People Power Rises for Climate Justice at COP25: WECAN International Analysis & Reflection

The outcome of this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 25 in Madrid, Spain, produced a great deal of frustration and outrage with the ongoing stagnancy and lack of ambition by many nations to curb emissions and cut pollution at a scale commensurate with the science and the climate crisis well underway. Countries that have contributed most to global warming were busy creating loopholes to avoid desperately needed commitments to deep cuts in their carbon emissions and were (and are) actively rejecting the 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 often harm people and planet. Furthermore, the climate negotiations are also influenced by patriarchal ideologies that suppress the critical relationship between gender equity, women’s leadership, and climate solutions, and by colonial systems that continue to silence and ignore Indigenous peoples, their rights, sovereignty, and acutely needed Indigenous knowledge and solutions.

Yet, in the face of these oppressive forces, peoples movements at COP25 were not deterred as 500,000 people, led by Indigenous peoples from around the world and inspired by youth from Fridays for Future, marched through the streets of Madrid demanding urgent climate action and a just and healthy future.

500,000 demonstrators march through Madrid to demand governments act with urgency and declare a Climate Emergency. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
Helena Gualinga (right) and Nina Gualinga (left), both Indigenous activists from the Ecuadorian Amazon and WECAN COP25 delegates, prepare to lead the march on December 6, 2019 as part of the Indigenous and frontline delegation. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

Since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, governments have been working to define a Rulebook for the articles of the Paris Climate Agreement that will provide global guidelines to inform Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which embody efforts by each country to reduce its carbon emissions. Adopted in 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement replaced the Kyoto Protocol with the global vision of keeping warming well below 2°Celsius. However, most countries aren’t cutting carbon emissions nearly fast enough, and pledges from countries to reduce carbon emissions for the next 10 years fall dangerously too short of what is needed to stay below 1.5°Celsius temperature rise. Additionally, the stark reality is that we need to stay below the stated 1.5° guardrail as we are already seeing severe ecological stresses with the current temperature rise, such as extreme fires from the Amazon to Australia to Sub-saharan Africa and many regions in between — our world is on fire!

At this time of urgency, we need real solutions operationalized quickly, not false solutions like carbon trading schemes that are being promoted by too many governments and fossil fuel corporations that have an overwhelming presence at the COP. Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement was a central focus of the COP25 climate talks, which concentrates on developing rules around the implementation of market-based mechanisms like carbon markets. These mechanisms are not new, and studies repeatedly have shown that these mechanisms fail to reduce emissions while also often violating human and Indigenous rights and causing further harm to biodiverse ecosystems. WECAN, along with many civil society organizations, are advocating to stop any “solutions” that commodify nature and do not contain safeguards for human and Indigenous rights, gender justice, and ecological integrity.

In the era of Climate Emergency, we must be unwavering in our honesty and our fierce dedication to call for justice and action to halt a trajectory toward irreparable climate chaos. At COP25, WECAN International felt the immense power of our global social movements working toward just climate solutions. Every day, we spoke out, held events, and took action voicing our demands and calls for climate justice. As an organization with an international focus and network, but a United States base location, we stood with many U.S. allies to send an urgent message to the world that, even in the face of a climate-denying and reckless U.S. administration, many people across the country can, and will, stand up for climate justice.

While governments failed to take ambitious action again this year, youth leadership and peoples’ movements rose-up, heeding the call for action by centering frontline leadership and advocating for community-led solutions, forest protections, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and demanding that polluters pay. We saw a vision of what a just climate future could be. We made it clear to governments and corporations that all our struggles are interwoven, and that the only way we can succeed in addressing the climate crisis is with the leadership of Indigenous peoples, women, people of color, youth, and frontline communities.

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 from around the world presented successful solutions, from agro-ecology, local clean energy, justice-centered policy platforms to feminist economies. Movement leaders shared 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 others that honored murdered Indigenous forest defenders in Brazil, demanding accountability and justice from the Bolsonaro administration.

Women are at the forefront of our movements and on-the-ground solutions, and WECAN was at COP25 to ensure our voices and solutions were centered within the negotiations through our advocacy efforts, side events, press conferences, and direct actions.

Please read further to learn about outcomes from the negotiations, our WECAN delegates and advocacy at COP25.


Gender Action Plan

In the midst of much stagnation in the negotiations, there was a shining light — a victory for the Gender Action Plan. The dedication of ceaseless work by the Women and Gender Constituency, feminists advocating at the Party level, and frontline constituencies proved powerful as the Gender Action Plan (GAP) was formally adopted by the Parties, with the inclusion of rights-based language.

“Recognizing with concern that climate change impacts on women and men can often differ owing to historical and current gender inequalities and multidimensional factors and can be more pronounced in developing countries and for local communities and indigenous peoples,

acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,” - You can read the full Gender Action Plan here.

