We Will Not Negotiate On Mother Earth And Our Communities: Recap And Analysis From WECAN International At COP23 Climate Talks

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As part of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hosted in Germany under the leadership of a Fijian Presidency, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) spent two weeks on the ground engaging in intensive climate justice advocacy and action with a WECAN Delegation and diverse global allies.

While WECAN International retains its critique of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UNFCCC process as far from sufficient and based on false-solutions — which the climate justice movement must continue to expose and resist — we believe that it is valuable and impactful to maintain our strong presence at the UN climate talks so that we can make clear the root causes of the climate crisis; push back against corporate and capitalistic agendas; speak out against false and inadequate solutions; work to ensure that calls for women’s rights, Indigenous rights, Rights of  Nature, and the human rights of frontline and most-impacted communities are heard; and that just solutions rising up from frontline communities are amplified.

It is vital that grassroots, Indigenous and frontline women leaders have the opportunity to speak for themselves and present their struggles, stories, solutions, and poignant analysis directly to the policy makers whose action, and inaction, on climate change is impacting their lives and communities, and the well being of the Earth and all peoples. Helping create this advocacy space through our Delegation and the various events and actions that WECAN organized and hosted is one of our central goals and focuses throughout the UNFCCC process.

WECAN works to highlight crucial and unique messages to shift the narrative from complacency to action – bringing forward the urgency of the climate crisis  and the visceral and personal reality of daily climate impacts on the ground – and demonstrating that possibilities for climate justice still remain in the hands and hearts of women around the world.

As a member of the Executive Committee of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, WECAN also co-organized the Fourth International Rights of Nature Tribunal that ran parallel to the UN climate talks, as an important avenue to actively demonstrate what an alternative, transformative legal system would look like – as well as how it could be a powerful solution to the climate crisis and environmental and social degradation (see the Rights of Nature section below to learn more!).

As an organization with an international focus and network, but a United States base location, engagement at COP23 critically meant standing with many groups to send an urgent message to the world that, even in the face of a climate-denying and reckless U.S. administration, people’s movements across the country can, and will, stand up for climate justice, sustainability solutions, and systemic change.

During COP23 we spoke out frequently on the need to reclaim our democracy, and participated in actions to draw attention to and resist the abhorrent actions of the official US Trump administration delegation at COP23, which spent the two weeks largely hidden behind closed doors, with the exception of a key event promoting “cleaner and more efficient” coal and nuclear energy as the country’s climate policy (more information below on civil society’s response to this ill-advised side event!).

In many different events and actions, another core focus of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network at COP23 was to address the alarming rise of violence and persecution against women land defenders and water protectors, and the collusion between fossil fuel companies and state actors in suppressing peaceful resistance movements. WECAN, along with movement allies around the world, will not stand idly by as temperatures continue to increase, and as Indigenous peoples and land defenders continue to be criminalized and murdered as they stand for a livable world for generations to come.

In analyzing the outcomes of the COP23 climate talks, we are glad to be able to report and celebrate the adoption by Parties of the Gender Action Plan’ (GAP), a policy item that was hard fought for, years in the making, and which provides an opening for forward motion and disruption of the flawed system in regards to gender equity and gender-sensitive climate policy.

The Gender Action Plan (GAP), which the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, allied Delegates, and allied organizations have advocated for with brilliant strength over many years, is designed to ensure that all climate action will include gender equality. Some of the goals of the plan are to increase the number of female climate decision-makers, support engagement of grassroots, local and Indigenous women, and hold trainings for policymakers on bringing gender equality into their agendas and funding mechanisms.

WECAN will be tracking GAP over the next few years to see how the plan is implemented, and if in fact grassroots, Indigenous and frontline women are truly engaged in a beneficial and meaningful manner, including seeing an increase in funding for women-led climate programs, and respect for women’s rights. The Gender Action Plan recommendation can be read in full here –  and more information is also available via Reuters here (featuring our WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake!).

The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform was also adopted at COP23. This platform makes important calls for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples knowledge and action in climate change, but is severely limited in that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are still not fully recognized nor protected, but rather, the platform states that governments need only “consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.” The shortcomings of this plan stem from the reckless 2015 decision that Indigenous rights should be included in only the preamble, not the operative section of the Paris Agreement. Thus, we stand with our Indigenous allies in welcoming this small forward motion, but refusing to be placated with halfway measures.

