Women are the Solution

“We are here not as victims, but as survivors.”

These words and so many other impactful ones echoed through the halls of the COP23 conference this month in Bonn, Germany.

While climate change action was the topic up for debate, women’s rights organizations like WEDO and the Women and Gender Constituency showed that not only are women’s rights worthy of being on an international stage too but are also inextricably linked to the issue of climate change and the subsequent action needed.

With my first video, I hoped to introduce the overall feminist narrative woven through the COP23 conference this past month. While negotiations unfolded, it became clear that women’s rights were making their way to the main stage, ultimately resulting in a concrete gender action plan established under the Presidency of Fiji.

Imagine a world with zero net emissions, a world not run on fossil fuels and the silent work hours of women.

Low-carbon energy technologies have been shown to free up women’s time, expand their access to information, and provide new business and employment opportunities. When policies are enacted to cut emissions and fund green technology, women indirectly benefit globally, as well as the rest of the population.

But that isn’t always enough.

A key phrase at the COP conference this year was “Gender Neutral Climate Action”– that is, developing technologies and implementing policies that do not express or result in bias towards any gender.

In addition to women being disproportionately affected by climate change, advocates for women are also disproportionate in negotiations. In COP18, only 29.4% of delegates were women, increasing to 36% for COP19. It is crucial to recognize that in order to successfully empower women, women need to be at the forefront of the movement. While the COP conferences are beginning to have a more fair representation of genders, gender just climate action cannot be completely successful until women have their proportional say.

Beyond women’s empowerment, the whole world benefits when women are included in climate solutions. One UNFCCC study reported that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on farms by 20-30%. As well, Climate Technology Centre and Network showed that when women are included, technology becomes much more sustainable.

As one feminist speaker at COP23 put it, “This is about giving women the say, recognizing their knowledge and competencies, building up their capacities to participate fully, and contribute to the solution for climate change.”

The many women and feminist organizations speaking at Bonn this past November proved that women’s rights cannot be an afterthought when negotiating climate action. As future blogs will show, women’s rights and climate change have a long, intertwined history that becomes increasingly more emphasized as we look to the future.

After hearing hours of discussion between women of all academic, social, and cultural backgrounds, it was almost impossible to not feel inspired. The gender action plan of COP23 is just the beginning for a global movement of women’s rights and climate action.

Women are survivors of climate change. Women are the solution to climate change.

Advertisements

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Climate change is a global event that will– in one way or another– affect every single person on this planet.

But not equally. 

Those who are less able to respond to change (i.e., those who live in systems of oppression with low socioeconomic mobility) will be affected most by climate change. The world’s poor, the majority of whom are women, will be disproportionately affected by the altering earth.

Although women make up half of the people on earth, they are often silenced in decision-making processes. Even when women are affected by alarming disadvantages– for example, women are 14 more times more likely to die in a disaster than men– little is done to offer a solution or to offer the inclusion of women in order to find a solution.

But, ultimately, all of this is fuel to the fire.

Women have the distinct advantage of becoming grass-roots advocates for climate action, motivated by the fact that they will be the ones most affected. Women are effective agents of change due to a strong sense of community and deep knowledge of local concerns. Incredible climate action is happening “on the ground” around the world, in areas where women can lead and truly enact change.

However, this isn’t good enough.

Local action is important– essential— but there also needs to be global action. Women cannot just be kept back at home working on grass-roots projects; they must also be placed in places of power where decisions are made and concrete climate action taken.

If we want to achieve our goal of  “2 degrees C,” we must put women on the frontline to lead the change.

Without women’s voices, “gender-blind” climate action is taken, that is action that does not factor in gender into its policies. Much of the work done by women globally is non-documented and uncompensated work, making it incredibly easy to forget their input when policies are written.

Women need to be given greater involvement in negotiations to accurately and effectively implement climate action. If half of the world’s population is missing from the discussion, how can we have solutions for the entirety of the world?

With all of this in mind, it is important to end where we started this discussion:

Women are not only victims of climate change. 

They are also the stewards of environmental health, the leaders of grass-roots movements, the voices of entire communities, the actors of change in a dynamic world.

What we know for certain is that the world we love is going to change– but now it is up to us to decide if that change will stop at the climate level or if it will spread beyond.

I’d like to think that if we can adapt to a changing planet, we can certainly adapt to a few more women in power.

Indigenous Women’s Rights

We humbly ask permission from all our relatives; our elders, our families, our children, the winged and the insects, the four-legged, the swimmers and all the plant and animal nations, to speak. Our Mother has cried out to us. She is in pain. We are called to answer her cries. Msit No’Kmaq – All my relations!
– Indigenous prayer

To talk about gender just climate action is to talk about indigenous people’s rights.

