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WECAN International Analysis and Reflection on COP24 Poland Climate Talks

Mass civil society action on the final day of COP24 – Photo by Shaila Shahid

“We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.” – Greta Thunberg, 15 years old, Sweden

"We, women, we carry our temples in our wombs. Our bodies are our own territories. Our veins are rivers, rivers that pump blood through our bodies. Our fight is for our own lives, for our own kids, for our own people. For the forests, for the people of the forests, and for the waters. Our fight is for our Mother Earth, the Mother of all Mothers.” – Hamangaí Pataxó, Youth Delegate with Engajamundo, Pataxó Ha-Ha-Hãe, Brazil, speaking during the civil society sit-in and walkout action during COP24

At this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks in Katowice, Poland, powerful women leaders once again brought urgency, action and demonstrations of real, justice-based solutions to a climate conference that has consistently failed to deliver the critical and immediate change our Earth and communities need.

Building upon years of work, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International was honored to once again advocate alongside diverse movement allies at the 24th COP, working to uplift the leadership of women around the world standing for  climate justice. Learn more about WECAN’s participation in past COP’s here.

Our continued participation in the U.N. climate talks stems from the knowledge that women are facing the impacts of climate change first and worst, but are simultaneously building solutions in their communities, fighting to protect Indigenous rights and knowledge, preserving seeds and biodiversity,  defending their territories from mining and fossil fuel extraction, and rejecting false solutions while advocating for a just transition to a renewable, regenerative energy future.

Throughout the week, WECAN International advocated for systemic change including calling for an immediate halt to fossil fuel extraction, ramping up financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund, ensuring that climate solutions are gender-just, promoting energy democracy and a just transition for women and workers, centering the inalienable value of seeds, biodiversity, and natural ecosystems in climate solutions, and rejecting false solutions such as bio-engineering and carbon capture and storage.

Poland, the host country of COP24, has a notoriously polluting coal industry – and many countries, including the U.S. Trump Administration, used the conference to promote dirty, extractivist and exploitative energy sources such as coal, oil, gas, uranium and nuclear. As a U.S. based organization, WECAN International also attended the COP with the intention of denouncing the Trump Administration’s role promoting coal as an affront to the planet, and advocating for a just transition to a 100% renewable, regenerative agenda.

Collaboration with the Women and Gender Constituency was crucial to our work, as we continued to track and advocate for strong implementation of the Gender Action Plan, which was adopted at the previous year’s COP in Bonn, Germany. A Key List of Demands from the Women and Gender Constituency is available here. WECAN International was further present at the COP to push for the rapid adoption and adherence to the Escazú Agreement, in alignment with our dedication to the protection of women water, forest and land defenders. More information about advocacy with the WGC, and surrounding the Escazú Agreement can be found below!

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network COP24 Delegation was comprised of three powerful women leaders, who worked in concert with allied groups, advocated at a diverse array of events, participated in civil society actions and negotiations throughout the COP, and shared their stories and messages by speaking with the media, and during at our formal side event, “Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change.”

WECAN International COP24 Delegates (left to right) Carmen Capriles, Ruth Nyambura, and Elaine Colligan

Carmen Capriles of La Paz, Bolivia started Reacción Climática in 2010, as a volunteer organization which aims to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on the Andean region. She has actively participated in different U.N. processes like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement, with special emphasis on women’s rights and gender equality – and most recently in the Escazú Agreement, advocating for Environmental Defenders. Carmen holds a degree from Bolivia as an Engineer in Agriculture, as well as a degree in Sustainable Rural Development from Egypt. She is an honored member of WECAN  International’s Advisory Council.

Ruth Nyambura is a Kenyan feminist who works on the intersections of gender, economy and ecological justice. Her organizing and research interests are on the agrarian political economy of Africa, the rural-urban movements resisting the corporatization of Africa’s food systems and the neoliberal turn as a whole.

Elaine Colligan is an activist and organizer passionate about gender and climate justice. Originally from Seattle, Washington, U.S., she is currently reading for the Masters in Philosophy in Political Theory at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, she co-directed a political action committee, “Clean Virginia” and worked on former U.S. congressman Tom Perriello’s gubernatorial campaign, advocating against two fracked gas pipelines and for a $15/hour minimum wage. Elaine began her career in U.S. politics through working with 350 Action on the 2016 presidential election, organizing students and youth to talk to presidential candidates about climate change. She has also conducted research on gender and climate change in Djirnda, Senegal. Elaine is proud to be part of the WECAN family, having assisted on a variety of projects throughout the years, including the recently-launched “Women Speak” project. She is deeply invested in promoting climate justice as a framework to understand and approach the climate crisis, which prioritizes the needs and solutions of people living on the frontlines of climate change, in particular women and Indigenous peoples.

