- Emily Goldfischer
Women Were Missing at COP27: Dr. Susanne Etti was There and Explains Why this is Bad for the World
Last month, leaders gathered in Sharm El Sheikh for COP27 with the aim to accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts, and enhanced flows of appropriate finance. The result was a new global climate pact––the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. It included a historic commitment by richer nations to give money to developing nations to help them recover from the damage and economic losses wreaked by ongoing climate change impacts. Beyond this new commitment, the main thing we noticed, was the lack of women at the conference. Particularly disappointing as gender and climate are profoundly intertwined, with the impact of climate change affecting women and girls disproportionately.
To get a better understanding of what happened at COP27 and what should be on our radar as women working in the travel industry, we chatted with an attendee of the gathering, Dr. Susanne Etti, the Global Environmental Impact Manager of Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest adventure travel company.
A bit of background on Susanne, she has a Ph.D. in natural science specializing in climate change and vector-borne diseases. Her work at Intrepid Travel centers around global decarbonization specifically around climate change performance, biodiversity, carbon reporting, and transitioning the business to the low-carbon economy. If you don't know Intrepid, the company is globally recognized as a leader in responsible travel. Intrepid has been carbon neutral since 2010 and in 2018 became the largest B Corp in the tourism sector. In 2020 the company became the first and only tour operator in the world with a verified science-based emission reduction target.
The initial photo from COP27 was disappointing, to say the least. You were at COP27 and have written extensively about why women need to be part of the conversation around climate action and the solution. What are your key takeaways from being at the event for women in hospitality?
Honestly, too few women are participating in COP27 climate negotiations and being part of decision-making when it comes to climate change. World leaders gathered at the COP27 summit and took the inaugural ‘family photo’. There were 110 leaders present, but just 7 were women. This is disappointing and urgently needs to change as without greater representation climate change can’t be tackled and women’s lives will worsen as a result.
World leaders gathered at the COP27 summit and took the inaugural ‘family photo’. There were 110 leaders present, but just 7 were women.
Women and girls are facing increased and specific risks as the climate crisis worsens. A new report by charity ActionAid, launched during COP27, revealed that in many developing nations - which are facing the worst impacts of climate change - women have greater responsibility for securing water, food, and fuel for their families which can be more difficult during floods, drought, or other climate-related crises.
We are seeing women and gender-diverse leaders providing critical leadership and solutions to addressing the climate crisis. Inspiring women attended COP27, like Barbados PM Mia Mottley who delivered a rousing speech at the summit, telling world leaders they have a responsibility to act on the promises they make on climate. Or Sherry Rehman, the minister for climate change in Pakistan, who gave a “this will happen to you” warning following the country’s severe flooding and weather this year. There was also 10-year-old Nakeyaat Dramani Sam from Ghana who delivered a powerful statement. In countries where women are in leadership roles, research shows it leads to adopting more stringent climate change policies resulting in lower emissions.
While the travel and hospitality industry has its foot on the accelerator to try and reach our 2050 net-zero targets, we still have a lot more to do. More companies are committing to ambitious climate goals and taking sustainability seriously, but others can still step it up by signing the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, which is a commitment to supporting global goals and halve emissions over the next decade. The first step is to implement ways to measure carbon output, as you can’t reduce what you’re not measuring.
Tell us more about the report Intrepid commissioned, what are the top findings?
The Travel Foundation report, sponsored by Intrepid, concluded there’s only one pathway forward for the travel industry to meet the net-zero goal. The report explored future scenarios and only one was found that could match the industry’s current growth forecasts. This scenario needs to see trillion-dollar investments in decarbonization measures and relies on the sector prioritizing trips where we can reduce emissions, like involving road and rail transport over air.
Work also needs to be done to address the existing inequity in the tourism system. There are many countries that are still yet to fully develop their own tourism economies and will have few resources to invest in green infrastructure. Destinations like island nations are some of the most dependent on tourism, but also most susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
The good news is it’s still technically possible to reach net-zero, but we need the will and force of the industry behind the goal. Tourism and hospitality operators need to collaborate and accelerate collective action and innovation to decarbonize.
What are the next steps for the travel industry?
Being carbon neutral is no longer good enough. The travel industry urgently needs to decarbonize our businesses. If we don’t take urgent and unprecedented action, there will be no world for us to show our customers.
It’s also essential to work closely and collaboratively with supply chain partners to try and help them reduce their emissions. Businesses can be doing more to educate suppliers about sustainability and promote better social and environmental practices to them.
The travel industry also needs to explore the role of biodiversity being a crucial ally in the climate crisis. The more actions we take to minimize the impact on biodiversity and proactively restore nature, the greater our ability to reduce greenhouse emissions and prevent ecosystem collapse. Intrepid is thinking a lot about investing in nature-based solutions, like partnering with Blue Carbon Lab to regenerate threatened coastal wetlands in southeast Australia.
We won’t see change if the whole industry isn’t working together to reduce their footprint and emissions. The industry needs to remember the climate crisis is not a competitive advantage and collaboration will benefit us all.
How can women in the hotel industry get more involved?
At Intrepid, we are fortunate to have visionary leadership from Darrell Wade, Geoff Manchester, and James Thornton, who lead loudly on sustainability. You may not be so lucky in your business, but if you are in leadership, you can make that change. Even at other levels of business, I encourage you to knock on the door and tell your leaders you want to see change and then be resilient if you get knocked back at first, and remember you do have a role to play.
I saw this for myself in the various tourism side events that attended at COP, many of which showed how visionary teams are implementing the Glasgow Declaration.
I also encourage you to get involved with mentorships or attend events like The International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum where you can collaborate, share, and be inspired by other women in the industry.