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Minorities at the sharp end of climate change as COP26 ends

Minorities at the sharp end of climate change as COP26 ends

Categories: Latest News

Monday November 15 2021

With the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties coming to an end, many are anticipating how business, government and civil society will move forward with their work from the summit. COP26, which began on 31st October in Glasgow, Scotland, saw two weeks of discussions and negotiations between world leaders, climate experts, campaigners and financiers on necessary climate actions to save the planet.

However, as the events unfolded, civil society activists pointed to the lack of access and representation at COP26. This is an important reminder on the limits of current environmentalism. For decades, members of minority communities from around the globe have been largely excluded from the environmental conversation – despite such communities often being impacted most heavily by climate change – creating blind spots that perpetuate inequality.

This year’s COP26 is seen as one of the most critical moments in climate action history, and one that prioritised delivering a ‘safe and inclusive’ summit. Despite featuring discussions about minorities and inclusion on the agenda, the organisers of COP26 have been challenged regarding the legitimacy of this conference, with key minority groups, including women, people with disabilities and those from the Global South, excluded. Observers claim that inadequate access was provided to them at the summit – from changing travel rules to poor online logistics – leaving them feeling both ‘disappointed and unfulfilled’.

Such observers act as critical representatives on a broad spectrum of interests, including business and industry, environmental groups, farming and agriculture, and indigenous populations – amongst others. They thus play a significant role in ensuring that fair and inclusive negotiations are being carried out. Their inability to participate or intervene poses a risk to minority communities as adverse rulings may be imposed which further entrenches environmental inequalities currently being experienced.

There is a common myth that Muslims, in particular, are less concerned about environmental issues. As such, Muslims often have limited representation in such crucial conversations. However, this is far from the case, with Muslim organisations having long advocated for environmental justice within their communities. In recognition of the climate crisis, for instance, the Muslim Charities Forum organised a collective call as part of the Big Green Week and encouraged mosques to deliver Friday sermons urging Muslims to make better choices for the environment – such as switching to renewable energy, reducing consumption as well raising general awareness about environmental issues at hand.

The myth that Muslims are less concerned about environmental issues, despite the involvement of Muslim charities in environmental causes, can create further barriers to the inclusion of Muslim communities in environmentalism. Consequently, minority and Muslim communities sustain multiple penalties as a result of structural discrimination: they are impacted by climate change but struggle to voice their concerns due to a lack of inclusion.

The impacts of such exclusions lead to environmental disparities disproportionately affecting minority groups, including those living in the UK. Most minority ethnic groups in the UK live in urban areas (81.7%) compared to those from ‘white’ ethnic groups living in rural areas (96.8%), and are disproportionately impacted by unhealthy city environments, such as the lack of green spaces and increased level of air pollutions.

The Covid-19 restrictions were a particularly stark reminder of this, as the impacts of this virus on minority ethnic groups were linked to air pollution and a poorer standard of living. As local parks were closed down, furthermore, those living in urban areas found themselves without access to a private garden or green spaces within their proximities. Along with the high death rates throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, BAME people have been acutely affected by pre-existing inequalities, highlighting the neglection of minority in climate and environmental justices.

Ultimately, it is clear that robust policies are required to reduce the issues affecting BAME and Muslim people living in poor environmental conditions. Consequently, MEND urges organisations to ensure the inclusion of Muslim and minority groups in climate and environmental matters. In order to achieve real change and climate justice, as well as shift narratives of environmentalism away from the tropes of the mainly white-middle class, it is imperative that the voices of underrepresented communities are eqully heard and empowered.

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