COP26, Climate Justice and a Just Transition

COP26 2

This week, the SOAS community met for a pre-COP26 briefing to showcase some of the latest research and a wide variety of global and regional perspectives. 

An interdisciplinary approach brought together academics from across departments and regions to explore the myriad ways climate change has consequences, not just on our natural systems, but on our societies, with all participants stressing the need for climate justice. 

Why Climate is a Justice Issue

The director of SOAS, Adam Habib, kicked off the conference with a call to connect the environmental with the social governance agenda, and the need for a contextualised approach to solutions: 

“The voices of the human community in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East need to be resoundingly heard. What needs to be said is climate action is not possible without social justice, without a just transition.” 

Habib stressed that while climate change is impacting all of our communities, parts of the world are facing disproportionate effects – and these often have only had a minor impact on climate change themselves. When discussing solutions, the contextual realities of parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America need to be considered, as they cannot adopt the same short-term solutions as North America and Western Europe. Climate action must involve a just transition, to mitigate the effects of climate injustice on human beings and to address the deep inequalities that exist in our world. 

Going Beyond Greenhouse Gases

There was wide agreement that while action and collaboration are needed to achieve net-zero by 2050, it needs to be localised and contextualised by region and by levels of poverty. Tom Tanner showed evidence that the richest 10% are responsible for 49% of total lifestyle consumption emissions (see Figure 1). Tanner stressed that the capacity to respond to climate change varies with poverty, not with geography, as the key factor.

Figure 1: Global income deciles and associated lifestyle consumption, Oxfam

Navroz Dubash continued the debate, arguing for a reframing of the climate action discussion away from an emissions narrative to one that meets development needs. In many developing countries in which short-term emissions rise, he argued that it’s important to focus global efforts on achievable, local measures and to build long-term infrastructure for a low-carbon future within that context. 

Who’s in the Room? Who Has a Voice? 

“The climate advocacy world is richer for its multitude of voices.” Navroz Dubash

COP26 is a highly complicated and politically negotiated process. Harald Heubaum noted that the success of the Paris agreement of COP21 in comparison to COP15 in Copenhagen was largely down to its difference of a bottom-up agreement approach: there was “transparency and inclusiveness rather than going into small rooms with private texts and pitting parties against each other.” 

While transparency is important, Tom Tanner addressed the structural inequalities of the COP26 delegation themselves given the different sizes and capacities and investment of each region attending. There are further inequalities within climate academia, with the majority of the Reuters’ hotlist being from Europe, with very few African and female authors. He notes that the late-night discussions that often take place enhance inequalities against those with care responsibilities who may not be able to stay for the discussions. 

However, it is not just about the diplomacy within the Blue Zone. Alongside the formal political negotiations, there are informal ‘huddles’, side events, lobbying and activism. Saleemul Huq argues for an ‘inside out COP26’ with the main plenary floors given to those who are on the ground: grassroots groups, mayors of cities, CEOs, indigenous groups, and academics. 

A Collaborative Approach

As COP26 fast approaches, with countries and regions meeting to discuss how to achieve net-zero by 2050, the conference speakers all emphasised the importance of cross-discipline collaboration and listening to the unique needs and perspectives of different regions. Speaker Felicia Jackson stressed the importance of collaboration between businesses, stakeholders, activists, and countries and the need for transparency in funding for developing countries. As Adam Habib concluded: “We are in desperate need of concrete action. By government, by business, scientists and academics, civil society and the collective of the human community…to address the historical challenge of our time: How to save our planet and the human community”. 


‘COP26 and the Climate Crisis: SOAS Briefing and Regional Perspectives’ was hosted by SOAS Regional Centres and Institutes, Centre for Environment, Development and Policy (CDEP) and Centre for Sustainable Finance (CSF). 

Explore the work of the speakers: Adam Habib, Edward Simpson, Tom Tanner, Harald Heubaum, Felicia Jackson, Giuseppina Siciliano, Andrew Newsham, Ulrich Volz, Yannis Dafermos, Sean Kidney, Christine Oughton, Angela Impey, Pallavi Roy, Leo Horn Phathanothai, Ros Taplin. Saleemul Huq, Navroz Dubash, Isabel Hilton, Yasuko Kameyama, Pierre Echaubard and Kwadwo Owusu.

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