COP Talks: Renee McGowan, CEO of Marsh McLennan, India & MEA

We sit down with Renee McGowan, CEO, Marsh McLennan India, Middle East, Africa at COP to discuss why Inclusion is a critical enabler in the climate agenda

COP28 is now well and truly underway – with participant discussion and debate focused on climate financing, fast-tracking the transition to clean energy, and adapting to protect lives and livelihoods. 

Equally important, but perhaps not as well-represented, are the other fundamental elements of COP28 – specifically, inclusion of the youth, women, and frontline communities.  

These are crucial segments of society that need addressing, Renee McGowan,  CEO of Marsh McLennan India, Middle East and Africa, tells Sustainability magazine on the second day of COP28 at Expo City in Dubai.

The world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, and with more than 85,000 colleagues advising clients in 130 countries, Marsh McLennan is joining government and private-sector leaders at COP28 – with experts, advisors and doers across all four of its businesses – Marsh, Guy Carpenter, Mercer and Oliver Wyman – sharing a range of actionable solutions that empower more sustainable futures.

As the regional CEO for Marsh McClennan, McGowan is one of the experts on the ground at COP – and inclusion of youth, women and communities is a topic close to her heart.

Passionate about financial inclusion, girls’ education and advancing women in society, McGowan mentors entrepreneurs in developing nations as part of the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. She is also a mentor with StreetWise, a non-profit that empowers unemployed individuals with skills and resources and is a member of the Dubai Business Women Council and of Chief Executive Women.

“Right from the start, the President-Designate, Dr Sultan Al Jaber of the UAE, has been clear on the commitment to make COP28 an inclusive and safe space for all participants,” says Dubai-based McGowan, who is one of Marsh McLennan’s experts on the ground at COP28.

“Inclusivity is a critical enabler to achieving transformative progress across the climate agenda, and that only by rising above our differences and working together can we raise our shared ambition and deliver progress.”

McGowan believes that now is the time for boldness in thinking and action on inclusion and empowerment issues that can positively affect this region for generations to come, "placing people at the heart of the conversation and empowering them to be the best they can possibly be, wherever they may live in the region". 

We sat down with McGowan hear to hear her views on these three critical segments of society.

Renee McGowan is passionate about financial inclusion, girls’ education and advancing women in society

Youth matter

The importance of bringing the region’s youth into today’s critical discussions cannot be understated, empowering them to be the advocates, entrepreneurs, and leaders. 

According to the OECD, over half (55%) of the population of the Middle East and Africa (MENA) are aged under 30 years. This is well above the 36% for all OECD countries.

“Across MENA we must be proactively including the voice of our youth, who will ultimately be the group leading our countries through climate change adaptation and the required energy transition. As with any change programme, designing solutions without sufficient input and buy-in from the most impacted groups is a recipe for failure,” argues McGowan.

COP28 will sponsor a Youth Hub, and Day 9 of COP28 (Friday 9 December) will be dedicated to Youth, Children, Education and Skills focusing specially on building youth skills, capacity, knowledge, and networks to engage in climate processes. These conversations provide opportunities to form solutions to empower meaningful change, and we must be encouraging youth across MENA to actively participate and help design their future world, she says.

Women matter

Throughout the world women are at the frontline of social change in communities, but notoriously underrepresented in climate change policy and action. This phenomenon has been well studied and reported, but change is slow.

The reality is women are embedded in social ecosystems and arguably best positioned to input to and drive change. “Women are also more likely to be directly impacted by climate change and will have to do the most to adapt to new ways of living and working,” says McGowan.

COP28 UAE also recognises more broadly that “women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing” to climate-related planning, policymaking, and implementation.

To put this into perspective, even today in 2023, women make up only 30% of the MENA working population, are underrepresented in both the public and private sector and importantly at the most senior (decision-making) levels.

“We in the region’s private sector must continue to take an active role in ensuring that women are provided the structural and policy support they need to flourish economically and politically in our respective communities,” says McGowan.

Communities matter

While most of the focus at COP28 is on policy and global commitments to change, McGowan says it’s good to see the recognition that local change is fundamentally important – as local communities actually implement real change and drive the social change critical for adaptation.

COP28 will focus on the many local initiatives and structures that will be fundamental to changing the climate trajectory, with specific sessions such as ‘How Small and Medium Enterprises Can Change the Course of Action in the Climate Fight’ expected to result in the launch of the first Arabic Sustainability Campaign for SMEs in the MENA region.

According to McGowan, this type of dedicated focus at COP28 should both support and elevate the voice of local businesses and communities in the discussion on climate change and adaptation.

“Policy alone won’t drive change, climate financing is essential. The organisers of this year’s COP have done a tremendous job of ensuring programming that is reflective of the climate finance needs necessary to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change,” says McGowan. 

Above all else, McGowan believes the programming recognises that not all local communities participating in COP28 are of equal financial footing; in fact, many are less financially endowed and, thus, more vulnerable. 

“Climate reparations paid by countries are one possible remedy that has got a lot of attention at previous COP meetings, but there must be a much broader agenda and set of public and private solutions that push for greater climate finance reform.

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