New York, New York (December 14, 2012)– On the heels of Hurricane Sandy, which tore a destructive path through the Caribbean and up the East coast of the U.S., and during Typhoon Bopha, the worst, most devastating storm to occur in the Philippines in half a century, the eighteenth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha, Qatar, failed to reflect reality.

COP18 ended Saturday night, December 8, 2012, after more than two weeks of contentious negotiations, with late-breaking final compromises, heralding its outcomes as a “success” of international diplomacy and the multilateral process. The talks were slow and frustrating and culminated in little more than just that: talk.

WEDO is left wondering, how does the global community define “success” these days?

Lack of ambition, much less action 
Civil society – many representatives being allies of WEDO’s in the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) and the Climate Action Network (CAN) – made strong statements decrying the overall lack of progress and the outright blocking of progress by some countries. Throughout the 2-week conference, the Women and Gender Constituency, of which WEDO is a founding member, along with GenderCC, LIFE, WECF, Energia and others, contributed ideas, rebukes and technical support to Parties. On December 5th women and gender organizations organized an action, “Not in My Name“, to call attention to the frightening lack of ambition and inability of negotiators to reflect and respond to the realities of their countries’ populations. In a joint statement, signers declared the COP had no legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people of the world unless the Parties made real progress toward climate solutions.

Despite the fact that the 2012 deadline for concluding the 6-year Long-term Cooperative Action negotiating track and defining the critical next phase of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol made COP18 among the most important of recent multilateral negotiations, a lackadaisical attitude permeated the halls of the massive Qatar National Convention Center. With more than seven negotiating streams occurring simultaneously, civil society groups were not the only ones struggling to keep track of the issues; small country delegations had to pick and choose between equally urgent matters for their lives. Among the more tragic gaps in the outcomes of COP18 was the continued lack of financial commitments or pledges to assure that financing for climate change will be scaled up to USD100bn by 2020. Nor were there the much needed ambitious emissions reduction pledges by high emitting countries.

Despite an extension of the Kyoto Protocol to a 2nd Commitment period, several essential countries pulled out of it including Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Russia. The few countries left-including those in the EU, Australia and Switzerland-only hold a very small percentage of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to what is needed. The Kyoto Protocol, as the only legally binding international instrument on climate change, is the only guarantee of quantified emissions reductions from countries before the new agreement enters into force in 2020. Hence, a major gap continues between the current and committed emissions reductions and the emissions reductions required to stay below or at a 2° or 1.5 ° C target. The finance gap and the gigaton gap both need to be resolved urgently as the global community nears closer to devastating impacts resulting from dangerous and irreversible climate change.

Flickers of hope 
But, as always, a few silver linings emerged around the cloud of confusion and disappointment that was COP18, indicating some shreds of possibility for the multilateral process – and the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in it. Some of the last minute decisions – resulting from the immense pressure by civil society and some blocks of developing countries – made after weeks of stark divides and unmoving country positions, do establish frameworks or commitments through which to keep working. Key opportunities for forward movement include a continued work program on loss and damage, deciding to the establish an institutional arrangement, perhaps an international mechanism, to address loss and damage at COP19; support for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to enable activities for the preparation of the national adaptation plan process by LDCs; continued development of the technology mechanism, including by selecting a host (UNEP) for the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) and criteria for an advisory board; the commencement of the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; and steps toward a new legal agreement on climate change under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. But again, even under pressure, COP18 did not see firmer commitments from developed countries in terms of emissions reductions to close the emissions gap or a commitment to increasing finances to close the finance gap.

Gender on the agenda – or at least at the table 
For many, an additional “spark of hope” coming out of the negotiations was the prominence of gender as a core issue on the COP18 agenda. With some dubbing it the “Gender COP,” the UNFCCC Secretariat organized a Gender Day and, as a part of the day, WEDO and other members of the GGCA and the Women and Gender Constituencyorganized a three-hour event. Advocacy efforts by WEDO and gender equality partners and allies contributed to new texts on women’s rights and gender equality throughout negotiating streams. Substantive decisions, on National Adaptation Plans, Loss and Damage, host of the Climate Technology Center, criteria for the advisory board of the technology mechanism, and the new work programme on Article 6 on education and information, continue to recognize the importance of integrating gender into implementation of effective activities.

COP18 also adopted Decision L.36 aimed at promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations. Seeking to reaffirm and strengthen a decision to promote women’s participation made 11 years ago at COP7, this agreement also provided a space for “gender” on COP agendas (while gender issues have previously been under “Other Business”) and suggests a gender workshop at COP19.

The gender decision is a step forward in its call for gender balance in bodies and delegations; it is a step toward realizing women’s right to participate in all levels of decision-making.

But gender balance is not the end goal – despite the erroneous perception by many that equality and parity are synonymous. Achieving gender balance is important; it contributes toward a more inclusive decision-making process that more fully reflects the real needs, ideas, solutions, experiences, expertise, innovations and leadership of the global community. Put simply: it is common sense to integrate women’s perspectives and positions when climate change so deeply impacts their – as well as men’s – lives. But gender balance, without complementary and targeted efforts to achieve gender equality, will not necessarily directly promote gender equality in the UNFCCC process, nor lead to progress in policies, programs and practices that benefit both women and men. The last minute change in the decision title – replacing gender equality with gender balance – unfortunately drove this point home.

The decision’s call for an in-session workshop at COP19 is a welcome opportunity that WEDO is committed to engaging with to ensure that the UNFCCC pursues a comprehensive strategy to secure gender-sensitive climate policy, including through capacity-building activities for all Parties. Women’s rights and gender equality experts have long been invested in this process, are recognized as an official major group, and must be the leaders in shaping this kind of workshop and related activities. Given that all actions under the decision are subject to the “availability of financial resources”, it is ever more important to pursue this decision in tandem with action on all other areas of the Convention to ensure a coherent and effective strategy to address climate change.

The gender decision at COP18 does not mean our collective work is done; in some ways, it establishes another beginning.

Mainstreaming women into a polluted stream?

Women’s rights and social justice organizations engaged in the UNFCCC have long recognized the importance of coherent action, working in an integrated fashion across the multiple themes and bodies of the Convention to abolish the silos – trying to avoid gender issues only in silo, too. The nearly stagnant, non-ambitious climate change process has to move in a more progressive and action-oriented direction, or this gender decision – along with the rest – will only be operationalized into a polluted stream. Decisions eked out at the last minute – after two weeks and, in fact, months or years of stalled negotiations on some issues – contradicts the purpose and efficacy of a transparent multilateral process that has any hope of success.

Looking forward to 2015 and a renewed sustainable development agenda, the world cannot withstand a repeat of COP15 in Copenhagen that left trust bruised and broken at the international level, a major roadblock to progress. The multilateral process is splintering as countries choose to address many issues within their own national planning and legislation; countries pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol demands we ask, where will urgent mitigation efforts be rallied and agreed? In an increasingly global and interconnected world, what will the withdrawal from global agreements mean for addressing global challenges such as poverty, hunger, resource degradation, water shortages and climate change?

WEDO is resilient – as all invested in this process and in surviving this fragile world must be. Action-oriented and finding seeds of hope, WEDO will not give up on the multilateral process but is certainly seeking allies to strengthen it and to restore meaning and heft to global decisions. As the global community gears up to prepare the post-2015 development framework and the sustainable development goals mandated at Rio+20, as well as the post-Hyogo framework for disaster reduction and resilience, it is time to draw upon our hope that the world can move ahead. Complacency is not an option to ensure the well-being and livelihoods of the generations to come.

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