Tensions rise at COP27 as countries struggle to reach a meaningful agreement; meanwhile, women push for greater commitments and propose solutions to tackle the climate crisis through a gender lens.
By Alice Finno / Matthew staff || Edited by Ilenia Reale
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place from Nov. 6 to Nov. 18, landed the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan a day and a half after the conference’s official closure. Expectations were high for COP27, also dubbed “The African COP,” with the motto “Together for Implementation.” Delegates representing more vulnerable countries to the climate crisis were hoping for immediate implementation measures to tackle the devastating effects of climate change.
Although the negotiations to draft the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan went 40 hours into overtime, the agreement was not ambitious enough. While a landmark resolution was established on “loss and damage,” with a commitment to creating a financial support system for the most vulnerable countries by COP28, the plan doubled back on essential elements set in the Glasgow Climate Pact last year, especially concerning mitigation. The goal to keep the global temperature below 1.5°C remains but without any guidelines on how to achieve this: currently, we are still on the path towards a catastrophic increase of 2.5°C. Countries didn’t agree on inserting a commitment to a phasedown of fossil fuels, nor did they set out precise strategies to protect nature and biodiversity: two aspects that are vital to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that delegates representing the fossil fuel industry (636 lobbyists) exceeded the number of delegates from vulnerable countries was a considerable impediment to progress as well.
A JCU delegation, composed of four students from Grassroots and Professor Michèle Favorite, had the opportunity to attend the beginning of the second week of negotiations in Sharm El-Sheikh, following first-hand the discussions among parties and the disagreements that were slowing down progress.
On Nov. 14, country delegates gathered for consultations and arrangements on a “loss and damage” fund, a crucial item of the COP27 agenda and one of the most controversial. Countries of the Global South have been pushing for the creation of a loss and damage fund for decades without success. The fund is based on the idea that rich countries, which contributed to climate change the most with their greenhouse gas emissions, should provide a fund for low-income countries to face the damage caused by climate disasters.
During this session, two aspects particularly stood out. Even at the highest level of climate change negotiations, a significant degree of disorganization slows down the procedures, as most party delegates complained about not receiving the “loss and damage” funding draft in advance and were, therefore, unable to read and provide comments on it. Secondly, many countries criticized the fact that the document was still focused more on establishing a process for the discussion of loss and damage funding rather than on concrete measures for the creation of the fund. Representatives from countries of the Global South shared their disappointment and described the dramatic losses they had recently endured due to climate disasters, with a delegate from Burkina Faso affirming it would be difficult for them to go home without a definitive outcome: people’s lives depend on it.
Despite Nov. 14 being Gender Day at COP27, no mention of gender was made during the consultations on loss and damage funding, which is quite worrying, considering that women are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis due to social, cultural, and economic factors that make them more vulnerable to climate change. The scarce presence of women during negotiations was evident during COP27, showing that women remained, once again, largely excluded from decision-making processes even though they are predominantly affected by their outcomes.
An analysis from the BBC found that less than 34 percent of country delegates at COP27 were women. The unequal representation was already clear from the first days when the inaugural photo of COP27 was released, depicting 110 world leaders, of which only seven were women. As the Women’s Environment and Development Organization confirmed, this was one of the lowest numbers of female Heads of Delegations at UN climate summits.
Nonetheless, at the official side events, there were panels with high-level female speakers focused on the interconnection between climate change and gender. Women from countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, shared their first-hand experience with the climate crisis.
All panelists emphasized that we need a systemic approach that includes gender in all sectors, as women have different perspectives and ideas to address the climate crisis. As the Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Dr. Usha Rao-Monari, affirmed: “a business as usual approach will not work.” The Indian economic specialist added that it’s necessary to include a larger number of stakeholders in the solutions, and women are central driving forces behind climate action because, being at the frontline of this crisis, they already have the solutions to tackle it.
Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, pointed out that one of the sectors most affected by climate change is agriculture, and African women constitute around 50 percent to 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, which puts them at substantial risk of losing their livelihood when climate disasters hit. Hence, Sacko said that mainstreaming gender in this sector is key. She proposed to modernize and innovate agriculture, build resilience, and engage youths and women, as they are the ones who can lead the change.
Pacifica Ogola, Secretary of the Environment and Forestry Ministry in Kenya, underlined the importance of bringing women to COPs so that they can talk explicitly about what they need from the international community to better address the climate crisis in their home countries. Ogola also advocated for educating young girls, as education is key to uplifting them: “If you don’t educate the girls, the vulnerability will be passed to the following generation.”
The Finnish politician Hanna Sarkinnen added that we need to look at and dismantle the structural barriers that stop women from fully participating in society and climate action; one of these being caregiving and household chores. “We have learned from our own history that we need to address the problem of care,” said Sarkinnen.
Maria Neira, Director of the Public Health & Environment Department at the World Health Organization, focused on the need to invest in access to water, sanitation, and electricity, but also on the transition to renewable sources of energy. Since women are mostly responsible for the household and caregiving duties, water scarcity and energy poverty will increase their difficulties, forcing them to travel long distances to get water and putting them at higher risk of gender-based violence. Neira said that “we need a healthy urban planning transition,” and women are better suited to guide it.
The Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Sami Bahous, mentioned that only 0.01% of global funding goes into climate action and gender, but increasing financing and investing in women is essential. According to Bahous, three are the areas we need to work on to address both gender inequalities and the climate crisis: women’s presence in decision-making processes, access to education and training for women and girls, and access to financing aimed toward women’s emancipation and empowerment.
Finally, both Rao-Monari and Bahous highlighted another key issue: the shortage of gender data. Women and girls are largely absent from datasets, meaning that we don’t know the actions they have taken to tackle the climate crisis, and this prevents the spread of their precious knowledge and solutions. As Rao-Monari claimed, “what is not measured is invisible,” and as many female panelists, country delegates, and youth activists have shown during COP27, women are done with being invisible.
People are dying every day because of the climate crisis, and the number of deaths will keep increasing if we don’t act. Therefore, we cannot afford to lose hope over disappointing climate agreements and stop fighting for climate justice. Despite all the obstacles put in their way, women are at the frontline of the climate crisis, standing up for their communities and being vocal about what needs to change.