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“I believe there are gender balance issues in the leadership team of the COP26, what is more problematic to me is the lack of representation of women from low-income countries.”

Oct 9, 2021
A month prior the COP26 in Glasgow, Benedicte Herbout started cycling the 2000 kilometers from Munich to Glasgow. Trying to raise awareness about climate emergency. French by birth – Benedicte lives in Munich. With 3+ years of experience in development finance, she is an independent environmental & social (E&S) management consultant. She answers my questions whilst enroute.

Praveen Gupta: Are there enough women at the COP 26 leadership, in your opinion?

Benedicte Herbout: To be completely transparent, I had not even really checked before you asked me. I just took for granted that it won’t be many, and in fact it is not. I would have been positively surprised if it had been the case though. Fact is, the COP is structured to represent all the parties – a majority of which don’t manage to reach gender equalities in their own countries.

What does comfort me (a little) is that the advisory team seems to be balanced – and in the end, advisors are often listened to. However, while I believe there are gender balance issues in the leadership team of the COP26, what is more problematic to me is the lack of representation of women from low-income countries. Women are suffering the most from climate change, low-income countries will suffer the most from climate change and so women in low-income countries are on the front line. Are they being listened to? I doubt it – we don’t even listen to the (wealthier) (male) scientists.

In addition to low-income countries’ women, we miss the youth too. They/we (I’m 27) are living and will live the consequences of years of inactions. We need to adapt and fight to avoid the worst and adaptation strategies need to take into considerations the views of the most affected. I fear the COPs are just meetings where the elite talk a lot – empty words otherwise we would have seen the difference.

Maybe, maybe, if the leadership of COPs were made of people who can’t fly away from climate change, things would change, action would follow. So I am bit unsure about to answer in the end. I am frustrated that one still asks this question – it should be given, so we can focus our energy on listening to who will suffer the most and act consequently.

I just want to popularise climate science and make people aware that we in Europe are highly privileged, and blind to consequences that climate change have on all of us, affecting some more. Listening to science is the first step to act.

PG: Why is it critical to have their voice?

BH: What is critical to me is not only this representation of youth, women, low-income countries balance. What is critical is that so many of us don’t really understand climate change. I mean the scientific mechanisms behind it. There is no climate education curriculum that tells you how all this works and why and that hinders any action. One can’t solve a problem if one does not understand it.

That is why I am cycling to the COP26 and facilitate Climate Fresk workshop on the way. While many ask whether it is also to make a point as a solo traveler woman, I actually never thought of it that way. I just want to popularise climate science and make people aware that we in Europe are highly privileged, and blind to consequences that climate change have on all of us, affecting some more. Listening to science is the first step to act, which then makes clear that we need to act all together. For the youth, for the low-income people, for the women. 

On the way from Munich to Glasgow I will be facilitating Climate Fresk workshops which aim at training participants on the fundamentals of climate science. During the COP26 in Glasgow the story will continue. Together with other Climate Fresk volunteers we will advocate for climate education as a lever for action.

PG: What are you eventually trying to achieve?

BH: My goal? Re-unite people from different political and economic backgrounds behind science, so that climate change can be treated with a common scientific understanding and solutions pragmatically debated and implemented.

PG: Happy cycling and may you realise your dream, Benedicte!

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One Comment
  1. V Raghuanthan permalink

    A remarkable interview by a remarkable lady on the most important theme of the day — proportionate and fair representation of women in world affairs…keep up the good work Praveen!

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