Even though they contribute very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, indigenous communities are very much threatened by the impacts of climate change. In many situations, indigenous peoples are the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, when it comes to climate change.

Because they are heavily dependent upon the environment around them, indigenous peoples are often the first to face the impacts of climate change. In addition to this direct threat, climate change also amplifies the problems already felt by these vulnerable groups indirectly. Issues like political discrimination, marginalized land rights, and human rights violations plague many indigenous communities.

As discussed in previous posts, gender inequality also severely impacts the lives of many indigenous women, only being amplified by the impacts of climate change. While women play an essential role in indigenous communities, they still face discrimination through unpaid work, issues of food security, and gender-based violence. When climate change is factored in, women become even more vulnerable to exploitation and the new risks that come with an altering climate.

Globally, the 370 million indigenous peoples constitute 5% of the world’s population, but make up 15% of the world’s poor. Additionally, this 5% protects 22% of the Earth’s surface and 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Thus, the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples are severely skewed relative to the rest of the population. Perhaps even more importantly, the impact indigenous peoples have on climate change is also severely skewed, as they contribute very little to global emissions but fight for climate action on some of the world’s most protected lands.

In fact, indigenous peoples’ presence have been shown to enhance the resilience of the ecosystems they inhabit. As both sustainable management and biodiversity conservation stewards, these persons are able to protect the land that holds such an important part in their everyday lives and cultural rituals.

Thus, it is essential that indigenous peoples’ voices and wisdoms are shared with the world. While enhancing and supporting the adaptive capacity of this group is necessary, it must be implemented with other climate actions like sustainable development, disaster preparation, and land-use planning skills.

It is not enough to just listen to indigenous peoples, we must provide them the skills to learn and adapt to our changing world, something the global rich have failed to do throughout history.

The problems faced by indigenous peoples as a result of climate change are a glimpse of what is to come for the rest of the world. We must not only listen now, but also learn and take action on behalf of the 370 million people who have learned before us.

So… What Happened?

After all of this discussion of women’s rights and how the UNFCCC responds to gender-just climate action leading up to the conference, it’s time to finally ask:

What actually happened at COP23?

indigenous-women-climate-change-

Latina.com

To begin, it was clear that women’s rights advocates were inserting themselves into the daily dialogue. The calendar was full of panels, events, and full days surrounding feminist action. For example,

  • November 8- Pacific Island Women’s Day
  • November 9- Young Feminist Day
  • November 14- Gender Day
  • November 15- Indigenous Women’s Day

Leading the events were the large, outspoken organizations discussed earlier, specifically WEDO and the Women and Gender Constituency. These groups began advocating for their cause from the very beginning of COP 23. Their main demands surrounded:

  • A robust gender action plan
  • Climate solutions that are gender-just
  • Direct access to Global Fund grants for women
  • Water security for women and girls
  • Promotion of sexual and reproductive health
  • Plan for real ambition via the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue
  • Creation of a rights-based platform for indigenous people and local communities
  • Solutions that break free from fossil fuels

While their discussions and demands eventually proved very successful to the cause, it was interesting to note the gender make-up of the panels and more importantly, the gender make-up of the audience during these discussions. Because WEDO and the Women and Gender Constituency advocate for female leaders, it made sense that their panels were majority female; however, the audience was majority female as well– which begs the question:

Where were the men?

During the live streams, one didn’t even have to watch to understand what was going on—just by listening, one could hear it was women advocating for women, answering questions by other women advocating for women.

While amplifying the female voice is incredibly important at COP23 (and frankly, in all arenas), it is important to note that these voices cannot be made louder but in a confined space. Yes, women were speaking, but they were primarily speaking to themselves.

Women cannot fight for inclusion while being excluded in dialogue.

As discussed in the previous blog Women are the Solution, it has become a main goal of the UNFCCC to include and support female leaders in the delegations and discussions. However, there is still much that needs to be done on the way to 50/50 representation.

Ultimately, even though these discussions seemed one-sided, they were successful. In the final week of the conferences, the Fiji president announced the Gender Action Plan, highlighting the role of women in climate action.

The COP agreed to (among other things):

  • Adopt a gender action plan
  • Request the Secretariat to prepare a synthesis report on implementation of the gender action plan for November 2019
  • Review implementation of the action plan at COP25

Within the Gender Action Plan was movement towards:

  • Capacity-building, knowledge sharing, and communication for all stakeholders in order to integrate gender into policy and planning
  • Gender balance in participation and leadership to achieve equal and meaningful participation of women in the UNFCCC process
  • Coherence in the integration of gender in the work of UNFCCC bodies, the secretariat, and other United Nations programs
  • Gender-responsive implementation of the Paris Agreement and overall Convention actions.
  • Monitoring and reporting to improve tracking of implementation and reporting on UNFCCC gender-related mandates

In closing, many leaders and attendees at COP23 recognized this historic action as a step forward for including gender equality and human rights into climate action. Although there is still much to be done, COP23’s Gender Action Plan is a step in the right direction.

