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“WOMEN AND COP 26: WHAT’S THE MATTER, DARLING?”

Oct 5, 2021
Dr. Aurélie Mendoza Spinola has a PhD in Public Law. Her current research interests are human rights in environmental matters, climate change and Small Islands Developing States, with a focus on the South-West region of the Indian Ocean. Aurélie recently directed and published a special issue on climate justice in the Revue Juridique de l’Ocean Indien.

Coming from Reunion Island & living in Mauritius, Aurélie is intensely sensitive to the fact that: “We are going to see a lot more serious disasters striking us in the future. We have to keep in mind that rising sea levels will have huge impacts on tourism, a pillar of our islands’ economies. It is, therefore, imperative to reinforce the existing legal framework all together with the adaptation projects on the ground. We must not forget that not only material damages can occur but that down the line people’s lives are at stake.”

Women…again!

”Last year, the British COP26 host team found itself in trouble for not addressing gender imbalances in politics when announcing an all-man team. Women involved were to be working at a more junior level on subsections of the negotiations. This created a wave of indignation and more than 400 women in international leadership denounced it”, tells me Aurélie . #SheChangesClimate stood for inclusivity, transparency and accountability to the COP negotiations on the climate crisis, campaigning for a #5050Vision, reminds the jurist. Even though (little) measures to rectify the situation have been taken, the whole story brings shadows on the ability of the UK to truly stand up to the spirit and challenges of climate change, which, in return, doesn’t sound very appealing nor hopeful for the outcome of the COP, she believes.

The ugly truth

This faux pas might sound like an epiphenomenon, but it appears unfortunately as a lieu commun, and even more so as a painful truth. The lack of representation of women in the climate negotiations is paradoxical and unfair, particularly when one considers the importance of women on the ground. Indeed, women are change agents: they identify what must be done and can take necessary measures to make it happen. Moreover, they are the first to be directly and seriously affected by climate change and they are far more at risk. This message from Aurélie is a reinforcement of what the other women leaders have been saying again and again.

The IUCN study “Gender-based violence and environment linkages: the violence of inequality” from 2020 shows how the degradation of nature has a complex linkage with gender-based violence, she highlights. Their integration in the climate processes represents chances of success and will ensure fair decision making. Despite these facts and arguments, we notice that women are still not represented enough in high-level circles. During the 2019 COP25, only 21% of the 196 heads of delegations were women. Yet, diversity is the way forward if we’re ought to achieve the climate targets, let alone to stay truthful the Paris Agreement’s spirit! One legitimately may ask: is justice so blind? Well…Not quite, believes Aurélie.

What does the legal framework do about it?

Indeed, the actual legal framework is not bare on gender considerations. Women participation and representation in the negotiations process is a concern since 2001 (see namely decisions 36/CP.7, 1/CP.16, 23/CP.18 of the COP). Although rather poorly equipped on the matter, The Paris Agreement (PA) recognises the need for gender equality and empowerment of women under the scope of human rights in its Preamble. Articles 7 and 11, as well as the Katowice Climate Package also contain references to capacity-building and gender-responsive adaptation action, she opines.   

In fact, a cornerstone has been established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when the Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) was established and extended by the COP (see Decision 18/CP.20 & Decision 1/CP.21), shortly followed by the first gender action plan (GAP, see decision 21/CP.22). Considering the need to address the challenge, COP25 adopted the enhanced five-year LWPG and its GAP (see Decision 3/CP.25), which aims “to advance knowledge and understanding of gender-responsive climate action and its coherent mainstreaming in the implementation of the UNFCCC” at all levels, reminds Aurélie.

The UNFCCC Secretariat publishes an annual report on gender and climate change to assist the Parties in tracking their progress. The last report unveils a slight improvement, asserting that “the representation of women in Party delegations increased by 9 per cent and among heads and deputy heads of Party delegations by 12 per cent”. Unfortunately, it also points out that “Despite these increases, women remain the minority, representing 49 per cent of Party delegates and 39 per cent of heads and deputy heads of Party delegations.” She alludes to the Report by the secretariat (FCCC/CP/2021/4, 20 August 2021, p.8. available online).

Human Rights Based Approach, next?

While the data shows that the situation is not as gloomy as it seems to be, however, perseverance and determination are more than needed to become structural. This is the real challenge. Of course, actions can be taken to ensure strict equality, but I believe we must address the problem in a sensible manner and see the big picture. This is the reason why a human rights-based approach (HRBA) perfectly makes sense and should be at the very core of all law-making processes in environmental matters. HRBA allows decision making to consider a broad variety of interests while keeping an alert eye on vulnerable groups that need specific attention, is her prescription. If everything is interconnected, inclusivity must be the pathway to achieve climate goals, SDG’s, and human rights. Aurélie concludes with a quote from one of her favourite authors – Victor Hugo – “To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.” Such pearls have got to come from a woman leader!

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3 Comments
  1. Women have a better potential than men when battling climate change. Thank you 🌍

  2. J. Gilbert GRANT permalink

    Extremely thoughful and very well articulated and presented. It is indeed sad when we are all aware of the active role to be played by women when these challenges are faced at the front end of Climate Change, rising sea levels, and agricultural disasters that will follow!

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