COP26: Why climate action must be inclusive. 6 experts explain

  • COP26 is viewed as one of the most critical moments in climate action history.
  • For inclusive change, the conversation must involve activists and civil society.
  • We asked six leading civil society voices why climate action must be inclusive.

This year’s COP26 is seen as one of the most critical moments in climate action history.

The August report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of the rapid and intensifying warming of the planet, stating “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

While the climate community and those living through the impacts of climate change have been sounding the alarm for decades, this latest report helps to frame the global urgency and necessary action required to save the planet.

Central to the agenda this year is how to compensate and ensure justice for those who have contributed the least to climate change but are experiencing the most significant impacts of climate change in their lives. This work requires creating space for those voices to be heard in Glasgow.

In the run-up to COP26, COP President, Alok Sharma was hoping for the most inclusive meeting yet. However, COVID-19 restrictions and other entry barriers means that many, namely activists and civil society, will be excluded from participating in this critical gathering. Civil society has warned that key voices are being left behind with COP26 negotiations, further entrenching inequality into the climate crisis.

We asked leading civil society voices why they think it is critical to include as many voices in the COP26 process as possible and what is needed from business, government and civil society to ensure this happens as the work of COP26 moves forward.

Learn from the Global South

Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC Bangladesh

It is absolutely essential that countries in the Global South, particularly those vulnerable to climate change, have their voices heard at COP26. Who is better placed to bring the real impacts, as well as examples of how communities have adapted to climate induced challenges, than business, governments and civil society organizations from countries that are most directly affected?

COP26 should hear from the Global South because its countries are developing and scaling research-based solutions to address climate change and its effects from which the entire world can benefit. Bangladesh, for instance, has become a global leader on climate adaptation, out of necessity. Southern organizations must be encouraged and enabled to create these solutions.

To make this happen and ensure an inclusive and successful COP26, funding mechanisms must become less bureaucratic and more accessible for southern based organizations. An example of an innovative finance mechanism to solve this problem is the Climate Bridge Fund in Bangladesh, which supports non-governmental organizations directly responding to people displaced by climate change.

Stand in solidarity with vulnerable countries

Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO, World Resource Institute (WRI)

COP26 is a pivotal moment for the world to renew the spirit of global solidarity felt in Paris, and to begin rebuilding trust between countries. Achieving a just and ambitious COP26 outcome is critical to tackling climate change. But how we achieve a successful COP outcome and who is at the table are themselves measures and ingredients of success.

We must not allow COVID-19 to further foster a power imbalance between rich and poor countries at COP26. Instead, government negotiators, especially those from rich countries, must stand in solidarity with vulnerable countries, some of which have stepped-up climate ambition in the months ahead of COP26. Businesses and civil society also have an important role to play in consciously using their in-person and virtual platforms to elevate vulnerable voices. Small acts like this, as well as the big acts, are part of rebuilding trust between countries.

Image: World Resource Institute

Protect and promote civic space

Lysa John, Secretary General, Civicus

In a deeply unequal world, the impacts of climate change and human-induced extreme weather patterns are felt most by excluded communities, whether they might be residents in informal settlements, refugees housed in temporary shelters or indigenous communities living in remote locations. Across these groups, women often bear the greatest burden of the climate crisis. The full and meaningful participation of civil society ensures that ground realities of under-served and under-represented groups are central to policy making.

Sadly, conditions for open civic space - which are essential to the development of diverse, equitable and sustainable responses to the humanity’s most complex challenges – are rapidly deteriorating. Just over 3% of the world’s population live in countries where the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression are adequately protected.

Protecting and promoting civic space must be a key priority at COP26. Without the meaningful inclusion of those most affected by the climate emergency we will not be to achieve the just and credible outcomes so urgently needed from the climate conference.

Image: Civicus

Create climate-friendly jobs

Sharan Burrow, Secretary General, ITUC

We are in race against time to stabilize the planet, and COP 26 is a significant milestone. All industries need to transition and more than 50% of climate action necessary to reach a net zero future has to be achieved by 2030. This is the bottom line to stabilize the planet and give us a hope of a secure future yet too many government leaders will go to COP with ambitions that do not meet the vital constraints of a temperature rise of 2 degrees let alone a 1.5 degree limit. And only around a fifth of nations have included a reference to Just Transition in their NDCs with even fewer committed to the social dialogue vital for building a transparent plan. This fails to give workers and their communities hope, fails to build trust.

Working families need jobs - climate friendly jobs with just transitions. For every 10 jobs in renewable energy there are 5 - 10 in manufacturing and if they are quality jobs with just wages 30-35 jobs in the broader community. There are jobs in every industry if governments, investors and corporations accept they need to invest in industry policy and planning for a clean energy / clean technology future.

Don't discriminate

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director, Oxfam International

In 2020 Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate was cropped from a photo with white activists. This was no accident - the climate movement is not immune to racism, classism, sexism and so on.

A storm does not select individual victims. Heatwaves are indiscriminate. But the climate crisis does not affect everyone equally. If you’re black, if you’re a woman, if you’re poor, if you live in the global South, you are more likely to be impacted. You’re more likely to know what this crisis really means. Is it right for you to be cropped from the conversation? From the decisions that will lead to progress? COP is our only chance for coordinated action. If we don’t have everyone in the picture, we cannot expect a positive result.

Leave no one behind

Victor Pineda, President, World Enabled

The environmental global challenge that we're facing is systemic. It's a challenge that creates all kinds of barriers in the built environment, and these barriers are persistent. It's a challenge in terms of maintenance. It's a challenge in terms of ideas. It's a challenge in terms of discrimination.

The intersection of poverty and inequality is more evident than ever. Therefore targeted policies and actions are needed to respond to such impacts, especially for the most vulnerable.

The COP26 process must address the needs of the one in seven people on earth that live with a disability. That means nations and cities need to respond holistically to ensure that we leave no one behind. How we do that will not be a minor challenge because one out of every seven people in the world experience some disability that's either physical, visible, or invisible.

The real transformative potential at the policy level for COP26 will be to bring silos together to leverage the maximum benefit possible because environmental impacts are linked and affect communities directly. Ultimately, that is how we need to design and build our communities.

The only formula for prosperous, stable societies is investing in people. We encourage everybody to support the Cities For All Global Campaign to promote understanding of the challenges facing persons with disabilities, older persons, and other key stakeholders, including young people, women, migrants, and indigenous communities. The development and implementation of holistic Sustainability policies and strategies must include all stakeholders without exception.

There should not be environmental sustainability without inclusion and accessibility!

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