There is a worrying lack of diversity in climate change decision making, policy experts have warned, after a study found the voices of people of colour make up just three percent of discussions on the issue.
A year-long study conducted in Bristol revealed just five percent of participants at meetings to discuss transition to a net zero future were men of colour, and they spoke only one percent of the time.
The voices of women of colour accounted for just two percent of debate time, despite making up 14 percent of participants. People of colour account for 16 percent of Bristol’s population, according to Bristol City Council.
The study, which was led by academics and the University of Bristol, found white men and white women were almost equally represented – making up 40 percent and 41 percent of participants respectively.
But discussion time was dominated by white males, with this group speaking almost twice as much as their female counterparts. White men spoke on average 64 percent of the time, while white women spoke 33 percent of the time.
Published in the run-up to the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, the study’s authors warn the findings undermine Bristol’s pledge to make a “just” transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
“Fairness” is listed as one of the key principles of Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy which was published in February last year.
It states: “Achieving a just transition is central to our strategy and critical to it achieving successful outcomes.
“This means maintaining a democratic mandate, ensuring there are opportunities for all to participate in the benefits of change with its costs shared fairly.”
Policymakers are increasingly aware how important it is to include marginalised groups in discussions around climate resilience.
Those from poorer backgrounds are more vulnerable to climate change because they are likely to live in lower quality housing and lack the resources to move to escape extreme weather such as heatwaves or flooding.
Disabled people are also vulnerable, as they often need specialist housing, making it difficult to relocate.
The study, which was funded by the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, focused on six organisations spanning the public, private and third sectors looking at climate change in Bristol.
It involved 12 interviews with policymakers and nine hours of observations of closed-door steering groups and public meetings.
But the researchers found that many of the participants were aware of and concerned by the fact the climate change debate is dominated by white, middle-class people, and it was discussed at meetings.
They said there was a general sense of confusion “about how to include and engage” people of colour, and also disabled people, both the young and the elderly and working class people.