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Letter to UK COP 26 Leadership Team

The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on
1 – 12 November 2021.

Kay Richmond, Programme Director, has added her signature to the following letter, written by  #shechangesclimate, on behalf of Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland, ahead of the Conference:

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street London

Dear Prime Minister,


We represent a group of powerful women*, including more than 100 recognised climate leaders in the UK, who are deeply concerned about the lack of gender balance in the UK COP26 leadership team – which is currently predominantly male. We ask that this is addressed with urgency to ensure that women are fairly represented.

It is incomprehensible that half the planet is not represented in the senior leadership team where the framing, narrative, issues and content for COP26 will be decided, when it is widely acknowledged that the role of women is critical in tackling the climate and ecological emergency. The evidence is clear that women and girls are more vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Women and girls more often face the brunt of climate related disasters than men. They are the ‘shock absorbers’ of climate change: impacts disproportionately hit their livelihoods and food security, drive up levels of the violence they experience, and hold them back from engaging in education and the green economy. For their interests to be appropriately considered in climate change policy responses, women need to be involved in strategic planning and decision-making. This has been made very clear, as a priority area, in the enhanced Gender Action Plan, which the UK Government championed at COP25.

The UK must lead by example, as the host of COP26 to send a clear signal to parties that the enhanced GAP must be enforced. For the UK as the host country to neglect to take a stand on strengthening women’s voices in the international climate debate would be a step backwards for climate justice and a failure of responsibility to put together the strongest and best equipped team.

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that an all-male leadership of the UK-hosted climate talks in 2021 will be not be as respected and effective as a gender balanced team, and that we need the concerns, attitudes, talents and leadership of women represented.

  • UNFCCC outlines the need for gender balance in climate diplomacy. Women’s vulnerability to climate change is a longstanding concern in the international negotiations(1).
  • Evidence shows that a lack of gender balance in key political decisions on climate is also more likely to prevent effective action to tackle the climate emergency. Research on deliberative democracy (2)  highlights the importance of diversity for tackling climate change: more inclusive and participatory decision-making improves the quality of decision-making, because it reflects and incorporates a wider range of perspectives and expertise.
  • Inclusion of women also leads to stronger outcomes on implementation. Evidence shows that involving people in decision-making who will be affected by these decisions influences policy support among the public (3).
  • Climate change risk perception and concern is higher among women than among men(4); women tend to be concerned about different aspects of climate change from men, and to be more in support of policies and lifestyle changes to tackle climate change. Women and men experience and shape climate change in very different ways, something that is well-understood by the UNFCCC(5). The more powerful groups in society are more likely to oppose regulatory policies(6) to tackle climate change because they threaten the status quo. Climate change scepticism is overwhelmingly white and male(7) . We want to urge the UK government to reflect on the evidence and understand that not having a diverse COP leadership is likely to undermine their global credibility on climate change and their call to other nations for ambitious and just climate action(8). The challenges we face today in the climate and ecological emergency are unprecedented and, as such, demand a fresh approach. The brightest minds and most imaginative problem-solvers are required to confront today’s challenges. When women have played a decisive role in previous UN climate talks in recent times, it has resulted in bold climate action and outcomes, despite significant opposition.


  1. A balanced representation of men and women at the high-level team for COP26. Embrace women’s equal participation and support gender equality (GAP). COP26 approach is transparent and accountable.
  2. Show global leadership by ensuring the UK’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution includes a gender analysis and commitment to tackling gender inequality via action on reducing emissions.
  3. Ensure climate finance is gender inclusive (developing minimum standards) to increase accessibility to finance for women-led and women’s rights organisations addressing climate change impacts on the front line.

We have more than 400 signatories to this letter, as well as a network of women who are determined to ensure that our voices are heard, from CEOs of the UK’s leading conservation NGOs, to leaders in the city and green finance, to politicians, scientists and policy makers, we ask for an urgent response.

We are standing by and are ready to support. We are a female team of high level players ready to provide their input, and provide transparency and accountability working alongside existing leadership members of the team. We are ready to step up now. We await your reply. Signatures below

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Copied to: Rt Hon. Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for BEIS and President of COP26 and Peter Hill, CEO COP26