‘COP26 will cater to a narrow range of views and interests’

City Hive CEO Bev Shah says decision makers at the conference must reflect the entire global community

Amid the turmoil of the past 18 months, it has been encouraging to see many firms from the business, corporate and investment worlds have taken lessons from global events to acknowledge that diversity and inclusivity genuinely matter when it comes to representation and decision making.

Given this developing recognition, watching the countdown to the forthcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, better known as COP26, has been deeply disappointing. Sadly, COP26 has reminded us that despite the lessons on diversity, governments are not prepared to take the practical exam. Rather than demonstrating a culture of inclusive solutions, the event seems primed to only cater to, or consider, the same narrow range of views and interests that have already brought us to the crisis point we are in. By putting together an event that looks, and feels so exclusive, decision makers have essentially told many of us that we simply do not matter. 

Homogeny of decision makers

All COP26 decision makers, all of those who are tasked with coming up with the solutions that will help populations of all race, ethnicity, shapes and sizes across the globe, are all male, almost all white, and entirely from the Global North. 

Admittedly areas such as responsible investment have been further progressed in Europe and the US, and the ideas that have been implemented are often being spread across the world including to the emerging markets. But the issues they address are not news to those populations.

Sustainability and climate have moved front and centre of discussions over the past few years, but while we can welcome this shift in attention, it has come at the expense of looking through a narrower lens; namely the direct impact on wealthier nations and their business and investment, rather than the direct, physical impacts on a much less listened to subset. Think about the global reaction to the wildfires in California, compared with much less reported record breaking 30 tropical storms to hit the nearby Caribbean in 2020.

Critique of the intervention of multi-lateral institutions in developing or emerging markets is not new; the IMF was often simultaneously lauded and targeted for its imposed lending conditions to promote financial stability, for example. But this is a broader question of who gets a seat at the decision-making table, what knowledge do they bring of the people and places directly affected by those decisions, and how can we be certain the outcomes will be fair and equitable? Populations in the developing/emerging markets face very different and unique challenges in comparison with the Global North, so why, with all we have should have learned about inclusion are we using a ‘one size fits all’ approach to global decision making?

It is as disappointing as it is predictable that the outcomes from COP26 are likely to be a pushback from targets that will require the economies playing catch up to limit their emissions and growth, while leaving loopholes for the highest emitters under complicated caveats in the net-zero commitments, like that for burning biomass, or through emissions trading. This is paying for the future on credit, borrowing time we don’t have.

Decision makers vs those impacted by decisions

Research by Our World In Data has found the European Union and the US were collectively responsible for emitting almost 50% of total greenhouse gas emissions between 1751 and 2017.  However, the impacts of climate change tend to hit the poorest developing nations hardest.

Representatives from the Global North should of course share their learning and play a significant role in addressing an issue that their nations are largely responsible for. However, representatives from those nations most impacted by the effects of climate change must also have a chance take the lead in finding sustainable, realistic solutions that will help their populations.

COP26 is demanding global perspective on climate change. However, how we can really expect to achieve this without global representation and input in decision at such a pivotal event seems somewhat unclear, and a missed opportunity to get large scale buy in and address a pressing issue.

If decision makers are asking nations to learn from previous mistakes and alter their practices and ways of thinking to address climate change, there should be a willingness to openly demonstrate that they are doing the same. This means going beyond the status quo and ensuring that those leading the charge on climate change, are truly reflective of those it will impact – the entire global community.


Natasha Turner

Natasha is global editor at ESG Clarity, part of Mark Allen Financial, and has been a financial journalist for seven years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of the...