As part of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hosted in Germany under the leadership of a Fijian Presidency, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) spent two weeks on the ground engaging in intensive climate justice advocacy and action with a WECAN Delegation and diverse global allies.
While WECAN International retains its critique of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UNFCCC process as far from sufficient and based on false-solutions — which the climate justice movement must continue to expose and resist — we believe that it is valuable and impactful to maintain our strong presence at the UN climate talks so that we can make clear the root causes of the climate crisis; push back against corporate and capitalistic agendas; speak out against false and inadequate solutions; work to ensure that calls for women’s rights, Indigenous rights, Rights of Nature, and the human rights of frontline and most-impacted communities are heard; and that just solutions rising up from frontline communities are amplified.
It is vital that grassroots, Indigenous and frontline women leaders have the opportunity to speak for themselves and present their struggles, stories, solutions, and poignant analysis directly to the policy makers whose action, and inaction, on climate change is impacting their lives and communities, and the well being of the Earth and all peoples. Helping create this advocacy space through our Delegation and the various events and actions that WECAN organized and hosted is one of our central goals and focuses throughout the UNFCCC process.
WECAN works to highlight crucial and unique messages to shift the narrative from complacency to action – bringing forward the urgency of the climate crisis and the visceral and personal reality of daily climate impacts on the ground – and demonstrating that possibilities for climate justice still remain in the hands and hearts of women around the world.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, WECAN also co-organized the Fourth International Rights of Nature Tribunal that ran parallel to the UN climate talks, as an important avenue to actively demonstrate what an alternative, transformative legal system would look like – as well as how it could be a powerful solution to the climate crisis and environmental and social degradation (see the Rights of Nature section below to learn more!).
As an organization with an international focus and network, but a United States base location, engagement at COP23 critically meant standing with many groups to send an urgent message to the world that, even in the face of a climate-denying and reckless U.S. administration, people’s movements across the country can, and will, stand up for climate justice, sustainability solutions, and systemic change.
During COP23 we spoke out frequently on the need to reclaim our democracy, and participated in actions to draw attention to and resist the abhorrent actions of the official US Trump administration delegation at COP23, which spent the two weeks largely hidden behind closed doors, with the exception of a key event promoting “cleaner and more efficient” coal and nuclear energy as the country’s climate policy (more information below on civil society’s response to this ill-advised side event!).
In many different events and actions, another core focus of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network at COP23 was to address the alarming rise of violence and persecution against women land defenders and water protectors, and the collusion between fossil fuel companies and state actors in suppressing peaceful resistance movements. WECAN, along with movement allies around the world, will not stand idly by as temperatures continue to increase, and as Indigenous peoples and land defenders continue to be criminalized and murdered as they stand for a livable world for generations to come.
In analyzing the outcomes of the COP23 climate talks, we are glad to be able to report and celebrate the adoption by Parties of the Gender Action Plan’ (GAP), a policy item that was hard fought for, years in the making, and which provides an opening for forward motion and disruption of the flawed system in regards to gender equity and gender-sensitive climate policy.
The Gender Action Plan (GAP), which the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, allied Delegates, and allied organizations have advocated for with brilliant strength over many years, is designed to ensure that all climate action will include gender equality. Some of the goals of the plan are to increase the number of female climate decision-makers, support engagement of grassroots, local and Indigenous women, and hold trainings for policymakers on bringing gender equality into their agendas and funding mechanisms.
WECAN will be tracking GAP over the next few years to see how the plan is implemented, and if in fact grassroots, Indigenous and frontline women are truly engaged in a beneficial and meaningful manner, including seeing an increase in funding for women-led climate programs, and respect for women’s rights. The Gender Action Plan recommendation can be read in full here – and more information is also available via Reuters here (featuring our WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake!).
The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform was also adopted at COP23. This platform makes important calls for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples knowledge and action in climate change, but is severely limited in that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are still not fully recognized nor protected, but rather, the platform states that governments need only “consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.” The shortcomings of this plan stem from the reckless 2015 decision that Indigenous rights should be included in only the preamble, not the operative section of the Paris Agreement. Thus, we stand with our Indigenous allies in welcoming this small forward motion, but refusing to be placated with halfway measures.
It must be recognized that 80% of the biodiversity left on Earth is in Indigenous lands and territories, and that Indigenous peoples are putting their bodies on the line everyday to protect the land, water, air and diverse communities. First and foremost, the global community should be supporting Indigenous peoples because it is immoral and unjust that they face brutal violence as they fight to stop the destruction of their homelands and life-ways – however we also need to understand that everyone’s survival is interwoven and that we cannot live without water, forests and air.
It is paramount that we fight together for Indigenous rights as a central climate solution. For further analysis of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples, we direct you to an important press release from our allies at Indigenous Rising Media.
COP23 also saw the launch of the Ocean Pathway Partnership, which aims, by 2020, to strengthen action and funding that links climate change action with healthy oceans, including through the UN Climate Change process and via more explicit goals and ambitions in national climate action plans. WECAN will be keen to support allies pushing for a climate justice framework to the Ocean Pathway Partnership as we look toward 2018.
Importantly, we must also take stock on where we stand with action on carbon emission reductions, as December 2018 is the deadline for finalizing the rules and processes in a Paris Agreement “rulebook” for turning the ambition of Paris into action. At the close of COP23, the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) by governments to lower their carbon emissions are still dangerously off course, keeping the world on a catastrophic path to over 3 degree global temperature rise. Wealthy countries continue to avoid their historic responsibility, empowered by the thrust of the Paris Agreement, which relies upon carbon markets and techno-fixes which ultimately only impel the Earth further towards climate disruption through dependence on destructive extractive economies.