Friday, December 16th 2011

Since the COP17 climate talks ended at around 5am last Sunday in Durban, South Africa, many people have been asking the same question: was it a success? Analysts from government, media and NGOs seem to be taking one of two stances: “it was a good step forward” (for example, the official UNFCCC Press Release: “Durban conference delivers breakthrough in international community’s response to climate change”) or “it failed to deliver what is needed” (as in the WWF Press Release: “Governments fail on ambition, courage at UN climate change talks”)

At WEDO, an organization that has pushed for gender issues to be integrated throughout the climate debates for a number of years, we have been asking ourselves how to measure both the successes and failures of COP17.

In our recap of the first week in Durban, we pondered the increased “buzz” around the linkages between gender and climate change, which percolated the side events and stands at COP17, and what real effect this would have on an outcome. We questioned whether the many good words spoken at the 30+ women and gender-related side events and high-level activities would actually inspire meaningful action. Isn’t this the point, after all? Turning words (and lots of them) into action to save our planet? Isn’t that the key indicator of success?

Part of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA), at COP17 WEDO continued to coordinate an advocacy team that spent the better part of two weeks running from meeting to meeting at the ICC, providing text suggestions to delegates, holding side events, etc., all to make sure that women and gender equality issues were being taken into account in the draft texts. In her excellent article Negotiating gender-sensitive Climate Policy, advocacy team partner, Agnes Otzelberger from CARE International, aptly described this work “…we have been populating the aisles around the inner sanctums of the climate talks, getting hold of the latest drafts and submitting suggested amendments to ensure text includes the term ‘gender-sensitive’. Packaged in this term is the ambition for global responses to climate change to include, benefit and reflect the needs and priorities of poor men and women worldwide – in other words, to ensure these responses do not perpetuate or widen gender inequalities by missing out on large parts of the people who are part of the solution.

And in Durban, there was some success in that respect: references to women and gender were secured across several areas— in countries’ guidelines for National Adaptation Plans (NAPs); in the Nairobi Work Programme that assesses impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; information systems on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+); and in the operationalization of the Cancún Agreements, including the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Committee, the Standing Committee on Finance, and the Technology Mechanism. [Click here for a full compilation of women and gender references.]

Achieving references to gender in both the Green Climate Fund and the Climate Technology Centre and Network represent significant progress, as these were often areas where gender considerations – and moreover social considerations – had been largely ignored. Wide collaborative advocacy and coordinated activism – by organizations such as WEDO, ENERGIA, Gender Action, Heinrich Boell, Oxfam, ABANTU, CARE International, GACCES, Equidad de Genero, VIDS, the UNDP Gender Team, UN Women, and the partners of the Women and Gender Constituency, to name just a few – supported many ally governments to make this advancement toward gender equality an outcome of Durban worthy of celebration.

But can we deem “The Durban Package” a success? As the problems of climate change become ever more urgent, the UNFCCC process, which itself is dependent on the political will of countries to address these issues, has resulted in another delay to real solutions. In the early morning of December 11th, two days after the talks were scheduled to conclude, countries agreed upon a process from 2012 to 2015 to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC applicable to all Parties” which would come into effect after 2020. The legally binding agreement which many had hoped to achieve in 2009 at COP15 has now been pushed to 2015. Climate Action Tracker estimates that the current level of ambition towards cutting emissions will result in a 3.5°C increase in global mean temperatures by 2100 and essentially guarantee a temperature increase of 2°C. This will result in irreversible ecosystem changes affecting the lives of billions of individuals.

What has yet to be seen are true and ambitious efforts to develop an agreement that will save the lives of the millions of women and men who are already suffering the impacts of climate change and the generations to come who will suffer even more. Tireless work to ensure women’s rights and gender equality remain at the heart of climate policy is severely diminished – perhaps even worthless – if words cannot be turned into real action.

At the end of the day, it is hard to measure successes or failures if none of the efforts of this process actually help to improve the lives of the people most severely impacted by climate change. We have now seen two COPs after Copenhagen “successfully” save the process, but unfortunately for all of us, we’re running out of time to actually save the lives of billions of people, to protect our environment and to ensure our future.

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