COP26 Climate Change Conference 2021: Scottish Fire and Rescue Service preparedness

This report considers the appropriateness of steps taken by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in preparing for the forthcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26).

1 Introduction

1. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) brings together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to tackle climate change. The UK Government, in partnership with Italy, will host COP26 which takes place at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), Glasgow between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

2. Pre-sessional meetings are expected to take place at the venue week commencing 25 October 2021. The last conference of this type, though on a smaller scale, was held in Madrid in 2019, under the presidency of Chile.

3. COP26 is expected to be the largest international summit ever hosted by the UK, with over 100 heads of state being invited and potentially 25,000 delegates attending. The scale and importance of this event brings with it exceptional planning responsibilities for the UK and Scottish Governments in general, and safety and security are of key importance for event planning.

4. COP26 was initially planned to take place in November 2020 but due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the event was postponed until November 2021. Because of this, SFRS planning for the conference has been in progress, albeit intermittently, since December 2019.

5. The purpose of our inspection is to assess the effectiveness of the SFRS's planning for the event. Our Inspection Outline document indicated particular areas of interest including:

  • the SFRS' risk assessments for the conference
  • planning arrangements, including those involving multi-agency partners, and
  • planning assumptions, including business as usual (BAU) arrangements
  • additional capacity requirements and how these will be met
  • contingency planning for a major incident in connection with the conference
  • incident command capacity and effective support of all venues
  • fire safety enforcement activity relative to the event
  • training and exercising arrangements, to include multi-agency partners
  • the SFRS' communications and briefing strategy.

6. When we commenced this inspection, we knew that our inspection report would not contain recommendations. In part this is due to the timing of the event and an appreciation that it would be difficult for the SFRS to respond to any recommendation prior to the conference taking place. Instead we conducted the inspection in a way that allowed for discussion with the Service, ensuring any issues identified could be addressed at the time rather than awaiting publication of this report.

7. This report is a product of a desk-top analysis of provided documentation, our direct observation and interviews held with staff and partners of the SFRS, and reflects the circumstance at the time of our inspection. The planning and preparations for COP26 is continuing and evolving, consequently material changes may have occurred since then.

Key findings

8. The SFRS has undertaken appropriate preparatory activities for COP26 in the following areas:

  • planning and project management
  • operational readiness
  • prevention and protection, and
  • information and communications.

9. At the time of writing the SFRS's preparations for the conference are well advanced although not complete in some areas, there is also a period of training and exercising to be completed.

10. There is an expectation that the SFRS will be required to declare itself ready, but that date has not been formally identified.

11. The SFRS has had previous experience of planning for and operating during major public events, such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Due to the postponement of COP26 in 2020, the period available for planning was increased. However, the planning phase was negatively impacted by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic when members of the initial pathfinder team were re-purposed to work on the response to managing the consequences of COVID.

12. There has been a dedicated planning team for the event from December 2019 which has been scaled up in size as the date of the conference approaches. The final dedicated team of 20 personnel was fully established in early June 2021. In project planning terms the planning team report to a designated Senior Responsible Officer (SRO), who is the Assistant Chief Officer Service Delivery. The UK has the official presidency of the conference and the UK Government has a COP Unit and Delivery Board with a supporting structure. The Scottish Government has a core governance structure with a Ministerial Board, an Executive Board and a Programme Delivery Board. Beneath these core Boards are further governance arrangements. For the purpose of our inspection, the primary Governance Board is the Safety and Resilience Board. This Board receives progress reports from relevant Scottish Government departments, delivery partners such as the SFRS, as well as from the UK Government's Scotland Office.

13. Under the organiser's terms, the SFRS was required to take reasonable steps to obtain independent advice on its preparedness activities. The SFRS took a proactive approach to delivering against these terms and did so by arranging for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to peer review its preparations. The SFRS had a similar arrangement with the LFB during the Commonwealth Games in 2014, building on LFB's own experience gained when planning for the London Olympics in 2012.

