Feminists Show Up at COP27

Written by Hilary Clauson

This year was the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP for short), held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheikh. Its overarching goal was to “accelerate global climate through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance.” 

An ambitious and necessary goal. But what does it mean for individuals and communities in the Global South, those hardest hit by the climate crisis? 

Immaculata Casimera of the Wapichan Women’s Movement journeyed from rural Guyana to Sharm el Sheikh, bringing an essential message to COP delegates. Her Indigenous community did nothing to cause the climate crisis. Still they are using their traditional knowledge and ways to combat it. This despite lacking recognition of their traditional territory, and the encroachment of mining interests. 

Casimero asserts,

To ensure climate justice for all, we need to be able to protect our lands and natural resources …. We also need solidarity from our friends internationally as we work to ensure respect for our rights, including our rights to free, prior, and informed consent. 

She was joined by many other feminist and Indigenous climate activists, bringing energy, ideas, and conviction that the root causes of the climate crisis – including colonialism, patriarchy, and capitalism – must be tackled now. While COP is not a feminist space, it has been leveraged by feminists in powerful ways to advance gender justice and climate action. 

Decolonizing climate action

An event at COP27 we co-organized with KAIROS and for which Casimero provided remarks featured Global South activists from Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, Palestine, and South Sudan. Decolonizing climate action must centre the voices and perspectives of Indigenous and Global South communities, and implement their solutions. It also recognizes that colonialism is still active in this world, seen clearly in the Global North’s responsibility for the climate crisis, and the kind of solutions (or lack thereof) that are implemented. 

Locally-led solutions

A Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) event featured three feminist activists from Indonesia, Tanzania, and the Philippines, who shared a conviction that women must be at every climate action decision-making table and that climate finance should reach local communities, and women- and Indigenous-led organizations. GAGGA calls this gender-just climate finance. Joann Carling of Indigenous Peoples Rights International explained further:

Women are the best implementers and managers of projects, especially projects addressing their needs and priorities. If we give funds to women, we can trust that they will use it wisely. And they will use it collectively.

In addition, the Women and Gender Constituency announced its Gender Just Climate Solutions awards, an annual COP event that demonstrates and celebrates the power of local, women-led movements. This year, awards went to organizations leading the way on innovative solutions, including: revolutionizing the shea butter industry in Togo; advancing the labour rights of women cotton pickers in Pakistan; and bridging ancestral knowledge with modern science to protect ecosystems in India.

What donor governments must do 

On a panel at the Canada Pavilion, the Equality Fund drew deep inspiration from Global South feminist and Indigenous climate activists to call for Canada and other donors to finance climate projects that tackle unequal power relations, systemic gender discrimination, and harmful norms and practices. Such projects play a critical role by promoting women’s, girls’, and Indigenous peoples’ rights, and by resourcing and supporting women’s and Indigenous rights organizations and movements, including capacity-building and advocacy components. These are the organizations and movements that demand rights, and connect women to those rights – and they are essential to any climate strategy.

Governments must also step up to COP negotiating tables with ambitious, concrete proposals that match the tenacity and honour the demands of feminist climate activists. 

At COP27, governments committed to establish a Loss and Damage funding facility. Also known as climate reparations, countries responsible for the climate crisis will provide compensation for irreparable damage in the Global South. This accomplishment is the result of over 30 years of advocacy from the Global South, grassroots movements, and civil society. However, lest governments commit resources to this fund, it will remain empty – and another empty climate action promise.

Any success must not distract from governments’ failure on the mitigation front. Mitigation is our only chance to hold the world at 1.5 degrees warming (after which we will face catastrophic impacts). It requires the full phase out of fossil fuels, not gas expansion, which the COP27 cover decision leaves on the table, and carbon offsetting and other “false solutions.” 

A failure that has attracted less attention is the neglected Gender Action Plan review. COP27’s attention to gender equality and women’s rights was centred on the substantive review of progress and challenges in implementing the five-year Gender Action Plan. Disappointingly, the review was unsubstantial. Parties negotiated a weak text that reiterates existing mandates or, disturbingly, rolls back agreed UN language. See the Women and Gender Constituency’s analysis here.

Such negotiation failures do a deep disservice to the feminist climate activists who gathered at COP27 to articulate how the climate crisis is already impacting their communities and make demands of COP27 decision-makers. To avoid further climate catastrophe, Parties must come with the same determination and innovation as feminist climate activists, at COPs and beyond.

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