Last month, more than 10,000 negotiators from 189 countries attended the latest UN climate change conference, known as the 19th Conference of the Parties, or COP-19, this year held in Warsaw. To many, COP-19 fell frustratingly short of its already low expectations: there were no significant new agreements and 132 developing countries along with many major non-government groups staged a walkout in protest. However, it was notable for several signs of continued progress in bringing women’s voices to the negotiating table.
The Devastation, and Lessons, of Haiyan
Understanding the different effects of climate policies on women, especially in developing countries, is critical. As studies have shown, women are disproportionately adversely affected by climate change and natural disasters, yet are often excluded from important decisions at many levels.
Typhoon Haiyan, which tragically struck the Philippines just two days before the conference started was a prescient reminder of the reality of these findings. More than 5,000 people were killed and 3.6 million displaced. The UN Population Fund estimated that those affected include more than 200,000 pregnant women, who now lack access to basic healthcare and antibiotics, nearly 900 of which give birth every day. UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos also warned of increased sexual and gender-based violence in densely populated relief camps.
The Philippines’ Chief Negotiator Yeb Sańo’s impassioned call for urgent action on the opening day may have been most memorable and significant moment of COP-19. “Stop this madness,” he decried while breaking down in tears recounting the unprecedented devastation of Haiyan, and thousands around the world joined him in a 13-day hunger strike for a “meaningful and just” outcome at the conference.
Slow But Steady Progress
Though Sańo and his supporters may have ultimately been disappointed with the result, COP-19 did mark a few official firsts for the inclusion of gender in the formal negotiation process.
Earlier this year, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, Global Gender and Climate Alliance, and UNFCCC Secretariat released, Gender Equality and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a compilation of all the gender-responsive language in previous UNFCCC agreements. While “gender” first appeared in the text of the final resolution at COP-7 (2001) in Marrakesh, it did not reappear in the negotiation text until COP-16 (2010) in Cancun. At last year’s COP in Doha, the parties agreed to recognize “the need for women to be represented in all aspects of the UNFCCC process, including through membership of their national delegations and the chairing and facilitation of formal and informal negotiating groups.”
This year, during the first week of the conference, more than 200 delegates, myself included, attended the inaugural UNFCCC gender workshop, mandated by last year’s COP and co-hosted by Norway and Paraguay. The event showcased efforts to strengthen women’s leadership and participation in the decision-making process and advance gender-sensitive climate policy.
Warsaw was also the first conference in UNFCCC history where “gender and climate change” was designated as a standing item on the agenda.
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