The GAP, which is part of the Enhanced Lima Work Program on Gender, though separate from the Paris Climate Agreement, sets a historic precedent for the inclusion of rights-based language within the policies and practices adopted by countries and will guide gender-responsive climate policy and action for the next five years. As a key demand of the Women and Gender Constituency and our organization, WECAN delegates, Daiara Tukano, Osprey Orielle Lake, and Katherine Quaid were glad to be in attendance when the Secretariat announced the approval of the GAP language before it was formally adopted by all Parties in the closing plenary.

Daiara Tukano and Osprey Orielle Lake discuss the importance of the Gender Action Plan during the final negotiations. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
The Secretariat prepares to address negotiators and civil society at the final meeting on the Gender Action Plan. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

We have deep gratitude for all the gender equity advocates and the Women and Gender Constituency who have worked tirelessly to ensure gender justice within the COP. After years of negotiations, the Gender Action Plan is an important success that will offer some sorely needed leverage for human rights in the Paris Climate Agreement.

WECAN commends this outcome, recognizing the necessity for a rights-based approach to be included at all levels of climate action policy. We will be monitoring the GAP because for it to truly be effective, the GAP must coincide with progressive climate financing, support Indigenous and human rights and biodiversity, and bolster worldwide women’s movements at the grassroots, local, and national level.

Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement

Casey Camp-Horinek speaks at an Article 6 action organized by Indigenous and frontline communities during COP25 demanding an end to carbon markets. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement 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, including carbon markets, REDD+, carbon offsets, and cap-and-trade programs.

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. We reject any solutions that do not safeguard the dignity and flourishing of all people and the planet, and do not stop pollution at the source. Additionally, false solutions, such as dangerous nuclear power plants; increased natural gas extraction; mega-dams; geo-engineering; bioenergy; carbon trading schemes; and carbon capture and storage have no place in the Just Transition.

Throughout the week, Indigenous and frontline communities and civil society organizations led and organized several Article 6 demonstrations, you can watch the videos of the actions here and here.

Ultimately negotiators were unable to agree upon an outcome for Article 6, and thus it remains in limbo. In this instance, no deal is better than any deal as we do not want any Articles that enable counterproductive carbon markets and do not ensure safeguards for Indigenous rights, human rights, gender justice, and ecological integrity.

As in the case of the Article 6, it is vital in these negotiations for our voice as civil society to be at the COP to advocate and influence the process, and to interfere with mechanisms that will further predator capitalism, which has caused the socio-ecological crisis in the first place.


In October, the Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera, announced that COP25 would no longer take place in Santiago, Chile as planned due to social upheaval. Decades of neoliberal economic policies leading to vast wealth inequality ignited the social uprising in Chile. These same destructive economic policies wedded to extreme resource extraction are a leading driver of our climate and ecological crisis. Disaster capitalism doesn't work for our communities, and it doesn't work for our planet.

Mapuche activists traveled from Chile to participate in the COP25 climate talks and march in the mass mobilization on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

In response to social movements, the Chilean government has been suppressing citizens' right to protest and violating key human rights laid out by the United Nations, and notably, women and feminists have been on the frontlines of the protests in Chile. As we refocused our efforts in Spain for COP25, we pledged to keep a keen eye on Chile and social movements on the ground, including going forward with the 5th International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Santiago with the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and highlighting the voice of Chilean activist Angela Valenzuela from Friday’s For Future - Chile in Madrid. We also joined our colleagues at the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency to release a statement about the situation in Chile and our demands, please see our statement here.



WECAN delegates and partners celebrate frontline women’s leadership and solutions at WECAN’s public event, “Frontline Women Protecting and Defending Rights, Land, Communities and Climate​” held during the Cumbre Social por el Clima/People’s Climate Summit. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

WECAN’s COP25 delegation and diverse global allies advocated, spoke out, participated in events and meetings, and stood for climate justice during marches and direct-actions throughout the two weeks of COP25. Please see all of our photos, live streams, and videos from our time at COP25 on our Facebook Page.

WECAN International was very honored to facilitate the presence of an incredible delegation of frontline women leaders at COP25, who advocated for climate justice and led and participated in powerful actions and events over the duration of their time in Madrid.

The WECAN delegation included: Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation, Turtle Island, USA), Ponca Nation councilwoman, long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist and actress; Sônia Bone Guajajara (Brazilian Amazon) Executive Coordinator for the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB); Daiara Tukano (Brazilian Amazon), Indigenous activist, artist, and coordinator of Radio Yandê; Nina Gualinga (Ecuadorian Amazon), Indigenous woman leader and co-founder of HAKU Amazon Design; Helena Gualinga (Ecuadorian Amazon), 17-year-old Indigenous social activist; along with Osprey Orielle Lake (USA), Executive Director of WECAN International; and Katherine Quaid (Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, Turtle Island, USA), Communications Coordinator for WECAN International. Please see the bottom of this blog for a full bio of each delegation member.

