Cop26: Women must be heard on climate, say rights groups

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Cop26: Women must be heard on climate, say rights groups

Those worst hit by global heating are left out of talks, says feminist coalition calling for systemic change

An environmental activist's sign reading 'Courage calls to climate action everywhere' on the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London.

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Environment correspondent

Last modified on Sat 25 Sep 2021 02.02 EDT

Women must be enabled to play a greater role at the Cop26 summit, as the needs of women and girls are being overlooked amid the global climate crisis, a coalition of feminist groups has said.

The Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice has laid out a call for action at the UN general assembly, including demands that world leaders meeting at Cop26, in Glasgow this November, must end fossil fuel expansion and move to 100% renewable energy.

More than 120 groups have signed the call, to be presented at a six-day online forum starting on Saturday, which also includes demands to promote women’s leadership and equity, protect the rights of indigenous peoples, improve food security, recognise a human right to water, and to protect forests, oceans and other ecosystems.

Osprey Orielle Lake, of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, and convener of the assembly, said: “Every day, we can see for ourselves forest fires burning, massive flooding, extreme droughts, people losing their livelihoods and lives- – we are in a global climate emergency.

“As the world prepares for one of the most important climate talks since the Paris agreement, we know solutions exist, and that women are leading the way.”

She said Cop26 must deliver a pathway to limiting global heating to 1.5C, and help people around the world – particularly women and children, who are often the worst affected – build resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.

“We need systemic change,” she added. “It’s not going to work if we just barrel through another Cop and nothing happens.”

As women are responsible in many countries for gathering fuel, water and food, they often suffer the most when shortages are caused or made worse by the climate crisis. As they are usually lacking land rights, they are also more likely to be displaced in climate disasters. Studies have also found the climate crisis exacerbates gender-based violence against women.

From left to right: Osprey Orielle Lake, Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca nation leader, Indigenous Environmental Network representative) and Neema Namadamu at Cop21 negotiations in Paris, France.

Neema Namadamu, founder of the Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said: “I was born in the forest, my whole being is from the forest. Women are on the frontline, working for climate justice and affected by climate change. We are planting trees – without trees there is no life. We cook with fires and have fires for light at night. We really need to start working together.”

Many of the remedies to the climate crisis would also benefit women. For instance, replacing cooking fires with solar stoves would reduce indoor air pollution that affects women and children more as they spend more time at home. Bringing clean renewable energy to low-income countries would enable more women and girls to gain access to education, as without electricity they often lack the means to study after nightfall.

Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, former president of Ireland and chair of the Elders group of world leaders, has long been a critic of the lack of women’s representation at Cops, the “conference of the parties”.

She said: “We need to centre women and girls in the climate context – women need to be included at the table. The UK promised the most inclusive Cop, but it is not. The Covid crisis has exacerbated and cemented gender inequality, and we need to build on the gender action plan [agreed at the last Cop, in Madrid, in 2019].”

The Guardian revealed last year that the UK as host country was fielding an all-male top team for Glasgow, headed by the cabinet minister and Cop president Alok Sharma, with 10 ministers, civil servants and other officials who were all male. The government came under heavy criticism after the revelation, and appointed Anne-Marie Trevelyan, now trade secretary, as a “champion” to focus on climate adaptation and resilience. About 45% of the Cop26 unit are now women, but almost all of the most senior public-facing roles are taken by men.

A workshop on gender and the climate crisis at the Bonn climate change conference 2019.

During the two-week Cop26 summit, there will be a day devoted to gender issues, which will include a discussion of the gender action plan.

A Cop26 spokesperson said: “Women and girls have a critical role to play in the fight against the climate crisis – as decision-makers, educators and advocates at all levels. Progress is being made, with women among some of the most influential figures in international climate diplomacy today, but there is more to be done.

“The UK is committed to championing diversity and inclusivity throughout our Cop26 presidency and advancing gender equality in climate action and finance.”

Dipti Bhatnagar, of Friends of the Earth International, said there were concerns that women from low-income countries would face obstacles coming to Glasgow, as arrivals from red list countries must quarantine in the UK.

The UK government is running a pre-Cop vaccination programme for delegates and has pledged to fund the required quarantine stays for registered attenders, including party delegates, observers and media from the global south who would otherwise find it difficult to attend the conference.

However, Bhatnagar said: “Cop26 going ahead in person is very unsafe and inequitable now. Many organisations have demanded the UK government postpone.”

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