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Activists symbolically set George Square on fire with an art installation of faux flames and smoke ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 28, 2021.RUSSELL CHEYNE/Reuters

Delegates to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow may want to avoid venturing too far from their hotels lest they run into piles of garbage, angry picket lines and gangs of rats.

Hosting a global conference in the midst of a pandemic was never going to be easy, but Glasgow is facing some particularly tricky challenges. Roughly 1,500 city employees are set to go on strike, including sanitation workers. The city has also run out of hotel rooms, and thousands of delegates are still scrambling to find a place to stay. And then there’s COVID-19 and worries that the summit will drive up Glasgow’s already high infection rate.

Scotland’s largest city, with about 600,000 residents, has played host to major events before, including the Commonwealth Games in 2014. But nothing compares to COP26, which starts Sunday.

What is COP26? A guide to the Glasgow climate talks – the world’s most consequential environment conference

About 30,000 delegates are slated to attend along with 130 world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden. There will also be thousands of activists, such as the group Extinction Rebellion, which is planning a campaign of “deliberate disruption” during the conference. More than 100,000 people are also expected to march through the streets on Nov. 6 as part of a day of global action.

City officials have acknowledged the challenges but insist they are prepared. “We are ready, with caveats,” Susan Aitken, the lead city councillor, told a hearing of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee this week. Ms. Aitken said the caveats were related to technical issues and “none of them were massive, none of them were enough to cause panic.” She got a break Wednesday when a union representing rail workers called off a strike that was set to start Monday and would have crippled the transportation network.

Many Glaswegians disagree with Ms. Aitken and are concerned the city could be headed for disaster.

The pandemic has already left many civic services in short supply, and complaints about overflowing litter bins have flooded in. Social media have been filled with photos of vermin, and at least two sanitation workers had to be hospitalized recently after being bitten by rodents.

“Our city is currently littered with rubbish and rats,” resident Ashley Hanney said during a recent panel discussion about COP26 preparations on BBC television. “With COP26 coming, which I welcome by the way, I just wonder: Is this the right time to be showcasing our city? I think that it could be embarrassing for the city.”

The absence of some world leaders from COP26 puts in doubt their ambition to tackle climate change. Adam Radwanski, The Globe’s climate change columnist, says there’s room for Canada to show its leadership around funding clean power in developing countries and other green solutions.

Ms. Aitken played down the rat infestation and said officials were working overtime to clean up the city. “All cities have rats,” she told the committee. “I have to say it’s not unheard of, and it hasn’t been unheard of for decades, that our cleansing employees occasionally experience rats.”

She added that garbage collection was interrupted during the pandemic and, as a result, the rat population has increased by 25 per cent. However, she said, the city has put out 150 additional garbage bins and staff have committed 12,000 hours of extra work to spruce up the downtown.

Union leaders have criticized Ms. Aitken’s comments and pointed out that budget cuts have slashed the number of sanitation workers from 1,300 to 800 over the past seven years. Chris Mitchell of the GMB union said staff were facing rat attacks on a daily basis. “My concern is that there are 1.3 million rats in Glasgow and it is only getting worse,” Mr. Mitchell told BBC this week.

Recent changes to curbside garbage collection – from every fortnight to every three weeks – and a new charge for bulk items have also drawn criticism. Officials said the changes were designed to encourage residents to think twice about throwing things away and to increase recycling. But critics say they have led to a surge in “fly-tipping” – illegal dumping – and vermin. “We are in the middle of a waste crisis, and it’s important that people should know that, including all the world leaders and delegates that are coming to COP26,” said Eva Murray, a Labour Party councillor.

Ms. Aitken, a member of the Scottish National Party, had been hoping COP26 would boost the city’s international profile and draw attention to its remarkable transition from a postindustrial wasteland to a thriving community with a number of trendy neighbourhoods. She and other civic leaders have been counting on a successful summit so that Glasgow will forever be associated with the fight against climate change.

Their cause has not been helped by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told reporters this week that getting a deal on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, the target set out in the Paris Agreement, was “touch and go.”

“It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit, and I’m very worried because it might go wrong. We might not get the agreements that we need,” he said.

To help put the city in a good light, 1,000 volunteers have been enlisted to help visitors get around during the summit and to promote “the best of what Glasgow and Scotland has to offer.”

Civic leaders have also dusted off a mascot, Bonnie the Seal, last used during the European swimming championships in 2019 and the 2018 European Championships, a multisport competition. “What better way to engage with children about COP26 and climate and environmental issues than to recycle one of our well-known and much-loved mascots,” a city spokesperson said.

Bonnie has not gotten off to a good start. She has been widely derided, with some commentators saying she looks like a deranged squirrel or, even worse, a giant rat. Officials in the U.K. government, which is organizing COP26, have distanced themselves from the creature, with one reportedly referring to Bonnie as the “king of the Glasgow rats.”

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