Three things we learned at COP 26 about taking climate action with your finances

Mary Stevens explains why we need OwnIt more than ever.

Mary Stevens10 Nov 2021

On Saturday 6th November, at the same time as millions of people around the world were taking to the streets to demand climate justice, Anneka from Enrol Yourself and I took to stage in the Green Zone (the official ‘fringe’) at COP to run an OwnIt taster session. We had a good room of people at Glasgow Science Centre – and if you missed it you can watch the session back here  (the first 20 minutes covers the OwnIt programme).

Projection of opening slide from OwnIt presentation at COP26 event
Projection of opening slide from OwnIt presentation at COP26 event Mary Stevens

But we also made use of our time in Glasgow to check out the other sessions – both in and outside the talks - and talk to as many people as we could. Here are three big things we learned.

Women are still excluded from the conversation.

Earlier in the week we spotted a finance session where the only woman on stage was the chair – with a panel of eight. We witnessed something similar at a private reception with speakers. And this doesn’t just apply to finance: #shechangesclimate have been drawing attention to the lack of gender balance throughout the negotiations. One of our starter questions on Saturday was “What if… women really felt they had the power to make the changes they want to see in the world?” We still have a long way to go. Moreover, as more big firms start to wake up to the (marketing) opportunities of climate-positive finance, there is a risk that women - who have often been the ethical finance pioneers, like our friends at Ethex or Good with Money - will find themselves side-lined. Building and maintaining our confidence in this space will be more important than ever.

More awareness doesn’t automatically mean more action.

More and more people are talking about the impact of personal finance. And there’s a lot of very creative campaigning going on (we love this video from Make My Money Matter, for example). But information and good intentions alone will not be enough. The brilliant thing about OwnIt is that we know how to translate intentions into action. We know that support and accountability are critical – and our results prove it. It’s how we’ve empowered 20% of our participants to switch their current account or make an ethical investment, for example.

Hand written notes on a personal action card showing pledges made at OwnIt session
Personal action card from OwnIt session at COP26 Mary Stevens

Green finance is about to get a lot more complicated

We’re all going to need buddies to help us navigate it. When I first start thinking about these issues it was really easy, partly because there was so little choice (a bit like the early days of being vegetarian – there was only ever one thing on the menu). But now? Everyone is opening ‘ethical’ funds, but no one is officially checking these claims, and there are no commonly agreed standards. And yet, as our Polluted Pensions report showed only last month, not one of the UK’s 27 largest funds has made a full commitment to divest from fossil fuels. (Ethical Consumer does a great job of providing verified rankings, but the space as a whole is largely unregulated). In the future the community and the campaign we want to build around OwnIt will have an important role to play not just in highlighting the options, but also in uncovering the ‘green wash’ and properly holding providers to account.

Activists standing around Stop Cambo oil drum installation, with COP26 venue in the background
Stop Cambo oil drum action at COP26 Mary Stevens

OwnIt's role in transition

We have come away from COP convinced that OwnIt has a hugely important role to play in the coming transition.

At COP we launched a new sponsorship offer: we are looking for a small group of founder sponsors to join Ethex and Energise Africa and each contribute at least £5,000 to help us grow the model and reach the next 500 women. If you can help please get in touch with Anneka directly ([email protected]). And if you’d like to hear more about the programme, or maybe sign up as a host for future rounds, please submit your details here.

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