New York Times Climate Hub Plants Big Ideas Beneath the Trees

Artist Es Devlin turned part of a Glasgow venue into an immersive live forest — called “The Conference of the Trees” — for the media company's hybrid event that took place at the same time as COP26.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

Stephen Dunbar Johnson

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president, international of The New York Times Company, speaks at the NYT Climate Hub, which took place concurrently with COP26 both online and in Glasgow. (Craig Gibson for The New York Times)

Editor’s note: Renowned anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall has said of the climate crisis, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” With that in mind, we are dedicating the November/December edition of Convene fully — our first single-topic issue — to the climate crisis, and what the business events industry is doing to address this global challenge. Find stories from the Climate Issue here, and read our cover story, “A ‘Watershed Moment’ for Events — and the World.”

The New York Times Climate Hub, a hybrid event held concurrently with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) both online and in Glasgow, was a first for the legacy media brand. Spanning nine days, the program offered more than 70 events falling under five themes — Water and Oceans, Energy and Storage, Construction and Design, Food and Agriculture, and Transport and Mobility.

The intent, according to The Times, was to bring its brand of journalism to life on stage. Besides a range of notable speakers — including Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, fashion designer Stella McCartney, and philosopher Roman Krznaric — panels, debates, and talks featured the media company’s own climate reporters. The program also included various film screenings, hands-on workshops, and other content.

Held at the SWG3 warehouse — in a venue complex less than a mile from where COP26 was taking place at the Scottish Event Campus — the Hub comprised four main venues including The Think Tank, where artist Es Devlin recreated a temporary forest as the setting. (See the time-lapse video at end of the story.)

Conference of the Trees

In this artist impression, a live forest envelopes the audience inside The Think Tank, a dedicated space for debate and conversation at The New York Times Climate Hub. (Courtesy New York Times)

Devlin installed 197 trees within the interior space to represent the 197 countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He also took inspiration from Richard Power’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Overstory, in which the trees play the leading character and humans are secondary.

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“I am interested in placing Climate Hub visitors within an environment,” Devlin said, “of a parallel gathering of trees, as if the trees are bearing witness, listening, and observing the progress that the humans may or may not make during the program of talks and COP26 negotiations, which many are describing as our species’ last chance to making the changes necessary to avert an even more profound climate crisis.”

Devlin worked with forest architect Phillip Jaffa and landscape specialist Scotscape to bring the installation to life. The New York Times intends to plant the trees in a local public garden in Scotland when the event concludes.

Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene.

Planting The Conference of the Trees in Glasgow

In the time-lapse video below, workers install artist Es Devlin’s temporary forest, The Conference of the Trees, for one of the venues hosting The New York Times Climate Hub event in Glasgow, Scotland. (Heather Yates and Craig Gibson for The New York Times)

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