The Diversity Blog

“If COP 26 is to meaningfully address the climate emergency, then we need women in leadership.”

As the COP 26 drama builds up, I have had the privilege to hear several rising women leaders on the subject. London based, Lauren Knight, is the first one I spoke to. Given the ever-growing bureaucracy and the plethora of jargon at the United Nations, here is some quick context. COP26 is the 2021 UN climate change conference. For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. With the UK as President, COP26 takes place in Glasgow.

Lauren is a Londoner. After a successful stint in global network relationship at the QBE insurance, she switched over to leading insurance information service provider AXCO. Despite her busy work-life, Lauren is never too far away from nature and other charitable causes.

How terribly things have gone wrong rather than improve on the pathway agreed at the Paris Agreement, an outcome of COP 21, came out loud and clear in the IPCC report released earlier this week. Every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees.

‘The commitment to aim for 1.5 degrees is important because every fraction of a degree of warming will result in many more lives lost and livelihoods damaged. Countries also committed to bring forward Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’ – setting out how much they would reduce their emissions. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time’. 

World’s last chance

COP 26 has been described as the world’s ‘last chance’ to tackle the climate emergency, but Greta Thunberg recently delivered a withering assessment of the hosts. ‘There’s a lie that the UK is a climate leader and that they have reduced their CO2 emissions by 44 per cent since 1990,’ she said. ‘It feels like… they’re trying to create loopholes, instead of actually trying to find solutions that would actually turn things around,’ Ms. Thunberg said, adding she was not optimistic that the COP 26 climate summit in November would trigger enough change.

That apart, there is a fundamental issue, women leaders have pointed at the missing female voice from the COP 26 leadership. Women (and children) bear the most brunt of the climate crisis.

Take for instance this powerful illustration from Durreen Shahnaz the founder & CEO of Impact Investment Exchange(IIX): In the fishing industry, #women make up nearly half of the global workforce. However, the #oceaneconomy is at risk and only 1% of the total value of the ocean has been invested in #sustainable projects over the past 10 years. This puts 60 million women’s livelihoods on the line and we need to start taking action.

No child will escape the impact of global warming

The UNICEF report, the first index of its kind, said the impacts of the climate crisis were “deeply inequitable” and very likely to get worse. It found that almost all the world’s 2.2 billion children are exposed to at least one climate or environmental risk, from catastrophic floods to toxic air. The world’s children cannot afford more empty promises at this year’s COP 26, youth activists including Greta Thunberg said, after a U.N. report found virtually no child will escape the impact of global warming.

‘A conversation about COP 26 and the role of women. Yes, the role of women is a topic that’s being hotly discussed at the moment. No, women are not adequately represented across all levels of COP 26’.  Lauren is one of the several voices raising this critical issue.

‘We need women at the negotiation table, if COP 26 is to meaningfully address the climate emergency, then we need women (in all forms of glorious diversity!) in leadership so that our voices are heard. We look at climate change differently, and we look at problems differently, she points out. Research suggests that we are much more environmentally aware in our decision making – we tend to be more empathetic and we generally work more collaboratively’.

‘We can’t allow men to speak on our behalf, they speak of our experiences and how we are living through the climate crisis. We need to work together to come up with solutions that offer perspectives from both sides.  My experience is of increasing engagement with corporate sustainability initiatives within the insurance industry, but naturally I am passionate about the environment outside of my profession’. 

Lauren fondly recalls her participation in a corporate sponsored Earthwatch expedition to the Andorran Pyrenees.

‘As volunteers (enthusiastic individuals who all shared a passion for protecting the environment from all walks of life) we worked with a group of scientists who were committed to understanding the impact of climate change on wildlife in the Pyrenees, due to its unique ecosystem. Our purpose was to understand how human encroachment has altered the alpine landscape and collect data and multiple research sites across the mountainous terrain’. 

Earthwatch is an international environmental nonprofit organisation and connects people with scientists worldwide to conduct environmental research and empowers them with the knowledge they need to conserve the planet. ‘One of the lead scientists, Jana Marco, was the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. I admired her unwavering commitment and how all of the volunteers were completely unified by her love of the work she was doing’.

There isn’t a cure for those living with Huntington’s right now, but there is hope for future generations, especially through the work of Huntington’s Disease Association (HDA) and raising awareness as much as possible. ‘This is why I will be proudly running the Great North Run for HDA soon’, says Lauren. encouraging people to talk about Huntington’s and donate to a worthy cause.

So, as the time runs out – what do we do to raise the environmental quotient? How do we bring in more collaboration and empathy at the COP 26 and beyond? As ‘mother nature pushes back father greed’ – we need to bring in the other half of humanity into climate leadership. Looks like this is our only chance. ‘I’ve always admired your selflessness, Lauren’ someone remarked – in response to her decision to run for the HDA. There is nothing that selflessness cannot overcome. Thank you Lauren for lending your voice.