It must be recognized that 80% of the biodiversity left on Earth is in Indigenous lands and territories, and that Indigenous peoples are putting their bodies on the line everyday to protect the land, water, air and diverse communities. First and foremost, the global community should be supporting Indigenous peoples because it is immoral and unjust that they face brutal violence as they fight to stop the destruction of their homelands and life-ways – however we also need to understand that everyone’s survival is interwoven and that we cannot live without water, forests and air.

It is paramount that we fight together for Indigenous rights as a central climate solution. For further analysis of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples, we direct you to an important press release from our allies at Indigenous Rising Media.

COP23 also saw the launch of the Ocean Pathway Partnership, which aims, by 2020, to strengthen action and funding that links climate change action with healthy oceans, including through the UN Climate Change process and via more explicit goals and ambitions in national climate action plans. WECAN will be keen to support allies pushing for a climate justice framework to the Ocean Pathway Partnership as we look toward 2018.

Importantly, we must also take stock on where we stand with action on carbon emission reductions, as December 2018 is the deadline for finalizing the rules and processes in a Paris Agreement “rulebook” for turning the ambition of  Paris into action. At the close of COP23, the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) by governments to lower their carbon emissions are still dangerously off course, keeping the world on a catastrophic path to over 3 degree global temperature rise. Wealthy countries continue to avoid their historic responsibility, empowered by the thrust of the Paris Agreement, which relies upon carbon markets and techno-fixes which ultimately only impel the Earth further towards climate disruption through dependence on destructive extractive economies.

With all of this in mind, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network continues to demand that global warming must be addressed by confronting and transforming the systemic injustices of our political, social and economic systems as we work to heal damaged ecosystems. We will not negotiate on the well-being of Mother Earth or our communities – they are not commodities, but rather are sacred systems of life.

As we reflect on COP23, we reaffirm our commitment to bold action in the streets, in the forests, in our communities, and in the halls of policy makers. In every arena, from the ecological, to the social and political – this is a time for people’s movements to rise ever stronger to meet the great challenge of our time, and to re-build a just and a healthy planet which holds life for all, above profit of the few.  

Read on for a detailed recap of WECAN actions and events at COP23, including multimedia resources to explore and share.

Honoring the Work of Delegation Members

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WECAN International was honored to facilitate and/or support the presence of an incredible group of frontline women leaders at COP23, who advocated for climate justice and each led and participated in powerful actions and events over the duration of their time in Germany.


COP23 Delegates and longtime allies – Patricia Gualinga (left) and Thilmeeza Hussain (right), pictured with Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN

Thilmeeza Hussain is a Former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Maldives, and leader with Climate Wise Women, Voice of Women Maldives and the WECAN Advisory Council. Over the second week of COP23, Thilmeeza represented WECAN at the daily meeting of the Women and Gender Constituency; made presentations  at WECAN’s public event and UNFCCC press conference and side event; and organized and took part it varied advocacy efforts and met with government leaders to share her powerful voice and demands as a woman leader of a small island nation facing dire climate impacts now.

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Patricia Gualinga delivers an intervention during a high-level session at COP23

Patricia Gualinga, an Indigenous Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, participated in the WECAN, Amazon Watch and Indigenous Delegations during COP23 in her work to protect the Amazon Rainforest and advocate for the Living Forest Proposal of her people. During her time on the ground, she presented at all WECAN events; joined with global Indigenous allies in action and advocacy; spoke at numerous side events and press conferences; and delivered a high level intervention on behalf of civil society on one of the last nights of the climate talks. Watch and share her powerful speech here.


Nina Gualinga, her son, and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN

Nina Gualinga, also an Indigenous Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, participating in the WECAN, Amazon Watch and Indigenous Delegations, was present at COP23 as an Earth defender, as a voice for the Amazon Rainforest, the Living Forest Proposal of the Sarayaku , and as a mother. While participating in WECAN and many other events, Nina and her son reminded all present of what we are really fighting for, bringing passion, urgency and poignant analysis to all events and actions where she engaged. Watch her demand action to keep fossil fuels in the ground during a people’s movement action here.