14. The SFRS has also been able to call upon the assistance of the National Fire Chiefs Council's (NFCC) National Resilience Assurance Team (NRAT) which is a component of the wider government-funded national resilience project. Discussions have taken place between NRAT and the SFRS around the provision of resource. The SFRS has responsibility for maintaining those specialist capability assets that are based in Scotland.

About the Inspection

15. Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland (HMFSI) operates as a body within, but independent of, the Scottish Government. Inspectors have the scrutiny powers specified in section 43B of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 'the 2005 Act'. These include inquiring into the state and efficiency of the SFRS, its compliance with Best Value, and the manner in which it is carrying out its functions.

16. An inquiry by the Inspectorate can be self-directed or can be the subject of direction of Scottish Ministers. This inspection was self-directed by the Chief Inspector.

17. The SFRS has a legal obligation under section 43E of the 2005 Act to have regard to HMFSI reports given to it and, having done so, must take such measures (if any) as it thinks fit in relation to the report.

18. In conducting this inspection it was not our intention to make judgement on how best the Service should manage the risks related to COP26, that was beyond the scope of this inspection.

19. The inspection was carried out by way of a desk-top review of COP26 relevant documentation, observation at training and exercising events and a series of interviews with managers within the Service responsible for the project and service delivery, as well as relevant partners.


20. The main part of the conference will take place in Glasgow between Sunday 31 October and Friday 12 November 2021. A limited number of other venues are also being used across Scotland. The event is being held under the presidency of the UK Government and overall responsibility for the event rests with the UK Government through the Cabinet Office. This has necessitated the SFRS working with elements of both the UK and Scottish Governments. Additionally the main conference venue, the SEC (which is within the area termed the Blue Zone), will become designated UN territory under the control of the UN and subject to international law. There is an area of the conference, termed the Green Zone, covering other locations including the Glasgow Science Centre, which are managed by the UK Government, only these areas will be accessible to members of the general public.

21. As could be expected there is a complex governance structure to manage the planning and delivery of an event of this scale. Structures exist within both the UK and Scottish Governments with representation from a broad collection of organisations or functions within government. Safety and security is a major focus of attention. In this context there are a number of working groups, steering groups and strategic boards to develop, manage and report on the assessment and mitigation of risks and to provide assurance on the safety and security workstreams.

22. The SFRS is actively engaging with the necessary groups and reporting on its progress at formal meetings. Additionally there are regular informal meetings between Scottish Government officials and SFRS project team members. The SFRS has, within the operation of the governance structure, two routes through which to escalate issues with event organisers should there be a need to do so. In addition to the above external governance structures the Service has its own internal processes. These are discussed in further detail below under planning and project management.

23. As has occurred in Scotland and prominently elsewhere in the UK, the subject of climate change can lead to public demonstrations by climate change activists. These situations can clearly have an impact on normal day-to-day emergency response capability and the SFRS requires to give this due consideration. Policing for the event is of major interest and has been the subject of a separate inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), a copy of the report can be found here HMICS | Publications.

24. The SFRS has significant experience of planning for public events, from routine cultural performances such as concerts, to major events such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014, which was also held in Glasgow and at other sites in Scotland. Major events such as these take a substantial amount of planning and project management. The SFRS' project and programme management processes have evolved and become well developed since the Service was created in 2013.

25. As touched on earlier, the SFRS is able to call on its past experience in managing high profile events, but it is also able to use the experience and learning from other organisations from recent major events in the UK, such as the G7 summit held in June 2021 at Carbis Bay in Cornwall and also gathered learning from COP21 held in 2015, from Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris.

26. The SFRS, along with other 'blue light' organisations and specified partners, such as local authorities and utility providers, has statutory duties under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and secondary legislation to plan for major emergencies. The Service has equipment, and its personnel have trained and exercised for the response to large scale operational incidents and mass casualty events.



Back to top