‘When you’re close to the problem, you’re necessarily close to the solutions,’ say Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K Wilkinson in their introduction to All We Can Save (2020), an anthology of writing by women at the forefront of the climate movement, whose real-world experiences and practical solutions are all too often ignored.
It’s a piece of advice that the organisers of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference seem not to have heeded. The event is conspicuous in its homogeneity and in its privileging of those whose business models and profits are put at risk by the very actions needed to avert the climate crisis. Despite the fact that women, people of colour, the populations of the Global South and Indigenous communities around the world are disproportionately affected by and concerned about climate change, the importance of their representation has been overlooked.
In September 2020, when the UK government announced its original line-up of politicians, lead negotiators and civil servants to host COP26, there wasn’t a single woman among them. Pressing ahead with the conference before widespread COVID-19 vaccination across the globe has led to the final line-up of delegates being disproportionately from Western countries. Right now, the very legitimacy of COP26 is being called into question by environmental, academic, climate justice, indigenous and women’s rights organisations, who say they have been excluded from the negotiations. Compounding the problem, the public narrative frequently erases perspectives from outside of the West. Last year, the Associated Press cropped Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate out of a photograph taken in Davos featuring Greta Thunberg and three other white European campaigners.