By Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Dec 13 2022 (IPS)
The African women and Girls were deeply concerned about the lack of commitment by UNFCCC Parties as climate change continues to impact negatively on the continent victimizing more women and girls.
The WGC has uplifted the voices of African feminists at COP27, asserting their power to demand climate-justice articulated in the powerful set of proposals presented as the African Women and Girls’ Demands. [ Link: WGC_COP27-African-Feminists-Demands_EN_final.pdf (womengenderclimate.org) ] The demands stress in particular the need for more Inclusion of women and young people in decision-making processes;
Imali Ngusale, FEMNET Communication Officer, Kenya was clear in her pronouncement on this dimension saying that “Remarks about women and youth engagement have been regurgitated in well-crafted speeches. Promises have been made year in year out, but the reality check keeps us guessing whether the implementation of the GAP is a promise that may never be achieved. A gender responsive climate change negotiation is what we need. The time for action is yesterday.”
“… We are saddened by the outcomes of the implementation for the GAP. The GAP remains the beacon of hope for women and girls who are at the frontline of the climate crises,” lamented Queen Nwanyinnaya Chikwendu, a Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Activist of Nigeria.
In a hard-hitting statement, the WGC spokesperson Carmen Capriles said out loud in her statement at the closing ceremony on 20 November that “This COP is not a safe space for women environmental and human rights defenders, neither at this venue nor in its decisions. We have experienced being sidelined once again, we have experienced harassment, oppression and resistance against our feminist climate justice demands, however, this only makes us stronger.”
This powerful one-page statement has been posted on the reliable and prestigious Women’s UN Regional Network (WUNRN) website and worth reading by all activists and supporters for the rights of women and girls. It would be worthwhile for the UN to look into the issues raised by in the WGC statement at COP27 and publicly share its findings. UN Women and UN DESA which oversee NGO participation throughout the UN system should be the lead entities to pursue this matter from the UN Headquarters.
Expressing a total dismay with the lack of substance in the outcome, politicization and non-participatory process, Zainab Yunusa, Climate Change and Development Activist of Nigeria pondered, “As a young African climate justice feminist, I came to COP27 excited to see concrete decisions to follow the intermediate review of the Gender Action Plan (GAP)…. Rather, I witnessed restrictive negotiation processes that undermined my contributions.”
“I observed the cunning political power play of ‘who pays for what,’ at the expense of the sufferings of women and girls of intersecting diversities. I saw a weak, intangible, eleventh-hour GAP decision that merely sought to tick the box of arriving at an outcome. COP27 side-lined the gender agenda in climate action. It failed women human rights defenders, indigenous women, young women, National Gender Climate Change Focal Points, and gender climate justice advocates clamoring for gender equality in climate action.”
Gender-Climate Change activists are wondering whether these frustrations would reappear at COP28. Their limited expectation, however, relates to the skillful, transparent, and impartial handling of the negotiations at the final stages at COP27 by the facilitator Hana Al-Hashimi of the delegation of UAE, the next host.
WIKIGENDER’S ROLE DOUBTED:
In the context of gender and climate advocacy, a number of civil society activists have expressed doubts about the role of the Wikigender, which claims to be “ a global online collaborative platform linking policymakers, civil society and experts from both developed and developing countries to find solutions to advance gender equality.” It reportedly provides a “centralized space for knowledge exchange on key emerging issues, with a strong focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular on SDG 5”.
The Wikigender University Programme engages with students working on gender equality issues. As an OECD Development Centre-supervised online community, activists wondered about the platform’s bias, more so as it deals with gender equality issues.
WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION MARGINALISED:
Another major concern widely shared by most activists was that too few women participated in COP27 climate negotiations. Women are historically underrepresented at the United Nations’ global conferences on climate change, and COP27 was no exception. A BBC analysis has found that women made up less than 34% of country negotiating teams at Sharm El-Sheikh. Some delegations were more than 90% male.
ActionAid UK emphasizes that “there is no getting around when women are in the room, they create solutions that are proven to be more sustainable.” To make the matter worse, the UN has estimated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. ActionAid said that climate change is exacerbating gender inequalities. Decisions at COP27 were not focused on the specific issues as well the perspectives which are of particular concern to women.
At COP27, the inaugural ‘family photo’ showed a dismal reality featuring 110 leaders present, but just seven of them were women. This was one of the lowest concentrations of women seen at the COPs, according to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), which tracks female participation at such events. Twelve years ago in 2011, countries pledged to increase female participation at these talks, but the share this year has fallen since a peak of 40% in 2018, according to WEDO.
According to the UN, young women are currently leading the charge on taking climate change action. Some of the most famous legal cases brought against governments for inaction on climate change, have been brought by women. It is obvious that the outcomes of the climate change negotiations will be affected by the lack of women participating. They must have a seat at the table.
