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Despite Government Failures at COP26, Peoples' Movements Continue Rising to Transform our World

“It’s not a fight for the future, it’s a fight for the present.”

Helena Gualinga, Kichwa Youth Climate Activist from Sarayaku

in the Ecuadorian Amazon and WECAN COP26 Delegate

Global women leaders at the COP26 WECAN Formal UN Side Event: "Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change." Photo Credit: Katherine Quaid/WECAN International

Welcome to the WECAN COP26 report back. We have divided the report back into two sections, the top section contains analysis of COP26 outcomes, and the bottom section shares WECAN events, actions, advocacy efforts, protests, and media coverage from COP26. Click here to be taken to the bottom section.


OVERVIEW

The outcome of this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, produced a plethora of public and private sector announcements as well as the Glasgow Climate Pact. These announcements and pledges could potentially move countries a step forward in addressing the climate crisis—yet, they gravely lack the urgent action and ambition needed to cut emissions commensurate with staying below 1.5 degrees warming; and most of them continue to severely sideline civil society’s calls for climate justice and rights-based approaches.


Women and feminists are at the forefront of our movements and on-the-ground solutions, and WECAN was at COP26 to ensure our voices and solutions were centered within the negotiations and on the streets through our advocacy efforts, side events, press conferences, and direct actions. Attending international forums such as COP26 is one part of WECAN’s multifaceted strategy to address the climate crisis and the root causes of environmental degradation and socio-economic inequalities. We recognize the importance of governments coming together to address the climate emergency, and yet we know that most of the urgent forward progress is in the hands of the people —with community-led solutions, on-the-ground projects and movement building for global climate justice.


Every day of the two-week convention, peoples' movements and civil society powerfully showed up to shift the narrative at COP26 and provide a vision moving forward grounded in just climate solutions that combat systemic inequity and harms to the Earth.

With this in mind, we join many voices from global peoples’ movements in expressing extreme disappointment and frustration with the COP26 outcomes that ultimately push forward further capitalist, racist, colonial, and patriarchal policies, which continue harming frontline communities and women first and worst. Countries that have contributed the most to global warming were busy making declarations and grand statements containing countless loopholes while they avoided real action and leadership to provide loss and damage, fossil fuel phase outs, and many other demands of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the climate talks continue to reflect unjust systems that are central to the root causes of the climate crisis, such as neoliberal economic models that drive the destructive commodification of nature, and the implementation of market-based mechanisms that most often harm people and the planet. In light of this, WECAN intentionally participates in the UN climate talks to further an inside-outside strategy as we hold governments, corporations, and their financial backers accountable. It is vital that civil society continues to hold space and intervene with an inside strategy, or COP outcomes would be far worse for our communities and the Earth. 


At COP26, governments continued to peddle ‘nature-based’ solutions, carbon offset schemes, and net-zero policies and approaches that do little to hold countries accountable, but instead allow countries to carry on with climate-destructive business as usual. Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation), Environmental Ambassador, WECAN COP26 Delegate and Board Member, spoke out about carbon offset schemes during one of the WECAN COP26 press conferences:

“What do we want for the seven generations to come? Don’t they have a right to have air to breathe? Then quit the carbon trading schemes, quit thinking you can buy and sell the air and it is going to be okay. The United Nations is doing that right now in Article 6, they have already commodified the trees, the earth, the water; and now they have entered into this carbon trading nonsense.”

Furthermore, the climate negotiations are also influenced by patriarchal ideologies that suppress the critical relationship between gender equity, women’s leadership, and climate solutions. Just 16% of COP26 leadership was women. While the exact numbers are still in flux, we do know that for COP26 and all past COP’s women’s leadership has always been underrepresented. In the lead up to COP26, Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN Executive Director noted:

“Business as usual is not what is needed. By reproducing gender inequity rather than challenging it, the COP26 leadership team is leaving out a critical solution for addressing and mitigating the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

The UN climate talks also replicate colonial systems that continue to silence and ignore Indigenous peoples, their rights, sovereignty, and acutely needed Indigenous knowledge and solutions. Eighty percent of the remaining biodiversity left of Earth is stewarded by Indigenous peoples, and it is necessary to ensure Indigenous communities are a central part of the decision-making processes. As Taily Terena, of the Indigenous Terena Nation in Brazil stated in the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus Opening Statement for COP26:

“Colonialism caused climate change. Our rights and Traditional Knowledge are the solution.”
Indigenous peoples from around the world lead the COP26 Coalition People’s Climate March
in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo Credit: Katherine Quaid/WECAN International

We also want to highlight the serious inequities that proliferated at COP26, making this one of the most exclusive climate talks in recent history. Vaccine apartheid and the COP26 leadership’s failure to plan an equitable forum led to large numbers of advocates, particularly from the Global South, being locked out of participation at this vital international forum. We know the voices and leadership of our colleagues and partners in the Global South and from frontline communities are crucial for equity and justice at COP negotiations.


