Who’s in charge as Glasgow becomes UN territory at COP26?

Everything you need to know about the law, policing and security during the crunch climate summit.

Who’s in charge as Glasgow becomes UN territory at COP26? STV News
Police Scotland officers can only enter the blue zone with UN agreement.

The COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow is being hosted by the United Nations, which means the venue will come under its control.

The summit will take place across two sites – the ‘blue zone’ at the Scottish Event Campus and the ‘green zone’ at Glasgow Science Centre.

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The blue zone is a UN-managed space that hosts the negotiations, bringing together delegations from 197 countries and will become an international territory.

The UN will have administrative control of the Scottish Events Campus and will be responsible for security during COP26. While it will be supported by Police Scotland, the UN will remain in charge of all security in the blue zone.

Police mounted units have been training for COP26.STV News
Police mounted units have been training for COP26.

Police Scotland may only enter with the consent of the UN secretary general, a standard arrangement for such conferences.

‘Complete freedom of expression’

UN officials, representatives and experts all have immunity from legal process – including prosecution (diplomatic immunity) – inside the blue zone.

Natasha Durkin, a senior associate in Shepherd and Wedderburn’s regulation and markets team, told STV News: “It is a foundational principle of the UN that its property is ‘inviolable’, meaning that UN property is immune from any legal interference wherever it is situated.

“The main reason for this is to allow the UN full control of its international functions and activities without interference, and reflects the immunities UN personnel have from legal process.

“One important aspect of the blue zone is that it allows the UN to guarantee complete freedom of speech to those participating in UN meetings, regardless of the (possibly restrictive) laws applying in the host state.

“Complete freedom of expression for participants is agreed in Article 2 of the COP26 agreement.”

Year of planning

Police Scotland has been planning and preparing for over a year, alongside the United Nations, UK Government and Glasgow City Council.

Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins said: “We have engaged with the United Nations and this is common practice for UN conferences.

“In consultation with a range of partners, our policing plan takes into account all factors to ensure an appropriate response will be delivered.” 

Police carry out a training exercise on the 'Squinty Bridge' in Glasgow.STV News
Police carry out a training exercise on the ‘Squinty Bridge’ in Glasgow.

All attendees within the blue zone must be accredited by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Ms Durkin said: “Consistent with having full control of the blue zone, the UN is ‘in charge’.

“However, the COP26 agreement (and again, as is standard) requires the UN to cooperate with UK authorities to ensure the proper administration of justice and to prevent any abuse of the blue zone. 

“In addition to the UN being required to cooperate with the UK in relation to the administration of justice, and to prevent abuse, the secretary general of the UN can waive any immunity applying to the blue zone. 

“As such, if an offence is committed, there are mechanisms for both cooperation between the UK and UN, and the possibility of waiver of immunity. The disposal of an alleged offence committed in the blue zone would ultimately depend on circumstances.”

So what is the green zone?

The green zone is managed by the UK Government and is a platform for the general public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists, business and others to have their voices heard.

It will host events, exhibitions, workshops and talks promoting dialogue, awareness and education.

Normal domestic law applies there.