As in other years, women, and especially women of color and from countries in the global South had been demanding, that their voices be heard and amplified in climate negotiations. Their demands fell into deaf ears. “When we talk about representation it is about more than numbers; it is meaningful representation and inclusion,” said Nada Elbohi, an Egyptian feminist and youth advocate, in a press release. “It is bringing the priorities of African women and girls to the table.”
CIVIL SOCIETY IGNORED IN A BIG WAY:
UNFCCC website claims that “Civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are welcomed to these (annual COP and related) conferences as observers to offer opinions and expertise, and to further represent the people of the world.” There are 1400 such observer organizations grouped into nine constituencies namely, 1.Businesses and industry organizations; 2. Environmental organizations; 3. Local and municipal governments; 4. Trade unions; 5. Research and independent organizations; and organizations that work for 6. the rights of Indigenous people; 7. for Young people; 8. for Agricultural workers; and 9. for Women and gender rights.
Though these constituencies provide focal points for easier interaction with the UNFCCC Secretariat, based in Bonn, and individual governments, at COP27, such interactions did not happen. Complaining the lack of effective civil society space, Gina Cortes Valderrama, WGC Co-Focal Point, Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) focused bluntly on the reality speaking on record that “Negotiations at COP27 have taken place amid deepened injustices in terms of access and inclusion, with participants facing discrimination, harassment and surveillance, and concerns for their safety as well as the safety of activists and human rights defender.”
She further added that “Instead of this being the space for guaranteeing human rights to all, it is being utilized as an Expo where capitalism, false solutions and colonial development models are greeted with red carpets while women and girls fade away in the memories of their lost land, of their damaged fields, of the ashes of their murdered.”
A WGC representative verbalized their anger by announcing that “Even as we call out the hypocrisy, inaction and injustice of this space, as civil society and movements connected in the fight for climate justice, we refuse to cede the space of multilateralism to short-sighted politicians and fossil-fuel driven corporate interests.”
Key civil society leaders were critical of their exclusion complaining that “Observers were consistently locked out of the negotiation rooms for a repeated ‘lack of sitting space’ excuse … We have also witnessed painful orchestration of last-minute decisions with few parties.”
They alerted the organizers and hosts of future COPs by saying that “This needs to be called out and ended.”
COP27 PEOPLES’ DECLARATION:
In the final days of COP27, becoming increasingly frustrated, the Women and Gender Constituency together with different civil society movements across the world endorsed a joint COP27 Peoples’ Declaration for Climate Justice. The Declaration called for: (1) the decolonisation of the economy and our societies; (2) The repaying of climate debt and delivery of climate finance; (3) The defense of 1.5c with real zero goals by 2030 and rejection of false solutions; (4) Global solidarity, peace, and justice. Full text is available at COP27 Peoples’ Declaration (womengenderclimate.org).
This substantive and forward-looking Declaration should strengthen civil society solidarity and provide a blueprint for their activism in upcoming COPs and other UNFCCC platforms.
Given the ill-treatment and huge disappointment of the civil society observers being denied access during COP27, it would be beneficial for the COP process and the next COP Presidencies to allow one representative from each of these nine constituencies to be present at all the meetings of the Parties from COP28 onwards.
FOSSIL FUEL LOBBY COMES OUT OF THE SHADOW:
On one point there was a near-unanimous opinion at COP27 that the fossil fuel industry has finally come out of the shadows. One key takeaway from Sharm El-Sheikh was the presence and power of fossil fuel – be they delegates or countries.
Attendees connected to the oil and gas industry were everywhere. Some 636 were part of country delegations and trade teams, reflecting an increase of over 25% from COP26. The crammed pavilions felt at times like a fossil fuel trade fair. This influence was clearly reflected in the final text.
Sanne Van de Voort of Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), commented, “… although it is long overdue, only a handful of countries presented their revised national plans in Sharm El-Sheikh; in contrast more than 600 fossil fuel and nuclear lobbyists flooded the COP premises, selling their false climate solutions”. According to the Spiegel, the COP27 became a marketplace where 20 major oil and gas deals were signed by climate-killers such as Shell and Equinor.”
Tzeporah Berman, international program director at grassroots environmental organization “Stand.Earth” lamented that “To be sure, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis. Our failure to recognize this in 27 COPs is a result of the power of the fossil fuel incumbents, especially the big oil and gas companies out in force at this COP who have made their products invisible in the negotiations”
Climate-campaigners described the UN’s flagship climate conference as a “twisted joke” and said COP27 appeared to be a “festival of fossil fuels and their polluting friends, buoyed by recent bumper profits …The extraordinary presence of this industry’s lobbyists at these talks is therefore a twisted joke at the expense of both people and planet.”
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and former President of the Security Council.
IPS UN Bureau