COP26 public participation event report

Location: Scotland

In November 2021 the eyes of the world were on Glasgow as global leaders gathered for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP), COP26. The UN Climate Change Conference resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact – a series of practical commitments to ensure that temperatures don’t continue to rise and we protect our planet.

What we found at our COP26 public participation discussion event

There's no question that climate change is having a devastating effect on our environment and communities. However, what's less well known is the effect on our mental health. That’s why we hosted our own COP26 community participation event to explore:

  1. The current knowledge gaps on how climate change is already affecting mental health
  2. How communities and governments must respond to the mental health effects of climate change
A graphic of a cloud and the earth, with the heading 'How climate change can affect mental health'

We were delighted to be joined by over 80 people including guest speakers from around the world - in order of appearance:

  • Dr Panu Pihkala (University of Helsinki): Climate Change and Climate Emotions
  • Professor Susan Clayton (College of Wooster, Ohio): Climate Change Impacts on Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Dr Michael Mikulewicz (Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University): Connecting Climate Justice, a Just Transition and Mental Health
  • Abdul-Moiz Siddiqi (Activist, Mental Health Foundation Young Leader and former Youth Mayor of Derby): The impact of Climate Change on the Mental Wellbeing of Young People
  • Dr Gary Belkin (President, Billion Minds Institute, New York): Public Mental Health Service Responses
  • Councillor Susan Aitken (Leader, Glasgow City Council): Towards Transition Glasgow

Discussions during our event about the effects of climate change on mental health revealed:

Concern for the future and for future generations

  • Emotions included anxiety, sadness, worry, fear and hopelessness
  • Concerns included career choices and choices about having a family
A graphic with the text 'concern for the future'

Institutional mistrust

  • A lack of confidence in local and national governments’ ability and the will to meet their climate change commitments
  • Scepticism surrounding corporations’ and institutions’ motivation to be accountable for their actions


  • Participants expressed feelings of powerlessness about their ability to make meaningful changes to reduce climate change
  • Other emotions included frustration, anger and despondency
A graphic with the text 'powerlessness'

Although people are in favour of moving to net-zero, there are other concerns, particularly when considering the effect of de-industrialisation on communities in the 1980s. People are concerned about the potential for widening inequalities:

  • As a result of job losses and unemployment created through the scaling down and closure of polluting industries
  • Due to the rising cost of living
  • Due to differences in people’s ability to make sustainable choices based on their income

That being said, people are hopeful that, if done in the right way, the journey to net-zero can result in improved living standards in deprived communities. There is:

  • Hope that green industries will create new job opportunities in deprived communities
  • Aspiration that new green industries in these areas might reignite a sense of community cohesion
  • Acknowledgement that making sustainable choices can improve the physical health of deprived communities contributing to improved mental health outcomes

What’s next?

Participants felt that it was important to conduct more research into the links between climate change and mental health. It was noted that, in the UK in particular, we need a clearer understanding of the effect of climate change on mental health and that studies should include community representation and not be limited to the ‘eco-anxiety’.

While there is a lot we can do as individuals, there is agreement that more needs to be done by governments working together with businesses and public sector organisations across the UK to ensure that we meet our international climate change obligations and support communities through the move to net-zero, leaving no one behind.

A graphic with the text 'what next?'

'We didn’t cause the climate crisis but give the younger generation the power to fix it'

Read a blog about climate change and mental health, written by one of our MHF Young Leaders, Abdul-Moiz Siddiqi, who was also a Speaker at MHF's COP26 Community Participation Event
Read the blog

For more information, please contact [email protected] , (Head of Policy and Impact – Scotland and NI)

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