In Glasgow, WECAN organized opportunities for global women leaders to speak for themselves and demonstrate their calls to action and just solutions rising up from frontline communities. Women, feminists and gender diverse leaders from around the world presented successful climate solutions, and shared struggles for justice. Movement leaders discussed their in-depth political analysis, plans for systemic change, and held actions throughout the two weeks of the COP— including actions critiquing Article 6 and loss and damage, and raising awareness of the dangerous influence of the fossil fuel industry on governments, and the epidemic of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and two-spirit relatives. At the close of the climate talks, nearly 200 nations agreed to adopt the Glasgow Climate Pact, which the COP26 Presidency has billed as ratcheting up ambition and “keeping 1.5 alive.” While the Pact is the first climate agreement to explicitly mention reduction of coal usage, it fails to include oil, gas, and other fossil fuels. And, the final language on coal was weakened to state ‘phase down’ instead of ‘phase out,’ leaving larger questions around how to measure the reduction in coal.

During COP26, governments also finalized the last remaining elements of the Paris Climate Agreement rulebook.

While governments failed to meet the urgency of this moment, the global climate justice movement made clear that all of our struggles are interwoven and that the only way we can succeed in addressing the climate crisis is by directly addressing roots causes: colonization, patriarchy, racism and capitalism and by centering the leadership of Indigenous peoples, women, people of color, and frontline communities. We demand governments commit to just climate action, and we will continue to work ceaselessly and fiercely for solutions of women and frontline communities—working together to fight for Mother Earth, the health of our communities, and generations to come.

Please read further to learn about outcomes from the negotiations, our WECAN delegates, events, actions, protests, and advocacy at COP26.


FALSE SOLUTIONS AND NET-ZERO TAKE CENTER STAGE AT COP26

Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation), Environmental Ambassador, and WECAN COP26 Delegate and Board Member at an action inside the COP26 Blue Zone calling for no net-zero and no false solutions.
Photo Credit: Katherine Quaid/WECAN International

Throughout the entirety of COP26, we saw countries and businesses compose commitments within net-zero frameworks and approaches. Net-zero commitments seek to balance current emissions with emissions removals, to balance out the global carbon budget. However, more often than not, net-zero has been used to further perpetuate false solutions, while countries continue to pollute and expand fossil fuel infrastructure.


Within the net-zero framework, governments are planning to advance ‘nature-based’ solutions, which focus on land-based offset schemes, and seek to put a price on nature. ‘Nature-based’ solutions are a part of the wider market-based mechanisms that include carbon pricing, nuclear power plants, mega-dams, geo-engineering, bioenergy, forest offsets, carbon trading schemes, and carbon capture and storage.


Market-based mechanisms are a false solution to curb catastrophic climate change and deforestation. As an example, these mechanisms allow big polluters to continue to poison communities at sites of extraction and at points of distribution and processing by buying up pollution permits from forests around the world and simultaneously continuing dirty pollution practices in a different country. Simultaneously, pollution permits or offsets in forest areas can lead to land theft and dispossession from Indigenous and local communities. These ‘solutions' enable polluters to keep polluting, while Indigenous and frontline communities suffer the consequences. At COP26, Indigenous peoples, frontline communities, feminists, and many others from civil society persisted in advocating against false solutions and the net-zero paradigm.


In Glasgow, Parties finalized Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement, which is concerned with how countries are to mitigate and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by operationalizing market and non-market based solutions. Yet, Parties only chose to focus on creating and establishing market-based mechanisms for reducing emissions.


Thanks to Indigenous and frontline communities and civil society organizations, the final text for Article 6 includes protections for human and Indigenous rights, even if not legally binding. While some country negotiators worked hard to exclude these important rights in the final text, civil society advocates ensured human rights would not be left out. We want to call special attention to our friends at Indigenous Climate Action and NDN Collective for their vital advocacy on Article 6. This is one of many crucial reasons it is important that we as civil society participate in these challenging COP processes.


While we renounce market-based mechanisms and the entire purpose of Article 6, we know that safeguards must be included across all articles of the Paris Climate Agreement. We reject and oppose any articles that enable counterproductive carbon markets and do not include safeguards for Indigenous rights, human rights, gender justice, and ecological integrity.


Rather, we need to enact policies and programs that align with a Just Transition, Indigenous sovereignty, feminist principles, and implement successful frameworks already created by civil society, that invest in just, renewable and regenerative energy and economies, while disrupting and challenging predator capitalism. It is imperative that governments and financial institutions adopt Just Transition policies and frameworks moving forward.


PROTECTING GLOBAL FORESTS

Women of the WECAN DR Congo Women for Forests program work together planting trees and protecting old growth forests in the Congo Basin. Photo Credit: WECAN International

Global forests remain vital to efforts to combat the climate crisis. Living forests create and maintain the cycles of air, water and soil that sustain the Earth and our communities. Forests are also home to more than 80% of the world’s plant, animal, bacteria and fungi diversity, and more than 1.6 billion people rely directly on forests for food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine, and shelter.