The Anthropocene Scene

This past Monday, my seminar classes met with Professor Lance Gunderson, a chair of the Emory Environmental Sciences Department. In addition to his career as a professor, Dr. Gunderson has additionally worked with the National Parks Service as a botanist for the Everglades, after receiving his PhD from the University of Florida.

As a former student of his, I felt fortunate to hear from and discuss with him outside his class. Particularly, I really enjoyed engaging in conversation about the anthropocene, as Dr. Gunderson showed the evolution of human-caused climate impacts.

The anthropocene itself as a concept is incredibly new and in some cases controversial, assuming that human’s influence on the earth justifies the designation of a new geological epoch. Because of this, Professor Lance Gunderson’s take offered a new perspective of the growing anthropocene concept, one that was valuable not only as a student of Environmental Sciences but also as a person on this earth.

Opening the dialogue, Dr. Gunderson projected one of the first world maps from the early 1500’s onto the board. From here, we moved on to the first satellite image of Earth in 1972, the image known as “The Blue Marble.” Finally, we examined current biosphere data, watching a dynamic map of global primary production on Earth for the past twenty years. All of this functioned as Professor Gunderson’s “Welcome to the Anthropocene.”

After laying the scene—or I suppose, the anthropocene—Professor Gunderson begin to analyze climate models and communications of the sort. Initially, he discussed the Meadows’ system models created in 1972 that have held almost entirely true to modern day trends. This model focuses around limits of growth and collapse, predicting that humans’ growth will reach its limit within the next hundred years, ultimately leading to its collapse. While accurate over the past few decades, the model has received criticism from economists and other scientists who argue that the model does not count for adaptive capacity of people.

From here, he discussed the “Systems Model of Planet Earth: Six Variables” created by the Planetary Boundary Framework. This model focuses around the global scale of human impacts, particularly the non-linear changes like threshold and resilience. Ultimately, the research concluded that humans have exceeded three of the six variables (or boundaries) already, proving their concept that there are barriers in the system that can be overcome, causing abrupt change. As well, on a more hopeful note, it was concluded that there is still time and freedom to change our path.

Arching over his entire narrative was Dr. Gunderson’s focus on simplifying and communicating data and models. He frequently asked, “How can we maintain the message while simplifying it?” Answering this, Professor Gunderson said that while he might not have the solution, there are many people who are naturally great at simplifying and sharing messages, for example Carol with Emory Science Commons. He went on to say, “Focus not on what you know but what you don’t know, because the hardest part is articulating what you don’t know.”

After listening to Professor Gunderson outside of his classroom, I found it incredibly interesting to hear his thoughts on the anthropocene, modeling, and communication, in general. It was very powerful to watch his transition of the first global map in the 1500’s to the current state of the globe as result to human’s actions in 2017.

Dr. Gunderson’s discussion took a large-scale approach to current models and issues, giving the audience a much grander and significant view of climate change and human actions. I found this approach very important, as it is crucial to remember that our actions and decisions as citizens of this earth have global consequences. Dr. Lance Gunderson’s talk encouraged us to think and act globally, an important lesson to remember.

 

UNFCCC Decisions Made Simple

To even the biggest of policy geeks, it can be difficult to tackle and understand the fine print of the hundreds of decisions put out by the UNFCCC.

Leading up to the Gender Action Plan created at this year’s COP23, there have been many attempts by smaller bodies to try and get women’s rights on the agenda. While a few decisions have been made, gender-responsive climate action has been on the backburner for most of the COP conventions–

That is until this year with the Gender Action Plan.

Before we begin the breakdown of previous UNFCCC gender-related decisions, it is important to keep some numbers in mind. Specifically, when the famous Paris Agreement was signed in November of 2015, women compromised only 38 percent of participating delegates and 24 percent of the Heads of Delegations.

In short, all of the decisions below were made about women by majority male delegations. 

With that in my mind, here are some bullet points of what you really need to know about women’s rights, climate action, and the UNFCCC legislations that come with it.

Decision 2/CP. 17

During COP17, the delegation decided to emphasize the importance of sustainable, equitable climate action. In this decision, vulnerable groups were brought to the forefront of climate discussions, marking a significant change in the Conferences.

What Decision 2/CP.17 achieves:

  • Urges Parties to give consideration to the positive and negative impacts of measures to mitigate climate change on society and on all vulnerable groups, in particular women and children
  • Develops mechanisms to promote the input and participation of stakeholders, including vulnerable groups and women and indigenous peoples

Decision 23/CP. 18

In 2012, the COP voted to create Decision 23, hoping to “promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation in bodies established by the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol.”

