COP29: Azerbaijan adds 12 women to summit committee following pressure from sustainability leaders

COP29 host nation Azerbaijan has added a dozen women to its organisational committee, after the initial proposals for an all-male line-up prompted backlash from high-profile women working in climate diplomacy, corporate sustainability and green activism.

COP29: Azerbaijan adds 12 women to summit committee following pressure from sustainability leaders

The Guardian last week broke the news that Azerbaijan was proposing a 28-strong committee, entirely consisting of men, for the climate summit in Baku this winter.

The backlash was strong and immediate. Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, called the proposals “shocking and unacceptable”.

More broadly, 75 female leaders from business, civil society and academia collaborated on an open letter urging Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to rethink the make-up of the committee in terms of gender balance.

Coordinated by the We Mean Business Coalition, the letter argued that the exclusion of women “risks undermining the UN climate negotiation process”. It stated: “ Gender diversity is crucial to successful negotiations and decision-making, bringing with it better, bolder decisions that have been shown to last.”

Signatories of the letter included the likes of Paris Agreement architect and European Climate Foundation CEO Laurence Tubiana; Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative co-chair Rachel Kyte; Google CSO Jate Brandt and Microsoft CSO Melanie Nakagawa.

Now, Aliyev has announced changes to the committee, adding one further man and 12 women to its membership. Azerbaijan’s deputy minister for ecology and natural resources, Umayra Taghiyeva, and its human rights commissioner, Sabina Aliyeva, are among the new additions.

“The speed of Azerbaijan’s response, in rectifying the absence of women in the organisational committee, is to be applauded and warmly welcomed,” said We Mean Business chief Maria Mendiluce.

But she noted that “there is still a long way to go for gender parity to be achieved in the climate negotiations and all our wider communities.”

Campaign group She Changes Climate has a similar view. Co-founder Elsie Buckle said: “This is a quick fix but not enough…. While this is positive progress, we are still far from a 50:50 gender balance.”

COP29 preparations

COP29 is set to take place in Baku from 11-24 November. Azerbaijan was confirmed as host nation fairly late in the game, with formal approval only coming during COP28 in Dubai in December 2023.

The UN had difficulty appointing a host within Eastern Europe – the region due to host this time around – due to threats from Russia. Another challenge was finding somewhere with an appropriate venue and associated transport links for tens of thousands of participants.

Had a host nation in the region not been found, the COP process would revert to being held at the UN’s climate HQ in Bonn, Germany, with COP28 President Dr Sultan Al-Jaber taking the reins for a second year running. This would not have been an ideal solution; Bonn would not have the capacity to host the 30-40,000 attendees usually seen at COPs, let alone the 100,000+ registered this past year.

Moreover, Al-Jaber, as head of the UAE’s state-owned energy company, repeatedly faced pressure to prevent oil and gas interests from undermining the delivery of a science-based and ambitious final agreement.

These concerns will doubtless persist into COP29 despite the change in presidency. Azerbaijan, like the UAE, derives much of its state income from fossil fuels. The proportion is estimated to be two-thirds and the nation also reportedly has plans to increase its production significantly within a decade.

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