Vanuatu Gender Advocate at UNFCCC!


Lessons from a ‘Gender’ COP

Mary Robinson, President

Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice

COP18 was set against the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Bopha. It was hoped these examples of the devastating impacts of climate change would provide the impetus for bold action. There were some important landmarks reached in Doha – a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol was established and the work of the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiation stream was concluded, both of which will allow more negotiating time to focus on progressing the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) and delivering a new climate agreement in 2015. Many will nevertheless be disappointed that more was not achieved. It is, however, worth noting and celebrating what Ms. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, has referred to as the “Doha Miracle”, a new decision on improving gender balance and the participation of women in the UNFCCC process.

The new decision was the culmination of a year’s work initiated by the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) at COP17. In Durban last year, MRFCJ circulated a briefing note on 36/CP.7, a decision from 2001 that calls for improving the participation of women in the representation of Parties in the UNFCCC.  However, a very obvious gender imbalance still exists in various UNFCCC bodies, with women’s representation as low as 10% in some instances. Following on from COP17, and working with various supportive parties, most notably the Government of Finland, members of the Troika+ of Women Leaders on Gender and Climate Change and UN Women, work got underway to strengthen decision 36/CP.7 and put gender firmly on the agenda at COP18.

After much discussion in Doha, a new decision was agreed that will strengthen women’s representation and participation in COP proceedings, an important step towards achieving gender equality. The decision will have far reaching consequences for the participation of women in the UNFCCC and more fundamentally on how the UNFCCC conducts its business into the future. There is no doubt that the empowerment of women will have a long-term positive impact on both the decisions being taken and the process by which they are reached. The significance of this decision is clear, governments need to have more women in their delegations, more women in key negotiating roles and more women members on the bodies of the Convention.

Focus will now turn to implementing the decision.  In addition to inviting Parties to adopt a goal of gender balance in bodies and institutions and to strive for gender balance in their delegations, the decision adds gender and climate change as a standing item on the agenda of sessions of the COP. It also calls for the Secretariat to organise a workshop on gender balance in the UNFCCC process, gender-sensitive climate policy and capacity building activities at COP19 in Warsaw next year.  One thing is certain – Gender is now firmly on the Agenda of the UNFCCC.

It’s no secret that reaching any agreement in the UNFCCC is often a protracted and slow process. There are important lessons to be learned from the manner in which this decision was reached. Firstly, the normal divisions that exist between various negotiating groups dissolved temporarily. Following the statement by the EU in the main plenary session, there was a groundswell of support from parties including Grenada, Chile, Swaziland on behalf of the Africa Group, USA, Mexico on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Group, Vanuatu, India, Indonesia, Senegal, Bangladesh, Gambia, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Brazil. Secondly, there was a spirit of cooperation and trust between Parties in negotiating a final text, with a full realisation that if nothing was agreed at COP18, the opportunity may not present itself again. The urgency meant that Parties focused on finding areas of common ground.

Surely this must be the model that is used into the future, where the intransigence of self-interest is replaced by a united ambition to provide fair and just solutions to the impacts of climate change, Large steps are required if the 2015 goal of reaching a new agreement is to become a reality. Negotiators need to be freed to do more than studiously negotiate their way through policy briefs, agenda items, and roundtable discussions. Parties need to take bold and decisive action that will make real and lasting change to the lives of those most affected by the extreme changes in weather patterns that climate changes brings.