What Decision 23/CP.18 achieves:

  • Improves women’s participation and inform more effective climate change policy
  • Recognize  the need for women to be represented in all aspects of the UNFCCC process

Paris Agreement 1/CP.21

While many may not be familiar with the UNFCCC and other ruling climate bodies, most have heard of the Paris Agreement. Under the Paris Agreement 1/CP.21, “Parties should when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote, and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, childrens, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

What Decision 1/CP.21 achieves:

  • Factors in gender equality into all climate action propositions
  • Establishes empowerment of women as an official goal of the UNFCCC framework
  • Achieves action by improving gender balance and participation of women in all the UFCCC processes and increasing awareness and support for the development and implementation of gender-responsive climate policy

Decision 21/CP.22

By this decision, Parties agreed to “hold annual in-session workshops to develop elements of a gender actions plan for consideration at its 47th sessions (November 2017).”

What Decision 21/CP.22 achieves:

  • Underscores the ties between gender-responsive climate policies and balanced participation of women and men in the Convention
  • Emphasizes need for women to be represented in all activities concerning adaptation, mitigation, and decision-making in general on the implementation of climate policies
  • Invites Parties to continue to assist training and awareness-raising for gender balance, building the skills and capacity of female delegates, and reporting on their climate policies’ ability to integrate gender
  • Requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to develop a gender action plan in order to support the the implemenetation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC process

And there we go!

While the materials are dense, the results are immense. These decisions are crucial to understanding women’s rights and climate action, ultimately allowing us to look to the future and impact what is to come.

To make change, we must understand our past decisions.

A Discussion with Dr. Tom Rogers

On Monday, I joined in a discussion with Dr. Tom Rogers from Emory University’s History department, covering the topic of environmental history, particularly in the context of the history of deforestation in São Paolo, Brazil.

From his opening image of “the forest” that is now completely bare due to sugar cane production to his closing discussion of modern history and future potential classes, Dr. Rogers covered a wide range of issues from environmental to academic concerns. Ultimately, Dr. Tom Rogers provided not only an in-depth portrayal of São Paolo but also a case for why places and stories like it should be studied by Environmental Sciences students. As someone in the department and as a student in general, Dr. Rogers spoke to my burgeoning academic interests and inspired me and the audience alike to pursue environmental education that goes beyond climatology and dives straight into the human story found in all areas.

To begin his lecture, Dr. Rogers explained how the clear, flat fields we saw in his presentation were a part of what was once known as “the forest” in São Paolo. What was once a forest, though, was now a “green desert.” As he explained, this monoculture land went from natural rainforest to deforestation in 150 years of colonization. From here, he went onto explain his main focus around the Brazilian National Alcohol Program. When global oil prices spiked in the 1970’s, Brazil moved towards sugar-cane-sourced ethanol as a new fuel source for the country. Within just a few years, the country was the greatest ethanol producer in the world. With this new production came the consequence all Environmental Sciences students are familiar with: pollution.

Dr. Rogers quoted a prominent leader in São Paolo at the time, stating, “Let the pollution come as long as the factories come with it.” And as he went on to explain, so it did. From his research, Dr. Rogers deduced that 1 liter of ethanol produced 15 liters of waste, or about 7.5 people’s average waste. This waste is filled with dirt, effluent, pesticides, and other problematic components. Ultimately, 50% of São Paolo’s entire pollution amount came from sugar cane pollution.

Once the rivers became visibly polluted, protests followed. Posters stating “If United, the People will not be Polluted” popped up on his presentation, as Dr. Rogers explained the burgeoning environmental justice movement in Brazil, and how it tied to both an environmental and political uprising. Interestingly, he noted that the Brazilian environmental/political movement mirrored the U.S. almost exactly but with a 10-year delay.

After discussing his research in São Paolo, he then began to discuss the pitfalls of Environmental History. On the topic of difficulties, Dr. Rogers commented that, “Objectivity is asymptotic.” While he argued that it was impossible to offer a completely objective history, he said that modern histories at least attempt to offer a more complete view of history, not focusing entirely on the “great man narrative.”

I would argue the same, that historians should try and focus more on the narratives seldom heard in textbooks and on monuments: the voices of minorities, workers, women—the people who had been pushed behind the curtain but were still running the show for most of history.

As Dr. Tom Rogers quoted, “History is story-telling, so everything bleeds together.” While listening to his presentation, I found myself agreeing with this quotation’s sentiment. Similar to History, I believe Environmental Science studies grow roots in almost every aspect of life. Shown with his research in São Paolo, Environmental Science and History are inextricably linked with the human condition. Thus, it is so incredibly important that people like Dr. Rogers (and my fellow students) continue to tell the environmental stories so often forgotten and pushed aside.