As world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 United Nations climate change conference, a number of Pittsburghers are joining them to tell the city’s story.

“It’s exciting for us, as Pittsburgh, to have a delegation there because it’s such an opportunity on this international platform to really elevate the region’s story,” says Jenna Cramer, executive director of the South Side-based Green Building Alliance.

“This is probably the most significant conference in my lifetime. After the 2015 COP21 (Conference of Parties) that was held in Paris, the Paris Agreement was signed, where countries were committing to specific actions they were going to take to address climate change. And this is the biggest time that they’re reconvening to really recommit or even increase commitments to make sure that we’re addressing this on a global scale,” says Cramer.

President Joe Biden, climate diplomat John Kerry and experts and heads of state from all over the world are hashing out a strategy to avoid the worst climate change scenarios — and how to deal with the problems (fires, droughts, famines, floods, extreme weather) that are already linked to climate change.

The local contingent includes Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s Chief Resiliency Officer Grant Ervin and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. COP26 runs through Nov. 12.

“Climate change is happening globally; we are held accountable nationally, and we are managing mitigation efforts locally,” says Peduto.

At the same time, Pittsburgh and Glasgow will be finalizing their “sister cities” agreement. Both industrial behemoths have gone through wrenching economic transitions and emerged on the other side as leaders in sustainable development.

“Cities are at the epicenter of decisions related to emissions reduction, systemic inequality and the brunt of weather-borne crises,” says Ervin. “In Pittsburgh, we are no longer planning for these challenges but actively budgeting and allocating resources, changing transportation systems and working to advance the clean energy transition at the local and regional scale. We need to meet the challenges of the moment.”

This is a chance to showcase the cutting-edge research being done in Pittsburgh.

“I am thrilled to be participating at COP26 on behalf of the more than 170 energy researchers at Carnegie Mellon,” says Anna J. Siefken, executive director of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. “The opportunity to advance critical energy and climate-tech research via this once-in-a-lifetime convening will give us the chance to move our critical efforts forward on the international stage in a way that reflects our determination to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

Glasgow, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cramer notes that, for the first time, there’s a day dedicated to buildings — an area where the Green Building Alliance has been a leader for more than two decades. Pittsburgh has the world’s largest 2030 District of buildings committed to 50% reductions in energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 2030.

“We’re coming to talk about what the solutions are, what the new economy might look like and how to move forward,” she says. “So that’s also really exciting from our perspective because it’s just never been looked at with that level of importance. When I tell other people about the story of our region, it’s of this very strong cross-collaboration across sectors. So it’s business and government, higher ed and nonprofits and communities working together to really make a big change.”

It’s easy to be pessimistic about climate change, as the challenge seems so vast.

“I mean, it’s hard to look at what’s in front of us and not realize the gravity and enormity and urgency of all of it. And it can be so overwhelming, which puts you in a place of just doom and gloom,” says Cramer.

“But I choose optimism and hope all of the time. I think there are so many people at the table committed to this and finding new solutions to move forward. And it’s going to be the cities and regions who are ahead of the game and tackling this that are going to thrive.”