Diversifying voices

November 14, 2021

How can we meaningfully engage the public on climate justice without including those most impacted by climate change?

Diversifying voices

At the last major COP summit in 2015, which produced the Paris Climate Agreement, broad public engagement was absent. It never went beyond the usual cohorts of world leaders, scientists and environmental activists.

Those who wield the power to negotiate and make decisions that will impact the future of the planet are mostly old, male and white whereas those most likely to be impacted by climate change are predominantly women and children living in the Global South.

Gaps in representation lead to misinformed and unjust global priorities and agreements. The persisting status quo allows for complacency in climate action, dictation by developed economies in the Global North and green-washing of harmful practices.

The supposedly landmark climate agreements are in many cases misleading, providing enough room for large corporations to continue their destructive practices to maximise profits. There is little to no accountability for countries that continue to shirk their responsibilities.

If current climate policies around the world are considered, rather than climate goals, global warming would rise to 2.7 degree Celsius, based on the most recent assessment by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a climate analysis coalition. This would far exceed the “well below 2 degree Celsius” and is not even close to “pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degree Celsius” from the Paris Agreement.

Scientists have been warning that a rise in global average temperature beyond 1.5 degree Celsius would irreversibly damage some parts of the planet.

The success of COP26 in Glasgow will be measured against a wide array of matrices – it will most likely fail against most – except for perhaps engaging the public in climate action and activism.

In the lead up to COP26 and during the 10 days of the summit, young women activists have been leading protests and giving impassioned speeches with the view to holding world leaders accountable for wasting what little time remains to safeguard their future.

There is more urgency and potency in the climate movement at the sidelines of the summit than at the actual negotiation tables. What makes the frustration more forceful is the dissatisfaction with world leaders who have been attending and negotiating how to address climate change since the first COP in 1995, with disappointing results.

At a UK Presidency Programme panel at COP26, I spoke about the power of public engagement for harnessing climate action and co-creating solutions for our collective future on this planet. How can we ever be authentic in engaging the public on climate justice without including the voices and leadership of people most impacted by climate change?

My co-panelist Susan Nakyung Lee, a 20-year-old founder from the Global Assembly, suggested that the most pressing priority is to come up with better ways of finding climate solutions – focusing on changing the process rather than the policy.

Historically, there has been a shocking absence of expert voices from the Global South in climate negotiations and the wider climate change discourse. The legacy of colonialism continues within these global politics where the Global North speaks to the Global South, instead of it being a two-way conversation.

It is the people of the Global South who understand climate change as a reality because it is they who are already suffering its effects. People of the Global South are not just poor victims of climate change, but must also be recognised as voices of wisdom and leadership, who have the ideas, innovations and potential solutions since they are in many ways best equipped to articulate the threat of climate change.

As 130 heads of state posed for a group photo in Glasgow, less than 10 were woman. Equal representation of women is absolutely vital for climate leadership and for the planet. Echoing the campaign of She Changes Climate, climate change is a huge and existential threat – any problems we face will be easier to solve if men and women are equally included in solving them. If the world leadership really wants climate justice to be a success, it must include women at the decision-making table.

World leaders are susceptible to this growing public pressure from engaged citizens. This shows in their public speeches at the climate summit. Boris Johnson referred to the “blah blah blah” comment by Greta Thunberg to lambast leaders over their inaction.

Heads of states and corporations need to be held accountable even more. Wider public engagement on climate action helps do that.

The present climate movement – outside of the COP negotiation rooms – is much younger, much more diverse, and female led. This is where we should place our trust and our joint efforts towards.

The author is a clean energy and policy specialist based in London and Lahore. She also runs Women In Energy Pakistan. She tweets @NamHameed

Diversifying voices