Four Ways Women Shaped COP24
It’s been almost a month since country delegates and civil society organization observers convened in Katowice for the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and although I posted updates on our social media, I wanted to write a blog entry to share with you a more personal take on the conference.
First timer in the COP
As a newbie to the COP, I was pretty much a blank slate. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was (pleasantly) surprised to find strong female presence in COP24. Through the Gender Action Plan (GAP), the parties at COP23 recognized that gender equality and women empowerment are important policy considerations in climate change negotiations because of women’s vulnerability to climate change. However, at this point I don’t want to focus on the fact that women are more adversely affected by climate impacts. Instead, I want to highlight that in spite of being vulnerable, women are also the leading drivers of climate resilience on several levels. Here are four ways I saw women shaping COP24:
1. Women are influencing consequential negotiations
I remember a Loss and Damage informal meeting where I observed a female negotiator from Honduras propose to include a paragraph on gender equality consistent with the GAP, to which all negotiators agreed to except for Kuwait. The female negotiators in the room, from Canada, the Netherlands, and African countries, all raised their flags to argue for the inclusion of the paragraph, and this even resulted in a huddle later on. It was a defining moment for a first-timer like me. It shocked me that gender discrimination in a country like Kuwait can make it into a diplomatic discussion like this — but also that women can push back.
I need to emphasize also that the most charismatic figures in COP24 were women who ended up influencing COP decisions.
One of these was Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim from Chad, co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change. Ms. Ibrahim was particularly significant in pushing for the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP), which organizes official indigenous representation and participation in the UNFCCC. Representatives from indigenous communities have rallied for such platform even prior to the Paris Agreement, and the decision establishing the LCIPP has cemented this.
I mention Ms. Ibrahim specifically because she carried her advocacy with a powerful charisma wherever she went. I heard her speak at a number of forums and press interviews to get her message across: we need the UNFCCC to respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was not only successful in achieving that decision for the Indigenous Peoples, but her charisma infected people like me, who became more conscious of indigenous peoples rights in the climate change sphere.
“We need to act, because otherwise my people will not exist.” — Hindou Ibrahim
2. Indigenous Women are leading climate resilience projects in their local communities
A number of side events covered the essential role of women in helping their local communities adapt to climate change. Many local communities (in law and culture) usually favor men in terms of land rights and leadership, but women have begun to find their voices in developing political change and climate resilience in their locality.
Indigenous women are challenging agricultural and land use norms in traditionally unequal societies. Women in Congo, India, Laos, and Zambia won awards for their empowering initiatives, which were presented in a side event we attended. Dorothea Lisenga from Congo, for example, convinced local government to allow women to own land, a practice which was previously prohibited. She said that in Congo, the men usually sell the land to developers who would destroy the agricultural ability of the land, while women usually cared for the land and felt a deep connection to it because of their sense of duty towards their family.
In Brazil, indigenous women are an encyclopedia for the knowledge of the Amazon’s vast climate solutions. The Brazilian pavilion hosted an event called “Knowledge, perceptions and collaborations of indigenous women in the Amazon in relation to the environment and climate change,” featuring a panel of indigenous women of the Amazon as well as a film viewing of the documentary “Heat.” The film presented interviews with indigenous women from communities on the Colombian, Peruvian, and Venezuelan borders of the Brazilian Amazon, who discussed how climate change has affected the weather patterns in their area and how they are adapting through seed choosing, and other similar measures.
Without women protecting the environment and the community, adaptation would not be possible.
3. Female technical experts shape key discussions
In the midst of a field previously dominated by men, women are receiving distinction as experts in various fields. I went to side events and observed negotiations on a range of topics: loss and damage, adaptation, technology, law and governance, agriculture, human rights, etc. Wherever I went, I noticed that women were constantly in the forefront of the discussions.
I especially look up toChristina Voigt, who was a co-facilitator for the compliance and implementation committee in COP24. She is looked up to as a Most Highly Qualified Publicist in the field of International Environmental Law, having authored numerous publications on the UNFCCC process.
I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow Filipina Jellie Molino in the Climate Law and Governance Day in the University of Silesia. Currently a PhD candidate in law, she won the gold award for her essay critiquing the sustainable procurement policy of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Hardworking, relentless, and passionate for change, she told me that she merely wanted her recommendations read by the panel of judges, who hold positions in environmental organizations (one of whom was the lead counsel for GCF). “How do they expect other organizations to practice sustainable procurement policy if the GCF itself won’t even fix its own?” Jellie asked me. They are currently considering the content of her award-winning essay for revising the procurement policy.
4. Filipina women in the COP
I can’t end this article without talking about the Filipina women in the COP. It began with Ditas Müller, who passed away after COP24. She led the Philippine delegation from COP1, and was one of the most respected negotiators for developing countries. Quoting Niner, “[i]n the world of international environmental treaty negotiations she could make most people quake in fear; even the most hardened negotiators braced themselves. She was the dragon lady of developing countries, fearless and frank, demanding, exacting, indefatigable.”
Following her legacy, there are many women who are also finding their place in the international environmental law field: Maria Socorro Manguiat, Head of the National Environmental Law Unit at the Law Division of United Nations Environment; Hedwig Sandoval of the UNFCCC Secretariat; and of course, I cannot forget the Parabukas team, Niner Guiao and Aya de Leon, who have helped shaped negotiations in REDD+, Adaptation, Loss and Damage, and Philippine positions in the negotiations.
Continuing a female-empowered COP
The COP has been around almost as many years as I have been alive. As the youngest in our COP24 team — a blank slate that awaits to form some sketch in international environmental policy — I couldn’t help but feel like I should strive to make my own mark in the field. How can I possibly live up to the 24 years of hard work these women have done?
Exactly that: hard work. These women have paved the way for other women (like me!) to even hope for such a career. Indeed, with support from our delegations and colleagues, women can continue to be empowered and shape the UNFCCC COP.