WHEN COP27, the United Nations climate change conference, got underway, a photo of world leaders attending was widely circulated, but not to the desired effect. Intended to showcase global unity in tackling the climate crisis, it instead highlighted the lack of women making their voices heard at the climate talks.
Inclusion is at the heart of the success of COP27. Climate change affects everyone, but differently. Women and marginalized communities are particularly affected during climatic calamities. In the wake of our own floods, pregnant women struggled, and relief efforts paid little attention to women’s reproductive or hygienic needs. Women make up 80% of those displaced by climate change events, so how can the climate talks succeed without their participation?
In recent years, the UN has prioritized gender equality in climate action. As Catherine McKenna points out in a recent Scientific American article, women make up a growing percentage of delegates to the constituted bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (technical and decision-making committees for climate deliberations) and the gender is increasingly recognized in national climate action plans. But less than 30% of lead negotiators are women, and at the COP in Glasgow last year, men took up 74% of speaking time. This balance needs to improve (fortunately, the Pakistani delegation led by Sherry Rehman this year is mainly made up of women).
Other forms of exclusion are also at play. Over the weekend, climate-related protests erupted around the world, highlighting the prevalence of voices who feel excluded. This is the first COP to focus on the climate impact of agriculture and industrialized food production, but discussions on these themes have been dominated by big agribusiness. Smallholder farmers, who produce 70% of the world’s food (and are mostly women), have been excluded from discussions, even though their sustainable techniques must be part of any climate solution to reduce greenhouse gases from of food production.
Inclusion is at the heart of the success of COP27.
The story of youth inclusion is more positive. COP27 placed greater emphasis on the perspectives of young people – a no-brainer given that young people and future generations are the real victims of the climate crisis (a child born today will experience four times more extreme weather events than we ). A dedicated pavilion and Youth and Future Generations Day focused on youth demands for more climate empowerment, adaptation and accessible finance. But this is not to ignore the many voices that fear “youth washout” without meaningful intention to integrate youth demands into policies and commitments.
Although COP27 strives to improve inclusion, the drivers of climate exclusion run much deeper. Writing in Carbon Brief, Ayesha Tandon points to the lack of diversity in climate science, which of course distorts the understanding of climate change events and impacts, especially in the most affected regions of the South. Carbon Brief’s analysis of climate-related academic publications reveals that publications are biased towards the interests of northern male authors, leaving “blind spots around the needs of some of those most vulnerable to climate change, particularly women and communities around the world. South”.
The barriers to climate science in the Global South are significant – insufficient funding, lack of infrastructure, limited access to data and scarce technical expertise. Asian- or African-focused climate science tends to be oriented towards Northern concerns and academic priorities rather than indigenous approaches. In other words, the building blocks of climate information are themselves problematic.
Those who are genuinely committed to the fight against climate change are increasingly sensitive to diversity and inclusion, and the general trajectory (further stimulated by debates on loss and damage) is positive, if progressive. . This is essential because there is strong evidence that diverse perspectives lead to better decision-making and better results. For example, as McKenna argues, women leaders generally favor connections with local communities and civic groups, and their greater inclusion in climate negotiations would lead to more resilient climate policies.
Climate activists are also thinking holistically about how to broaden engagement on the climate crisis, in ways that necessarily foster inclusion. For example, following a seven-day sit-in by climate activists, the University of Barcelona announced a compulsory course on the climate crisis, compulsory for all graduate and postgraduate students. What better way to ensure that climate perspectives are mainstreamed across all disciplines, professions and sectors in the future? This focus on inclusion should not be limited to the area of climate action. From corporate boards to populist politics, we need to heed the lessons of the climate discourse that knows diversity is necessary for success.
The author is a political risk and integrity analyst.
Posted in Dawn, November 14, 2022