Adam Smith at the COP

Image of university of Glasgow in the evening

Looking at the summit through the lens of Glasgow’s most famous academic son

Kelvin Gallery and Online

Monday 8th - Wednesday 10th November

Part of GEFI's Path to COP26 campaign, ‘Adam Smith at the COP’ looked at the summit through the lens of Glasgow’s most famous academic son.

Just as the new economic age of Smith demanded new ways of thinking, so do the new realities posed by the climate crisis. We will take this chance to rethink our economic and financial system with experts from finance, academia, development and central banking.

The workstream includes an evening lecture series and performance in the University of Glasgow, where Smith studied and taught, as well as the publication of a unique series of opinions entitled “The Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century”. In this, a selection of experts update the chapters of Smith’s most famous work for the climate era.

The evening lectures, being held in person with an option to attend virtually, were inspired in part by the lecture series, and will feature some of the authors from the series.


The Accumulation and Employment of Capital: Stewardship in the Climate Era

Monday 8th November, 18:00 - 19:30

What responsibility do the owners and managers of capital have to ensure it is used properly?

This evening lecture will draw inspiration from Book II of the Wealth of Nations. Chapter update author, investor and former Chair of UNEP FI during COP21 David Pitt-Watson will be joined by Royal London CEO Barry O’Dwyer, as well as other speakers to be confirmed. Together, they will ask what the principle of stewardship means for the owners and managers of capital, and discuss how the issues of climate change and environmental protection change the way we think about capital accumulation, and whether the often-discussed concept of ‘natural capital’ has been properly integrated into business practice and national accounts.


  • David Pitt-Watson, Investor & Visiting Fellow, Cambridge Judge Business School
  • Prof. Kathleen Riach, University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School
  • Seb Burnside, Chief Economist, NatWest Group
  • Jeremy Lawson, Chief Economist, abrdn
  • Barry O’Dwyer, Chief Executive Officer, Royal London
  • Gail Hurley, Senior Adviser, Global Ethical Finance Initiative

The Political Economy of Climate Change: Who Pays for Climate Action?

Tuesday 9 November, 18:00 - 19:30

Who should pay for climate action?

This evening lecture will draw inspiration from Book IV of the Wealth of Nations. Chapter update author, economist and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, Sir Anton Muscatelli will be joined by Selwyn Hart, Associate Secretary General of the UN, as well as other speakers to be confirmed. Together, they will connect the political economy of Smith to the negotiations taking place around them.

The distribution between groups in society that concerned Smith and his contemporaries and followers might seem removed from the day-to-day operation of the negotiations, but ‘who pays?’ is now the central question underlying any COP. From the development paths available to poorer nations, to any compensation richer nations must offer them to compensate for following low-carbon development paths, to the question of how the carbon transition is financed through loans and grants, to the distribution of rights and responsibilities within countries, political economy is at the heart of climate.


  • Prof. Sir Anton Muscatelli
  • Dr Lena Wilson, Non-Executive Director, NatWest Group
  • Dame Susan Rice, Chair, Financial Services Culture Board
  • Arunma Oteh, Visiting Fellow, University of Oxford
  • Hakima El-Haité, President, Liberal International
  • Allan Watt, Special Adviser, Global Ethical Finance Initiative

Performance: The Life and Times of Adam Smith

Wednesday 10 November, 18:00 - 19:30

The final day of our Adam Smith at the COP workstream, and our COP26 programme, will see an innovative hybrid lecture-performance on The Life and Times of Adam Smith. We will offer a unique opportunity to hear from world-leading experts on the personal and intellectual history of Adam Smith, while seeing key moments from that history brought to life by a group of performers.

Featuring a keynote by Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Scottish Government. 



The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October – 12 November 2021. The meeting brought countries together to work towards achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Further information:

First published: 20 October 2021

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