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The end is where we start from: the Glasgow COP26 Hub at Being Human

As the 26th UN Climate Conference draws to a close, Casi Dylan (festival Hub coordinator and Cultural Activities Coordinator at the University of Glasgow) reflects on this year's Being Human Hub in Glasgow.

The end is where we start from: the Glasgow COP26 Hub at Being Human

Wherever you are in the UK, it’s been hard to avoid Glasgow recently. With the media spotlight firmly fixed since November 1st on the United Nation’s COP26, our city – the Dear Green Place – has become the worldwide focus of climate change policy, pronouncements, and protests. The conference officially closes on November 12th and in many ways it feels like the end of a long road: the activity, the activism – it’s been energising and exhausting in equal measure. And it’s at this moment – with this sense of an ending, the hubbub dying down and delegates returning home – that the Being Human festival begins.

Believe it or not, it’s perfect timing. Yes, we might be a little bleary-eyed after the past few weeks, but the legacy of this conference and, more importantly, the ongoing urgency of meeting the challenges posed by climate change, is our starting point. The conference attendees may be gone but our communities remain, our research at the University of Glasgow continues. Both in the context of the climate crisis itself, and the festival’s overarching theme of Renewal, it’s apt that this end is where we start from.

Our COP26 Festival Hub is a varied public programme – ranging from sustainable gaming to crowdsourced poetry – with the idea of hosting at its core. Symbolically, we’ve drawn on Scotland’s long-established tradition of bothies in our programming, with the aim of building through our series of projects and events a cultural hub and civic refuge (both real and conceptual) through which to demonstrate the vital role played by the arts and humanities in addressing climate emergency. While most activities are accessible online, our partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has enabled us to create a ‘bothy in the city’ at the Climate Portal, a space from which our festival Artists in Residence Francisco Llinas-Casas and Paria Moazemi-Goodarzi will guide participants on an urban walk with a difference in their project Feel Field.

Children with banners at a climate change protest
Editorial credit: Ink Drop /

This conscious spin on tradition also feels apt. Reflecting on the legacy of COP26 in The Herald, our colleague Professor Mark Banks wrote that in order to meet the challenges of climate change we need:

great stories, dreams and desires about the urgent present and the more positive futures we might wish to see. This is where arts and culture, and the wider humanities, come in. The arts not only represent the world, they can help us to interpret and change it, providing us with inspired and creative understandings of how to address life’s most fundamental issues – including the threats posed by climate change.

It is this crucial capacity for (re)imagination that underpins our programme and the research that informs it. Events such as 'Imagining Ecological Pasts and Futures' (18:45, Wednesday 17 November), hosted by the team at our Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, will explore why fantasy has always been an invaluable tool to think with and through. Ideas of care and attentiveness are also central to our events, from 'Collective Care' at The Hunterian (18:00, Thursday 18 November) which aims to renew perspectives on museum collections through the lens of climate change, to the workshop 'For Freedom Space with Rivers' (14:00, Friday 12 November) which through participatory art explores not only how we can connect creatively with rivers, but also with each other. Through choral singing, gaming hackathons, activism workshops, and online exhibitions, we are extending an invitation to the city of Glasgow to build on the energy of the last few weeks and together to explore what it has opened up in and for us – creatively, imaginatively – and to use this to devise for ourselves the better futures that we need. It’s an opportunity to renew and recharge together, to come back to ourselves, so as to keep this vital conversation going.

The Being Human 2021 COP26 Hub in Glasgow has been made possible by generous support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and UK Research and Innovation. 

Find out more

Browse the University of Glasgow's free programme of events here