Background Context:

The Paris Agreement and The “Rulebook”

At a time when governments continue to fail to act on clear scientific warnings that we must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, women are offering an alternative vision of how humans can live sustainably on this planet, in harmony and with respect for one another and the natural world. Although the U.N. process has lagged far behind the policies that women, frontline and Indigenous communities, and communities of color, who have been fighting environmental injustice and resisting colonial oppression for centuries, know we need to adopt, WECAN International remains committed to presenting at the COP in order to uplift real solutions and real leadership in a context in which these perspectives and leadership are urgently lacking.  


From December 2nd to 14th, 2018, heads of state and country negotiators from around the world met at COP24 with a focus on determining the “Paris Rulebook”, the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement. Adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement replaced the Kyoto Protocol with an ambitious global vision of keeping warming well below 2°Celsius.

After having achieved worldwide consensus on a 2°Celsius warming ceiling, now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° Celsius has issued the loudest clarion call yet for a stronger, 1.5°Celsius target, highlighting the enormous benefits of keeping warming under 1.5, as opposed to 2 degrees. WECAN International, early on and for many years, has demanded this 1.5 degree goal, or even lower, to truly address the crisis at hand.

Most impacted populations, including women, coastal and small-island communities, Indigenous peoples, and farmers would be exposed to far less economic, health, and security risks under a 1.5°Celsius scenario. In fact, the IPCC estimates that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.” Much lower risks are also projected at 1.5°C for heat-related morbidity,  mortality and infectious diseases, as well as species extinction, loss of biodiversity, and the irreversible decimation of forests, oceans, wetlands and tundras worldwide.

Critically, the 1.5° Celsius target also falls more in-line with urgent calls from frontline, Indigenous, people of color, and Global South communities who have made clear that action, or inaction, to meet these targets will greatly impact their ability to survive and thrive. A 1.5° Celsius target would also require an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel extraction, mining and drilling, as demanded by people’s movements for climate justice around the globe. The report states that global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions must “decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030” (Summary for Policymakers, page 14).

Glaringly, current country commitments to reduce carbon emissions (“nationally determined contributions”) simply don’t add up to a 1.5°Celsius world. Current plans to reduce emissions need to be tripled to keep warming below 2°Celsius, and increased fivefold to ensure warming does not overtake 1.5°Celsius.

Furthermore, monitoring those commitments every five years in what the United Nations calls a “global stocktake” will require a complex accounting process. Rich countries, notably the United States, have continued to skirt the topic of their insufficient commitments to cut carbon, and their historical responsibilities, by pushing for universal emissions reporting standards. The mobilization of significant finance from rich countries to ‘developing’ nations for loss and damages from climate change is another process around which many wealthy nations, including the United States, have continued to avoid responsibility. This is another critical reason that the demands and presence of the grassroots movement for climate justice is deeply needed each year at the U.N. climate talks.

Another major issue of contention at this year’s COP revolved around implementing respect for human rights, equity, and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” in emissions reductions plans. The Katowice rulebook coming out of COP24, however, does not enshrine these rights in the implementation process, choosing instead to simply include references to the Paris Agreement preamble, which itself only motions to respecting women’s rights, human rights, Indigenous peoples’ rights and public participation in implementing national plans to cut emissions.

Women’s Leadership in Katowice

From delivering high-level interventions with the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, to sharing local solutions at our Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network side event, WECAN International’s delegation to COP24 uplifted the power of women’s leadership at all levels of climate mitigation and adaptation, fossil fuel resistance, frontline solutions, and efforts to chart a way forward with a just transition framework.

While closely tracking the negotiation of the Paris Rulebook, with an eye towards gender at all levels and the rights of Indigenous peoples, WECAN International also spent time movement-building with young leaders and women leaders from across the global climate justice movement.

Key Highlights:

1. Participation in the Women and Gender Constituency  

Each day, members of WECAN International’s delegation participated in the Women and Gender Constituency morning caucus meetings to track the negotiations from a women’s rights perspective and advocate for shared priorities.

