Thought Leaders

COP26; The Next Steps in the Fight Against Climate Change

Thought LeadersVerona Collantes-Lebale (UN Women)
Thomas Lingard (Unilever)

In this interview, we speak to Unilever and UN Women about the key message people need to take from COP26 and the role science plays in fighting climate change. 

What is the key message people need to take from COP26?

"While the outcome of COP delivered less than the world needs, there is room for optimism. Collective national climate plans suggest a pathway of over 2 degrees of temperature warming, but it is important to remember that this number is falling year on year. Countries have agreed to put the brakes both on their coal use and fossil fuel subsidies, and Unilever was particularly pleased to see the role of nature-based solutions elevated in the discussions. However, it was clear that climate finance for developing countries needs to be stepped up; Glasgow articulated the need for greater adaptation and resilience.   

It was great to see the collaboration between national governments and the private sector, all promising tangible action. Unilever is more committed than ever in tackling the climate crisis and it is clear that more and more companies are joining us.

Finally, climate change and social inequality are the biggest threats the world faces. A key takeout from COP was the presentation of climate change as a social, as well as environmental, issue. Thanks to youth groups, indigenous peoples, and local communities, the voices of future generations and those often bypassed in the formal negotiations were louder than ever."

Thomas Lingard, Global Sustainability Director at Unilever

"Every actor – governments, including local government, the United Nations, non-government stakeholders – women, youth, indigenous people, local communities, private sector are united in their acknowledgement that we are in a climate emergency and that the time for concrete actions towards reaching the temperature increase limit of 1.5 deg. Celsius is NOW.

The knowledge, data, tools, technology, finance to adapt to and mitigate climate change are out and available. The biggest question coming out of COP 26 is WHERE IS THE POLITICAL WILL to go the extra mile, to think of the common good, to think of the planet before each and every one’s self-interest and personal gain.

While governments may be slow to act due to conflicting priorities and political sensitivities, or just outright self-interest, each and every other actor – states and local governments, indigenous peoples and local communities, women and girls, young people, the private sector, innovators, the academic community and think tanks, the United Nations, can and should do their part to avert and minimize catastrophic climate change impacts.

Through the leadership of the UN Secretary General, the United Nations system have put climate change and the environment a priority in all their programmes and initiatives.

UN Women has a strong conviction that only by engaging all actors – women and men, boys and girls, in all their diversity and gender identities, can we respond to this climate emergency effectively and meaningfully.

Women and girls have been leading environmental and climate actions at all levels, notably in their role as providers of their families or heads of households with implications to natural resource management, food production, water and fuel collection. They are holders of traditional knowledge and innovators in their own rights – offering climate solutions that take into account the specific needs of women and girls and their broader community.

In different levels of society and across sectors, women’s and girls’ innovations and leadership have contributed to climate resilience and overall well-being. By mainstreaming gender issues into sciences and innovation to address climate change, we are promoting climate approaches that are more efficient, effective and equitable."

Verona Collantes-Lebale, Intergovernmental Specialist, focal point, climate change, biodiversity, land degradation and desertification, UN Women

Image Credit: Philip King/Shutterstock.com

How must science and innovation be used to achieve the COP26 goals and fight the climate crisis?

"Ramping up innovation and scientific technologies is crucial in fighting the climate crisis. At Unilever, we invested €800m into R&D in 2020 and have 5,000 world-leading experts in charge of ideas and breakthroughs. Our specialists are innovators, scientists, engineers, chefs, technologists, regulatory experts, and data scientists in fields ranging from material chemistry to animal testing alternatives.

We use next-generation digitalisation and biology to help reach our climate and nature goals. Indeed, R&D is powering our move away from petro-chemicals, stopping plastic pollution, and fixing the broken food system, in collaboration with partners.

We’ve made many breakthroughs to help make our products more sustainable. One example is our partnership with biotech company LanzaTech and chemical company India Glycols, to capture industrial emissions from a steel mill. This process meant our OMO laundry capsule in China is made entirely from recycled carbon emissions. This is part of our broader commitment to eliminate fossil fuel-based chemicals from all cleaning and laundry products by 2030. Earlier this year, using the latest technology, we were able to develop the first paper-based laundry detergent bottle. Partnerships like these are crucial for businesses to reach their sustainability commitments."

Thomas Lingard, Global Sustainability Director at Unilever

"Science and innovation have important contributions to the research and technology aspects of climate change responses – be it in terms of reducing green house gas emissions through renewable energy and efficient transport systems and buildings, or carbon capture technology (land and water), efficient and sustainable agriculture, waste management, new products that are sustainable, etc.

Science and innovation must also be cost-effective, be widely available, understandable and replicable. This is why developing countries have been demanding for financing and transfer of technology, for capacity-building and training. Unless science takes these into account, any new research findings and technology/innovation developed will not be implemented widely and countries will continue to keep their traditional practices and technologies, many of which are harmful to the environment/climate.

Science and innovation must also take into account the different needs and circumstances of women and girls as they face and respond to climate change.

UN Women advocates for science, innovation and technology to acknowledge the different needs of women and girls due to persistent gender inequalities and support women’s and girls’ opportunities in areas related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation.

Calling for a gender-responsive approach to science and innovation in climate change responses means going beyond acknowledging and raising awareness of gender gaps; it means making sure that women’s and men’s concerns and experiences are equally integrated in any scientific inquiry and in the design of innovative products or services to address climate change, and that due consideration is given to gender norms, power relations and division of labour.

It also means including women and girls in decision making processes and some affirmative action when it comes to deciding on or accessing technology and innovation to address climate change. Broadening women’s and girls’ access can be through exposing young women and girls to new skills and technologies or supporting them through education, training and employment."

Verona Collantes-Lebale, Intergovernmental Specialist, focal point, climate change, biodiversity, land degradation and desertification, UN Women

What are the Outcomes and Next Steps from #COP26?

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