Earlier this month, Egypt announced the appointment of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to lead the international climate talks in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November 2022. Alongside Minister Shoukry’s appointment as COP27 president, Egypt’s woman environment minister, Dr Yasmine Fouad (a leading climate scientist who co-chaired finance talks at COP26), was named COP27 Ministerial Coordinator and Envoy.
We are hopeful that they will lead an inclusive process – one that can represent the Global South, which is disproportionately vulnerable to rising temperatures, drought, floods and population displacement.
Some progress was made at the COP26 negotiations in November 2021, but the summit in Glasgow was far from inclusive. In fact, it was criticized as “the most exclusionary” climate conference to date. Pandemic-related complications are partially to blame; still, the event will be remembered for its under-representation of the Global South and lack of access for youth activists and people with disabilities. And while the gender balance of COP delegations has gradually improved since 1995, the average balance of delegations is 75% male to 25% female across all COPs to date. Policies that are designed without women’s participation exacerbate existing inequalities, hinder innovation and are a recipe for ineffective implementation.
Time is running out for people and our planet. We must get this right.
Ultimately, climate change is a story of inequality.
A growing body of evidence shows that climate action is best accelerated when the negotiating table equitably reflects the diversity of our world. Women’s leadership in national governments and local politics has led to improved outcomes for climate policies and action plans, and a strong correlation exists between gender diversity in corporate boardrooms and climate action. And beyond gender, we must include the most marginalised and climate-impacted – namely, the people and communities who are not responsible for our current crisis but disproportionately bear its brunt.
The case for inclusion is best understood through the many dimensions of climate inequity. Ultimately, climate change is a story of inequality. Those most impacted are the poorest countries and communities, as well as young people and future generations, who will inherit an escalating crisis they did not create.
Industrialised countries – including the United States, South Korea, Japan and European nations – built their economies (and their wealth) on fossil fuel. Developing countries are committed to going green, but they don’t have the technology or access to capital enjoyed by developed nations. Many in their populations do not even have access to reliable energy. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 600 million people live “off the grid” without electricity, further complicating access to quality healthcare, education and job opportunities.
And there is the injustice to nature herself. Human-made climate change is directly responsible for the ongoing loss of biodiversity and extinction of species.
Equitable representation is not merely a problem to be solved but an opportunity to amplify existing talent and ensure the best possible and most efficient outcomes at COP27. For years, the climate agenda has been set by the Global North. COP27 is an opportunity to change the narrative and transform the process, giving true weight to the voices of diverse communities and young people – on the African continent no less.
We need urgent and transformative action to get the world on track to a net-zero future.
I welcome the Egyptian government’s active support of women’s leadership, its efforts to close gender gaps and its regional leadership in setting a gender mainstreaming plan for climate change. I look forward to this commitment carrying forward to Egypt’s COP27 presidency: in its leadership team, throughout the agenda and across event management and logistics.
Beyond Egypt, I call on all national leaders to ensure gender balance and equitable representation within their COP27 delegations.
These criteria include:
- Representation: ensure all relevant stakeholders are included and heard, with a focus on people, communities and countries most impacted by climate change
- Participation: design fair processes and modalities for all stakeholders to engage and provide input
- Solidarity: raise ambition to limit global warming to 1.5°C and assist others in meeting this challenge through appropriate mobilisation of finance and resources, including a finance facility for loss and damage
- Accountability: prioritise transparent decision-making and robust reporting of progress against credible commitments
We have got where we are today because of conformity in leadership and decision-making processes driven by a limited handful of traditional stakeholders. We need urgent and transformative action to get the world on track to a net-zero future – a future in which inequalities are decreasing rather than multiplying, and vulnerable people and communities are prioritized, not forgotten.
We cannot undo the decisions and inaction of the past, but we have the agency – and own the responsibility – to shape our present and future. With COP27 planning now under way, Ministers Shoukry and Fouad have the opportunity to lead an inclusive process and stamp their legacy on this defining moment in our history. For the sake of future generations, I hope they seize it.
At COP27, let’s achieve the most inclusive, transformative climate summit ever.
Mary Robinson is former President of Ireland; Member, The B Team, a global collective of business and civil society leaders creating new norms of corporate leadership.