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“The voices that must be heard should be urgently given a fair opportunity to have a seat at the decision-making table”: COP26. 

Oct 29, 2021
Maria is a Sustainability Officer at Bridgestone EMIA. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Bucharest (Romania); an Advanced Master’s Degree in Global Governance at Catolica Global School of Law in Lisbon (Portugal); an exchange semester in European Law at University of West Bohemia (Czech Republic); a Master’s in Transnational Law with specialisation in climate action and sustainable development. Maria furthered her studies in International Law at KU Leuven (Belgium), where she is currently resides.

Praveen Gupta: Do you expect enough women leaders at the COP26?

Maria Alexandra: No, there are not enough women leaders attending the COP26. And whenever they are, they tend to be diminished in the shadow of the white male representation. I often get demotivated or even saddened with the fact that I join climate advocacy negotiations in rooms full of white men. And I remember that I need to get over my temporary feelings, to still be part of the decision-making process. However, the most stringent issue for me regarding COP26 representatives and leadership is not necessarily the gender imbalance, but the lack of correct representation of the world’s nations. This year’s COP not only highlights the utter inequalities amongst the countries, but also the obstacles to the delegations coming from the Global South countries and perhaps most importantly, from the indigenous communities.

PG: Why must we have an equitable representation of women?

MA: In order to ensure a fair (emphasis on fair) decision-making process, both during the planning and implementation phases, we must take into account everyone – as the UN’s agenda itself follows the motto ‘Leave no one behind’. However, most of the times, as the crucial decisions are taken behind closed doors, between mainly male representatives, they do not reflect the voices of those coming from the underprivileged communities – Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). They also do not have the magnitude of voices that the US, the EU and the big ‘actors’ have. Our role, as climate advocates who are privileged enough to assist either the preCOP26 or the COP26 negotiations, must use this privilege to speak up on behalf of those underrepresented or undermined. And this leads me to highlight an eye-opening experience as a delegate to the preCOP26 this year in Milano.

PG: Any first-hand lessons from the Youth4Climate event?

MA: The Youth4Climate summit served as a prelude to the preCOP26, and as a young delegate of Romania, my country of origin, I got a chance to speak up my mind and represent the reality of a country that is often not widely known: the improper educational structure that generates enormous gaps in people’s behaviours and the ‘survival’ mode of my people. When I talk about ‘survival mode’ I talk about people who struggle with poverty, lack of financial means to ensure a decent living, lack of perspectives for their future, working each day simply to provide themselves the basic means of subsistence.

Both at the Youth4Climate and PreCOP26 summits I understood that the reality of my country is often reflected in so many others… and in most of them, the situation is even worse. One of the main topics that we addressed during our preCOP26 negotiations with the world leaders, as youth climate advocates, was the topic of ‘loss and damage’.

Since October 2020, Maria is the Partnerships Director for Young European Leadership, a youth-led NGO working for youth empowerment. She is the Romanian delegate at Pre-COP26 in Milano, and a delegate for COP26 in Glasgow, covering the climate change agenda within her daily work. She is also a co-founder for SDG 18 Voices magazine, through which she hopes to give voice to the young people passionate about climate action, who lack resources and equal educational opportunities.

The climate crisis has gone, unfortunately, so far that multiple countries from the Global South are fighting its consequences on a daily basis: severe droughts, floods and heavy rains that impact to an enormous extent their agriculture and food production. In short, these countries’ climate change consequences are so severe, that their lives are completely affected by them: no more subsistence means, such as food or clean water and the urgency for displacement has gone extremely high. Amidst all this, these countries are paying for the consequences of a climate crisis that they have neither produced nor triggered. It was actually the big polluting countries, developed nations, that under the Paris Agreement are expected to pay up according to the Rule Book.

At the preCOP26, as youth leaders, we saw the governments standing up and pledging their financial promises to developing nations, SIDS and LDCs. But they continue to be reluctant. I remain hopeful and I am charging myself for some full days at the COP26. I know exactly where I will stand as a woman youth climate advocate, speaking up on behalf of those whose voice was not given the privilege to attend the summit. And that underlines a big problem – the voices that must be heard should be urgently given a fair opportunity to have a seat at the decision-making table. 

PG: Best wishes in your efforts towards reinforcing the voices that must be heard and should be urgently given a fair opportunity to have a seat at the decision-making table. 

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2 Comments
  1. Need of the hour, I enjoyed reading the article

  2. V Raghuanthan permalink

    Well said about the problems of Inder representation in the COP. Even the developing nations feel under represented because many could not reach the venue because of visa restrictions on these countries on account of COVID-19. Excellent interview Pravin and well said Maria…

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