Casey Camp-Horinek leads a water ceremony hosted by Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Climate Action, and It Takes Roots coalition on the evening of December 4, 2019. Photo via WECAN International

Upon our arrival at COP25, we were very honored to be invited to a Water Ceremony called for by Indigenous leaders and organized by Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Climate Action, and It Takes Roots. Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca Nation councilwoman and WECAN COP25 delegate, led the ceremony calling on those in attendance to share songs, water from their home communities, and to give prayers for the week.

The Water Ceremony helped center our intentions for the week and served as a reminder of the endless passion and deep love we have for Mother Earth and all of Life. WECAN International gratefully drew inspiration from this evening which propelled us into two weeks of intense climate action.

During our COP25 events, actions, and press conferences WECAN called for governments to commit to action without sacrificing human rights and ecological integrity. We articulated in detail the root causes of the climate crisis; pushing back against, colonial, racist, patriarchal, corporate and capitalistic agendas and drawing the line to say no to false and inadequate solutions. We worked to ensure that demands for women’s rights, Indigenous rights, the Rights of Nature, and the human rights of most-impacted communities were heard.

In an era of continued oppression, fossil fuel expansion and false climate solutions, the voices and leadership of grassroots, frontline, and Indigenous women leaders could not be more important.


Indigenous and frontline communities prepare to lead 500,000 demonstrators during the mass mobilization on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

WECAN took to the streets in Madrid joining 500,000 activists to demand governments of the world declare collectively that we are in a #ClimateEmergency and act now from a climate justice framework.

Sônia Guajajara, Executive Coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and WECAN delegate spoke to over 500,000 people who attended the protest. Photo via Midia India

At the closing rally, Sônia Guajajara, Executive Coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) spoke to over 500,000 people who attended the protest. Speakers also included Greta Thunberg, Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, and the frontline Indigenous delegation. Watch the rally speakers at Midia India's Facebook page.

After leading the march, Indigenous people stormed the stage and sang the Women Warrior song to close the rally, please see our video here:

Indigenous women lead the frontline delegation to the stage to sing the Women Warrior Song at the end of the mass mobilization in Madrid on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International

WECAN also marched with feminists from around the world demanding systemic change, see the video here:

WECAN delegates meet up at the end of the march and rally on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
The feminist bloc during the mass mobilization on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
Feminists demand climate justice during the mass mobilization on December 6, 2019. Photo via WECAN International



“Fighting climate change means listening to the Earth and that means listening to Indigenous peoples who have been protecting these forests, protecting these lands for thousands of years and who are fighting these industries, who are keeping the oil in the ground who are keeping the fossil fuels in the ground. If we don’t listen to indigenous peoples, if we don’t listen to indigenous women we are not going to get out of this crisis.”

Nina Gualinga, Indigenous Activist from Sarayaku and WECAN delegate

Women leaders share their struggles and solutions during WECAN’s formal UN side event, ‘‘Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change” on December 11, 2019. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

Women are on the frontlines of climate impacts and solutions - it is time for them to be recognized at the forefront of climate action plans and decision making!

WECAN held our formal UN Side Event, “Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change” on December 11 at the UNFCCC COP25 in Madrid, Spain. Grassroots, frontline and Indigenous women leaders, alongside representatives from international climate justice organizations, spoke out to address the need for solutions based in a climate justice framework, including forest and biodiversity protection, Indigenous rights, agro-ecology, fossil fuel resistance, and protection of women land defenders.

You can watch the full event on the UNFCCC website or via live stream on WECAN's facebook page:

Ruth Nyambura spoke to the community organizing and women-led solutions in Kenya during WECAN’s formal U.N. side event. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, shares about the experiences of frontline communities in the United States as they face extractive industries and climate catastrophe, during WECAN’s formal U.N. side event. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid

WECAN has such deep gratitude for the amazing women who spoke at the side event: Sônia Guajajara (Brazilian Amazon); Daiara Tukano (Brazilian Amazon); Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, USA), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya); Nina Gualinga (Ecuadorian Amazon); Jacqui Patterson (USA), and Osprey Orielle Lake (USA).



WECAN Event: Frontline Women Protecting and Defending Rights,

Land, Communities and Climate​

“We are still facing colonization, but we believe that we have rights,

we believe that nature has rights and that is why we defend our Mother,

our Earth, our land, our water, our territory with our bodies.”

Daiara Tukano, Indigenous Activist from Brazil and WECAN Delegate

Paty Gualinga (right), Nina Gualinga (left), and Helena Gualinga (center left), from Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon joined WECAN for our public event at the People's Climate Summit to share stories of resistance against oil drilling in their region. They are pictured here with Osprey Orielle Lake (center right) after the event. Photo via WECAN International - Katherine Quaid