In 2016, I (Catherine) was slated to give Canada’s statement as minister for environment and climate change at the COP22 climate negotiations in Marrakesh. Instead, I decided , to share that time avec Maatalii Okalik (then the president of the National Inuit Youth Council of Canada). I knew that this young Inuk woman would be able to convey more clearly than me how climate change was affecting their community, including their land, culture, food, safety, and how it is threatening their very existence. Although I was not allowed to give the stage to her I decided to do so. The story of Maatali inspired the delegates and set the stage for negotiations.
As world leaders gather this week at COP27, men and other allies should consider this example and cede podium time to women. We must also break more conventions and rules in order to ensure that women are represented at these negotiations. This is particularly important as attendees discuss how countries in the Global North should help the Global South cope with the effects of carbon pollution. Women’s perspectives, which are often overlooked in climate discussions, can be instrumental in solving the climate crisis in a more equitable and just manner and can help us understand climate action around the world.
Giving the floor to women in these meetings is more than a gesture. It’s fairness. U.N. studies show that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women. The floods in Pakistan earlier this year are a prime example: huge numbers of rural women have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and about 650,000 women could now face disruptions in pregnancy-related health care. Climate change can compound existing gendered problems that exist in many places. This includes financial insecurity and higher income inequality. We know that the changing climate will lead to worsening of the current situation.
Women are leading the charge around the globe in advocating climate action and finding solutions. Young women are out on the streets calling for change. Women from Indigenous communities are taking action. Women scientists are conducting critical climate research and innovating at labs. And many women parliamentarians are pushing for climate-positive laws in government.
But when it comes to international climate talks, where policy changes are made and goals for climate-adaptive and mitigation actions are established, the voices of women need to be heard. We need to hear more voices from women, but also a greater variety of voices from women. This diversity reflects the experiences of women in the most difficult places, such as deforestation and economic hardship, displacement, extreme weather, food security, or any combination thereof.
The U.N. is making significant progress in gender equality through its strong commitment. Over the years, a greater percentage the U.N. delegates has been achieved. The UNFCCC Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a set of bodies that are the chief technical and decision-making bodies for global climate deliberations. For example, in 2021, the Adaptation Committee reached 68 percent women’s membership.
However, significant barriers to women’s participation at the main negotiating table remain. Gender Action Plan calls on women to have full, equal and meaningful participation at the U.N. Climate Process and for women to play a prominent role in climate policy and decision-making. However, fewer than 30 percent of the lead negotiators are women. Despite progress, many country climate action plans now cross-reference gender and more countries have women in their delegations. And at last year’s plenary sessions at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, men had a disproportionately higher share of active speaking roles at the important plenary sessions and took up 74 percent of the speaking time. We hope that next year will be better.
It’s past time to acknowledge that grassroots movements, feminist collectives, and women of color have historically led more equitable and inclusive solutions for climate change. We need to have a mix of traditional knowledge and new visions of sustainable development and community involvement, rather than business as usual at climate action deliberations. Women shouldn’t be shouting from the bleachers.
Academic research on women’s participation in global negotiations points to more durable outcomes and greater ease in bridging cultural and sectarian divides. Research has also highlighted how higher women’s political participation contributes more robustly to spending on health and foreign aid, as well as expenditures targeting women’s needs, all of which is critical to this current round of climate negotiations. Women leaders also cultivate stronger ties to local community leaders and civic networks, which is particularly important for climate policy where knowledge of localized effects is evolving and is variable from place to place.
As the delegates struggle to navigate some of the most difficult elements in global climate negotiations–loss and damage and climate financing for the Global South-Women and Indigenous people deserve a loud voice, because it is their fate which is most at risk.
We know that power imbalances and inequalities in different societies can lead to severe weather events and other climatic conditions for women and girls. In many locations, women don’t own land or have access to economic assets that might protect them during natural disasters or enhance their mobility.
Indigenous Women are at the forefront of protecting forests, biodiversity, and their communities. Women play a direct role in climate adaptation and disaster response. Younger activists who have rejected the status-quo should not be asked for a burden that was created by previous generations.
Besides being more inclusive of who gets to speak at official meetings of the COP27, we urge delegates to target in their finance deliberations more specific funding to training women delegates, especially those from least developed countries, so they can participate actively in the negotiations. To enable them to participate in the negotiations, more funds should be allocated to cover their travel costs to international meetings. Major donors to U.N. should step up and ensure that more resources are targeted to achieve gender equality at official climate meetings, both for COPs as well as for constituted bodies sessions. Given the prominent role of women in small-scale agriculture, disaster recovery and social care, the discussion must shift to adaptation finance and loss/damage.
If climate deliberations this week are to meet the moment they must move beyond old paradigms and decision-making patterns. We need a bolder vision of how we move forward. One that includes who is being affected by climate change, how they can adapt and thrive, as well as how we can heal the planet. The traditional political hierarchies have not offered real alternatives. It is time to open up to those most directly affected, who may have more insight into the urgent response needed.
*Editor’s Note (11/8/22): This sentence was edited after posting to clarify an issue of precedent.
This is an opinion and analysis article, and the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.