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Blog Post 9 November 2021 Updated 12 November 2021

Gender, race and climate: empowering minorities in the transition to net zero

While minorities, including women and girls, are disproportionately impacted by the climate emergency, they are also critical agents in climate action.

That’s why gender equality, diversity and inclusivity is on the agenda today – Tuesday 9 November – at COP26 in Glasgow. Events throughout the day are set to discuss the meaningful participation and leadership of women in the clean energy transition.

One of the headline events of the day is a panel discussion on ‘Net Zero: Solutions for a Gender-sensitive Transition’. It will demonstrate how empowering women as decision makers and applying a gender lens to climate action can create a fairer and more equal society for all.

Ahead of the discussion, we spoke to panellist Judy Ling Wong CBE – founder of the Black Environment Network – about the role of women in the net zero transition, her ambitions for COP26, and more.

How did you become interested in gender, race and the environment?

In the UK, I’ve been building a representation over 30 years, first as one of the founders of Black Environment Network (BEN). We started BEN in 1987 because a group of people got together and said: “Why is there 100% white people in the environmental sector?” BEN was set up to challenge that. We’re a very supportive group and encourage and stimulate everyone to take part.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve helped to put diversity, equality, inclusion and gender onto the agenda of the environmental sector. In 1987, environmental organisations were purely about nature. They thought of people only as a workforce for nature. And if you weren’t interested in being a worker or volunteer for nature, they weren’t interested in you – black or white!

When we came in and started talking about the benefits of nature to people, the sector questioned us and our ideas. They thought if we were to join them, then we’d also become a workforce for nature. Today, we have a better understanding of the fact that there’s deprivation in areas of the country where people don’t have access to nature. The Covid-19 pandemic in particular has highlighted the relationship between health and wellbeing and nature.

How can our relationship with nature help us address climate change?

If you look at the deep heart of climate change, it’s a spiritual and social failure of relationships. It’s a dysfunctional and inadequate relationship between people and the planet. If you love nature enough, do you think we can damage it like this? If you love people enough, do you think we can damage them? Those are the two greatest underpinning principles to stop climate change. Not only do we need to undo the damage, but we also must rebuild that relationship so that we will continue to care for and protect nature and people. 

What role can minorities play in the transition to net zero?

Different cultures have different pathways. It’s not that they’re faster or slower or more culturally developed than others. In Britain, we refer to ethnic minorities, but our ethnic minorities are the ethnic majorities of the world. And they give us a crucial and momentous insight into what being global and multicultural is really about; how through interconnections we can create a rich and collaborative way of working for people and nature. 

Meanwhile, half the world’s population are women. Women should be contributing on a par with men, but we’re not given the opportunities. We shout louder about it in this country because we’ve come a long way, but in many countries, women are still a long way from fulfilling their potential.

What we need most for successful environmental policy is people-centred environmental policy. And women are best placed to bring this, because we’re born of a culture of caring – it’s embodied within us. With more female leaders, this idea of people-centred environmental policy could become a reality.

What would you like to see achieved at COP26?

The fact that COP26 is taking place in the UK has changed this country. For me, it’s the Presidency that’s delivered the greatest impact for us by making the opportunity to participate possible. For all those attending from the UK, from their own country, it’s going to be a magnificent adventure.

And while there’s a deadline being pushed, that we want world leaders to deliver by 12 November, for me, it’s all about the atmosphere we create around this very particular COP. After Paris [when the Paris Agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5°C was agreed], this is the implementation COP. This is serious business. I hope that COP26 puts into all our minds and hearts that this is a continuous struggle, so that when it ends, we keep pushing, we keep changing. We’ve got to win.

Last updated: 12 November 2021