University of Bristol: Report calls for urgent action to address alarming lack of diversity in climate change decision making as final countdown until COP26 begins

The report, led by the University of Bristol, found that although the same number of white men and white women attended meetings, white men spoke two-thirds of the time – almost twice as much as their female counterparts. By contrast just five per cent of participants were men of colour, who spoke only one per cent of the time. Women of colour comprised 14 per cent of participants and they were found to speak just two per cent of the time.

Co-investigator Dr Alix Dietzel, who specialises in climate justice and climate policy and will be attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, said: “I was observing the first meeting of the study when I noticed men dominating the discussion. I spontaneously decided to count the number of times people spoke, organised by ethnicity and gender. The results were so stark I continued to do the same for the rest of the meetings we observed.”

The policy briefing recognises Bristol as being among the first cities in the world to officially pledge to pursue a just transition to combat climate change with the launch of its One City Climate Strategy last year. A just transition to a post-carbon economy means one that is green, sustainable, and socially inclusive.

But the report, based on a year-long study funded by the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, scrutinised the implementation of this strategy in its infancy, highlighting an urgent need to diversify who participates in climate change decision making and raising other key shortcomings.

The study, which focused on six climate change bodies from the public, private, and third sector in Bristol, involved 12 interviews with policy makers and nine hours of meetings observations. Findings exposed how white men dominated the discussions and both women and men of colour formed a very low proportion of attendees and spoke a tiny fraction of the time compared to white people, despite the fact these groups could be affected more severely by climate change.

It is claimed the strategy, which commits to become carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, requires more detail and concrete steps – beyond ambitious targets – should be specified on how to get there. A universally-understood definition of a ‘just transition’ and clear ownership of targets were also found to be wanting.

A lack of space and time to scrutinise current policy processes as well as public opportunities to hold decision-making bodies to account were highlighted as further barriers to achieving the goals. In addition, improved communication about the impact of climate change was cited as a requirement to inspire action across a range of sectors.

Co-investigator Dr Alice Venn, Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter, said: “Bristol is a leader in climate policy with ambitious 2030 targets and a commitment to a just transition so, as a city, we have an important opportunity to harness public engagement and to set an example of how a just transition to a low carbon future can be achieved. To do this, we need to overcome the challenges in implementation and ensure an inclusive, consultative process in which the needs of climate-vulnerable and marginalised groups are prioritised.”

Dr Dietzel, who is attending COP26 as Co-Lead of the Cabot Institute for the Environment’s Environmental Change Steering Group, added: “Dr Venn and I have studied global decision making for years, and we have found stark issues of diversity and inclusion, which impedes climate justice. We were not surprised to find similar patterns at the city scale, and we hope our research can inform policy in Bristol and beyond.”

The University of Bristol is part of the COP26 Universities Network, which aims to improve access to evidence and academic expertise for the summit for the UK Government, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), and the international community.

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