The key policy priorities included: mainstreaming gender throughout the Paris Rulebook, notably maintaining references to gender, Indigenous and human rights in country emissions reductions plans; operationalizing a robust platform for Indigenous peoples and local communities, to respect the rights to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in regards to adaptation and mitigation activities that occur in Indigenous territories; scaling up finance for loss and damage in vulnerable countries; rejecting market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism and carbon offsets trading in the Paris Sustainable Development Mechanism; mainstreaming rights in the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture; and promoting a just transition for workers and women.

Members and allies of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency – Photo via: Annabelle Avril/WECF

On Monday, 12/10, WECAN International Delegate, Elaine Colligan, had the opportunity to attend the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement Co-chairs’ Dialogue with Observers Organisations with Hwei Mian Lim, Senior Programme Officer at the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW). Lim delivered a high-level comment on behalf of the Women and Gender Constituency in which she highlighted the absence of human rights language in the Paris Rulebook and asked for an update on status of integrating rights language. The Co-chairs responded that they took note of our concern regarding rights and the just transition, but frustratingly maintained that the COP negotiations are a process owned by Parties, and that in order to reach consensus among Parties there “need to be trade-offs.” This was very disappointing to hear, as it is our position, of course, that you can never “trade off” human or women’s rights!

Later in the day, Elaine collaborated with Chiara Soletti, Women, Rights and Climate Coordinator for the Italian Climate Network, to draft a question regarding why 12 activists were deported at the Polish border on their way to COP. We received the frightening answer from the Polish COP Presidency that these activists were refused entry for two reasons: they did not have a valid visa, or they were on a list of people who the Polish government has deemed a threat to the “public order.” The answer was very inadequate and exhibited the Polish government’s inclination to crack down on free speech and public activism during the COP.

Chiara Soletti, Women, Rights and Climate Coordinator for the Italian Climate Network; Hwei Mian Lim, Senior Programme Officer at the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW); and Elaine Colligan, WECAN International Delegate

During UNFCCC Gender Day at COP, Tuesday December 11th, WECAN International Delegates Ruth Nyambura  and Elaine Colligan attended a side event hosted by the Climate Technology Centre & Network to foster dialogue between civil society groups and the UNFCCC on mainstreaming gender in technology adaptation and finance. Ruth Nyambura asked a powerful question regarding corporate capture of technology financing and highlighted the need for more grassroots access to technology grants in the U.N. Climate Technology Centre.

Ruth Nyambura speaks out during a session on technology access and gender – Photo via: Elaine Colligan

WECAN International Delegates Carmen Capriles and Elaine Colligan also attended Gender Day events such as the prize ceremony for the Gender Just Climate Solutions Award.

2. Participating in the disruption of the US panel.

On Monday, December 10th, WECAN International delegate Elaine Colligan joined with climate movement allies to help disrupt the only official U.S. government panel at the entire climate conference.

Under the Trump administration, the United States has announced that it will shamefully leave the Paris Agreement in 2020. For the second year in a row, the country also hosted an event promoting fossil fuel extraction and nuclear energy, entitled “Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism.” The panel was even more troubling and ironic given that the US government released just weeks before the Fourth National Climate Assessment report, warning that climate change would threaten hundreds of thousands of lives and jobs in the U.S.

However, U.S. civil society groups at the COP refused to accept the egregious panel as a  representation of the interests and goals of the country’s population. The disruption began when Jade Daniels, Communications Coordinator for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, ignited peals of theatrical laughing from the audience at the sheer absurdity of promoting fossil fuels at a time when the urgent transition to renewables in a must. Felicia Teter (Yakama Nation/U.S.) spoke about the impacts to Indigenous communities of climate change, saying “We hold the solutions and we know we must keep it in the ground.”

The group dropped a banner reading “Keep It In the Ground” and gave the floor to four leaders, two of which were women, who spoke about their work in the U.S. promoting a just transition away from fossil fuels. First, Leona Morgan (Navajo/Diné Leader, U.S.) discussed the deleterious impacts of fracking, drilling and uranium mining at the Navajo Nation. Then, Aneesa Khan (India/U.S., SustainUs Delegation Leader) called out our leaders for their lack of ambition on climate, as her homeland in Chennai, India experiences life-threatening floods.

See the livestream of the action here and learn more via action coverage in the Pacific Standard and other international publications.

3. Walking out of UK/EU forum promoting natural gas.