During the first week of COP26, world leaders signed on to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, which aims to halt and reverse global deforestation over the next decade, and protect forest ecosystems.


While we appreciate the global commitment to protect forests, we are wary that these commitments, like many of the declarations and announcements made at COP26, have no clear pathways for real action; or, that they may be implemented in a manner harmful to Indigenous and local communities.


We are also concerned with countries using forests as part of ‘nature-based’ solutions. Forests of the world are facing unprecedented disaster due to long-term trends in rising global temperatures, attacks on Indigenous rights, as well as the rush for short-term profits from agricultural commodities such as beef, soy, palm oil, timber, and paper. An important response to address these issues, specifically in the Amazon rainforest is the Indigenous-led Amazonia 80 by 2025 Declaration which seeks to defend 80% of the Amazon by 2025. Many thanks also to our friends at Amazon Watch who continue to advocate for the protection of the Amazon, and are supporting this declaration alongside many others.


At COP26, WECAN organized the "Indigenous Women Leaders Send an Urgent Call to Action for the Amazon in Crisis” COP26 press conference, where Indigenous women from the Amazon presented and shared their struggles and experiences of fighting to protect their forest territories, and literally risking their lives to do so. (For more information, see section below, “Speaking Out Boldly: WECAN Events during COP26”).


At the close of COP26, Kichwa women leaders of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon declared a state of emergency, citing the summit’s failure:

“Indigenous peoples resist the extraction of natural resources with our bodies, with our lives. Our contribution to tackling climate change must be recognized. Our solutions must be heard.”
Kichwa women leaders of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon declare a state of emergency after COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo via SARAYAKU DEFENSORES DE LA SELVA

The Amazon is at a critical tipping point and Indigenous communities and scientists are ringing the alarm bells!


Numerous studies have shown that the most effective ways to protect biodiverse regions, such as the Amazon rainforest, is to protect the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. It is imperative to implement policies and frameworks that protect Indigenous rights and Environmental Defenders, like The Escazú Agreement, an historic multilateral accord guaranteeing access rights on environmental matters, and the protection of human rights and environmental defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Carmen Capriles, WECAN COP26 Delegate, holds a sign advocating for
the Escazú Agreement at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo Courtesy of Carmen Capriles

During our WECAN formal UN side event, WECAN also shared successful updates on our Women for Forests program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Neema Namadamu leads our programming in forest protection, reforestation and food sovereignty efforts. The Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. The women of WECAN DRC continue their flourishing tree nurseries growing over 25 local tree varieties. We have also initiated a food sovereignty component to the program since the pandemic, and local women are now caring for gardens to increase food security in the area.


UPLIFTING WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP AT COP26


Taily Terena (Terena Nation), Brazilian Indigenous Leader, and Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN Executive Director at the COP26 People’s Climate March in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo Credit: WECAN International

Globally, across movements, women stand on the frontlines of global efforts to defend the land and heal our world. In every sector from renewable energy initiatives and fossil fuel divestment campaigns, to agroecology and urban sustainability projects — women are at the helm, working to change humanity’s current destructive trajectory.


Still, our voices often go unheard, even though we are speaking and acting with great strength and leadership. A recent UN report found that 74% of speaking time at the UN climate negotiations is taken up by men. Since the COP26 announcement last year, WECAN has been collaborating with the SHE Changes Climate campaign to address the continued gender disparities at the UN climate talks. Historically, women continue to be disproportionately excluded from these spaces, and WECAN continues to participate in COP precisely because we are dedicated to ensuring the voices, strategies, and solutions of women most impacted by the climate crisis are included at the UN climate talks and across the climate movement and policy-making spaces.


WECAN reaffirms our commitment to bring women and feminist voices to the forefront, as well as unyielding action to expose the root causes of the climate crisis to help usher in just climate solutions commensurate to the level of the multiple interlocking crises we face. At this crucial juncture in time, it is imperative not only to broadly lift up women and feminist voices and leadership, but to very specifically center the voices of women from the most impacted communities: Indigenous women, women of color, and women from low income communities and Global South countries. These women and their communities have a long history of resistance and knowledge of the land and can offer solutions and effective responses to climate change and environmental crises. Uplifting and adhering to their leadership is not only morally right, but essential for the health of people and the planet.


During COP26, we advocated alongside our incredible colleagues in the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) for further advancement of the Gender Action Plan and robust inclusion of gender-transformative policy. Read our WGC key demands for COP26 here.


The UNFCCC held a workshop on the Gender Action Plan (GAP), which was adopted at COP25, to encourage Parties to appoint and provide support for national gender and climate change focal points (NGCCFP) for climate negotiations, implementation and monitoring. We look forward to continuing to push forward the GAP in upcoming international forums and ensuring governments include gender-responsive policies in decision-making.