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Why diversity must be front and centre of the environment movement

COP26 banner
4 November 2021

Roy Kareem, Director of CSE’s Bright Green Future programme and a Black & Green Ambassador for Bristol is speaking at COP26 in Glasgow

The same thinking that got us into this current ecological and climate crisis, caused through maximal material growth on a finite planet, is not the thinking that will get us out of it. We need as many people with as many different cultural and lived experiences bringing all their wisdom to bear on this problem. 

Both the Black & Green Ambassador and Bright Green Future programmes are part of a movement to build a future where such diversity is brought front and centre when it comes to conversations and actions within sustainability.

Both programmes recognise that ‘environmental thought’ and the modern environmental movement that followed, have been shaped by western-centric systems of beliefs and values arising out of the Age of Enlightenment and then the Industrial Revolution, of which the UK was at the forefront. And much of the inequity, inequality and social constructs of that same period of time still persist and continue to shape our modern world.

Diversity is key

The UK’s environment sector is the second least diverse (farming is the first), with 3.1% black and brown people compared to 19.1% across the UK labour force (Policy Exchange, 2017). 

Yet people whose heritage spans the globe are in a position to help to bridge both the cultural and practical gaps between countries contributing most to climate issues, with countries that will disproportionately bear the costs. 

Our families and networks are spread across continents and socio-economic classes. However, historically our contributions have been marginalised instead of recognised. Such modes of thinking, and the institutions that incubate them, need to be challenged and rebalanced to reflect a better world that all humanity wants to see.


I’ve been invited to speak at COP26 on the Climate Action Hub stage, along with my fellow Black & Green Ambassador Olivia Sweeney, because I believe there’s recognition programmes like Black & Green Ambassadors and Bright Green Future provide a pathway that respects what has come before while pointing towards a more inclusive future. We can recognise humanity’s gains from material development after the big bang of the industrial revolution and  the importance of the modern environmental movement developing in the latter half of the 20th century while shaping a future where robust solutions to the climate and ecological crises are sourced and created from all groups that make up our society. 

Black & Green Ambassadors empowers new leaders to work with and between diverse communities, businesses, other organisations and individuals across Bristol to explore, amplify and enable solutions leading to an environmentally and socially just future for all.  The programme has been vital in amplifying the voices and needs of Bristol’s underrepresented communities. 

Meanwhile, Bright Green Future is a national environmental leadership programme working with 16-19 year olds from Black, brown and other minority ethnic groups to provide leadership skills, opportunities for self-development, future career prospects and professional networks. The programme is building the next generation of sustainability leaders, working to ensure that Black, brown and other minority ethnic people are fully represented in the transformation to net zero and within the wider environmental sector. 

Net-zero emissions does not equal net-zero inequality

Net-zero emissions does not automatically equate to net-zero inequality or net-zero discrimination – in fact without a change in hearts, minds and actions, existing issues are likely to become exacerbated, with a few winners and many losers. 

Urgent change is needed across the board to help reach our climate and ecological goals. Groups that have been historically marginalised in modern environmental conversations don’t simply need equality, they need equity to allow their agency to be heard and acted upon, and in our current political system this means both human and capital resources need to be invested in those groups in significant amounts.

As COP26 continues, we want to see concrete commitments to support a cohort of leadership emerging from right across society, reflecting and embracing the diverse voices and concerns of every citizen. 

We can no longer use the excuse of not knowing – with clear insight and open minds, a rebalanced planet and a more humane society is possible in the near future, but we need action today.

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