In the next few days political and business leaders will be making decisions that will affect everyone at COP 26 including people in those countries whose leaders are not attending. These decisions will shape both the present and the future. What can be done to ensure the right decisions come from such an important event?

Making decisions is a cognitive process and as such involves how our brains work. When we are born, we don’t arrive with a blank slate but with billions of connections already in the brain. From then on, we are building billions and billions more from what we experience of the world. This forms how we see the world, ourselves, and others. No two people see the world the same. Attached to each neural connection in the brain is an assumption about the world. These assumptions collate into groups with other assumptions that are similar thus strengthening a world view.

When we make a decision, it is made first in the unconscious before it reaches our consciousness based on our assumptions demonstrating how powerful assumptions are. For example, policy makers believed the UK was ready for a pandemic, but they assumed this would be a flu type of pandemic. That belief was so strong it filtered out learning from SARS and Ebola. The result was not being ready for COVID when it hit because the assumption was wrong.

Today some policy makers believe that shifting to net zero carbon will hit their economies and so are seeking compromises rather than regarding this as an opportunity for growth by transforming to a green economy through upskilling people and using new technologies. The result is more and more procrastination rather than do what is right or only taking baby steps when big strids are required. However, it is equally irresponsible to believe that technology will solve the problem without people changing their behaviours.

The assumptions underlying each decision next week will be visible to the world. The fear of doing what they assume is unpopular rather than right will also play a part. For many politicians their interest is always being re-elected and holding onto power based on their assumptions about people. Yet, if actions do not start straight away people are likely take power and action themselves and we will see mass demonstrations around the world.

Assumptions are powerful and they will need to be brought to the surface in the discussions next week. They need to ask what are the beliefs their assumptions are based on and are they correct? Where did the beliefs come from? What evidence is there that they are true?

It is only when leaders question their assumptions that the best decisions will be made. For this reason, The Leaders Institute will be analysing the decision making throughout the event.