negative test result before they arrive in the UK.

Also, everyone entering the core venue for COP - the blue zone – is required to take a lateral flow test every day that they are in attendance.

Everyone attending the Green Zone must show either their vaccine certificate - for members of the public - or their blue zone pass, which will be updated with the result of their daily lateral flow test.

And at both venues, people must wear face coverings and follow one metre physical distancing and strict hygiene guidance.

In partnership with the UN and the UK, we will keep these procedures under review throughout the summit.

And of course I’d stress that everyone visiting Glasgow for COP – whether official delegates or activists – are required to follow the same basic Covid precautions that apply to us all when they are in the city itself. For example,  wearing face coverings on public transport and in indoor public places.

Through all of these measures, I hope we can reduce the risk of Covid transmission - and make COP as safe as possible for people living in the city and for those who will visit our city over the next two weeks. 

Finally, I know – as I said at the beginning - that the next two weeks will bring disruption to people living in Glasgow – and I understand that that will cause frustration. I do understand that, I'm both a resident of and a representative of this city.

I don't expect what I’m about to say will take all of that frustration away over the next two weeks, but I think all of us hopefully will remember that what we are experiencing over these next two weeks is for a purpose.

This is probably the most important global gathering of this century so far.

It's not just in Glasgow's interest to have a safe and successful summit, that is in the interest of the entire world.

I know that the vast majority of people in Glasgow understand that and even if we don't much like the disruption, we do understand the importance of what will be happening during this conference.

So let me end by thanking everyone in the city for the welcome I know will be extended to visitors but also for the patience and forbearance that will have to be shown over the next two weeks.

My hope, and I know that is the hope of Glasgow, Scotland, the UK and indeed the world, is that by the end of these two weeks the outcome of the summit will have justified that patience. So thank you very much for listening.

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