As always , WECAN is deeply thankful to be collaborating with our long time allies at Amazon Watch in advocacy and action with women leaders from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Isabella Zizi speaking out during a US People’s Delegation action

Isabella Zizi, a Northern Cheyenne Arikara and Muskogee Creek youth leader representing Idle No More SF Bay Area and the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty, participated in COP as part of the Indigenous Environmental Network delegation, in alliance with WECAN. We were honored to hear from Isabella during our main WECAN public event, and on global news networks, as she spoke out and helped lead powerful direct actions to expose the dangers of the Trump Administration negotiating team; held an Indigenous Women’s Treaty signing and water ceremony; and spoke with Democracy Now! about the need to confront false climate solutions such as carbon trading within the UN process.

Our Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, and Communications Coordinator, Emily Arasim, were both also accredited for the UNFCCC COP23, working diligently over the two weeks to advocate for climate justice, organize and participate in events and actions, collaborate with allies, and support and document the work of our incredible delegates.

Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – WECAN Public Event


WECAN was honored to present a key public event, inviting local Bonn residents and global leaders participating in COP23 to join together for an afternoon of inspiration, learning and movement building.

This public event was organized with the conviction that real forward movement towards climate justice depends on the full and equal participation of women in all stages of decision making and implementation, and that real change will come from women mobilizing and taking action at the local, national, and international level. Policy-makers and international advocates spoke alongside grassroots, Indigenous and frontline women leaders from around the world.

Click here to watch the full event livestream – and explore a few photo highlights below.

This event featured extraordinary women leaders – Honorable Mary Robinson (President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, former President of Ireland), Bianca Jagger (President and CEO, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation; Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador); Noelene Nabulivou (DIVA for Equality; Pacific Partnerships on Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Fiji; Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, Fiji); Ruth Nyambura (African Eco-Feminists Collective, Kenya); Kathy Jetnil–Kijiner (Climate Change Activist and Poet, Marshall Islands); Thilmeeza Hussain (Former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Maldives; Climate Wise Women; Voice of Women; WECAN Advisory Council, Maldives); Kathy Egland (Hurricane Katrina evacuee/survivor; NAACP National Board of Directors, Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Chair, United States); Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador); Leila Salazar Lopez (Executive Director, Amazon Watch, United States); Nina Gualinga (Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador); Kalyani Raj (All India Women’s Conference Representative of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, India); Shannon Biggs (Co-Founder and Director of Movement Rights, United States); Precious Phiri (Representative of Regeneration International; EarthWisdom, Zimbabwe); Monica Atkins (Cooperation Jackson; Just Transition Organizer for the Climate Justice Alliance Our Power Campaign; Representative of #ItTakesRoots COP23 Delegation, United States); Dorothee Häussermann (Representative of the Ende Gelende Movement, Germany); Isabella Zizi (Northern Cheyenne Arikara and Muskogee Creek youth leader with Idle No More SF Bay; Earth Guardians Bay Area, United States); Varshini Prakash (Organizer with Sunrise; Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network; Representative of SustainUS, United States); Constance Okollet (Chairperson of Osukuru United Women’s Network; Representative of Climate Wise Women, Uganda); and Osprey Orielle Lake (Founder/Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, United States).


“Us women are not only going half-way, we are not doubting…we know what we want and what we want is to protect the life of the Mother Earth…We are bringing our own proposal, from the Indigenous vision, from the people, from our own reality – something that has been hugely missing from the context of conservation and this global discussion of climate change.” – Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador), with Leila Salazar Lopez – (Executive Director, Amazon Watch, United States)


“If we save Tuvalu, we save the world. But what is we don’t save Tuvalu?

What if bees and butterflies become extinct? What if our islands don’t survive?

Just who do you think will be next?

I’m taking you with me.  I’m taking you with me.”

– Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Climate Change Activist and Poet of the Marshall Islands opens the event with powerful words and her poem, ‘The Butterfly Thief’


“[We need to] have those really uncomfortable discussions between North and South social movements, and say, ‘truly, how are you truly changing your practice?’…. I do not believe in kumbaya politics, I don’t believe that we are all in this together, I believe that we have to have diverse bodies and powers, and movements that are willing to move this into something truly revolutionary….If we know that one person in an economic North space consumes 400 times the resources of a woman in Africa, that there is something so deeply wrong…and those conversations have to be had. And its tough for women together, but if no one else is going to do it, we need to be the ones that do it.” – Noelene Nabulivou – DIVA for Equality FIJI; Pacific Partnerships on Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Fiji (PPGCCSD); Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), Fiji

WECAN COP23 Side Event and Press Conference

Inside of the UNFCCC COP23, WECAN held a formal side event and press conference, ‘Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ – featuring global women leaders Thilmeeza Hussain (Former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Maldives; Climate Wise Women; Voice of Women; WECAN Advisory Council, Maldives); Maria Nailevu (DIVA for Equality, Fiji);  Heather Milton Lightening (Treaty Four Territory, Pasqua First Nation; Representative of Indigenous Climate Action, Canada); Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador); Nina Gualinga (Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador); Leila Salazar Lopez (Executive Director, Amazon Watch, United States, translating for Patricia Gualinga); Precious Phiri (Representative of Regeneration International; EarthWisdom, Zimbabwe); India Logan Riley (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga People’s, Te Ara Whatu Aotearoa/New Zealand Youth Delegation member from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand); Constance Okollet (Chairperson of Osukuru United Women’s Network; Representative of Climate Wise Women, Uganda); and Osprey Orielle Lake (Founder/Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, United States)

Click here to watch the full ‘Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ press conference.

Click here to listen to the full recording from the side event.

Explore photo highlights and quotes below.


“Many women from around the world are here in Bonn to let governments know that it is far past time for a just transition to a democratized, decentralized, clean energy future. That is what is best for our communities around the world…And this is also a moment that tells us we must fight every harder for our democracy, including the right to stand up against the criminalization and murder of Earth defenders, which is on the rise across the world….Climate change is a threat to the entire world, but particularly to it’s women. Droughts, floods, infectious disease and food and water insecurity disproportionately impacts women and the global poor, the majority of whom are women, and when we analyze root causes, women experience climate change with this excessive severity because at a global scale, women’s basic rights continue to be denied. And yet while women are suffering, I think one of the most inspiring things about the work that we do, and the work of so many women in our networks, is that women on the frontlines are envisioning a world that is just, and they are putting their lives on the line to enact these global solutions.” – Osprey Orielle Lake (Executive Director of the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, United States)


“Our islands are being washed away, and we are losing the biodiversity that sustains and nourishes us, and these corrupt governments, including my own, are the ones destroying this biodiversity…We are seeing because of climate change 200 to 500 thousand people dying every year. We are living this climate genocide, and we cannot pretend that this is not happening. We have to call it for what it is – it is a climate genocide, and this genocide is fueled by corporate greed and funded by the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has crippled our governments with their money and eradicated our democracies…. But we are not going to sit by…you are not going to gamble with the lives of our children – we will fight back and we are fighting back, we will do everything we can. Our children will not be climate refugees.” – Thilmeeza Hussain (Former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Maldives; Climate Wise Women; Voice of Women; WECAN Advisory Council and COP23 Delegation, Maldives)


“What happens to the land happens to our women – we have something between three and five thousand missing and murdered Indigenous women that are unsolved cases in our country, and we believe this is a direct reflection of what’s been done to our land….and so I think there are a lot of challenges for us trying to figure this out, but we really believe in the power of our young people, the guidance of our elders, and the knowledge that we carry.”  -Heather Milton Lightening, Treaty Four Territory, Pasqua First Nation, Canada, Representative of Indigenous Climate Action, COP23 #ItTakesRoots and IEN Delegation


“I come from a family of very strong women who have been defending the Amazon Rainforest, and since I’ve been here at COP, I’ve really been asking myself, ‘why am I here’, and the reason that I am here is really for my son…And I have also been asking myself why the governments are here, why the corporations are here, and I think that more than anything, they are here to negotiate, thats what it is called, ‘climate negotiations’…but how can we negotiate with the climate, how can we negotiate with our future?” – Nina Gualinga (Indigenous Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, participating in the Amazon Watch, Indigenous and WECAN Delegations)

Speakers stand together in solidarity following the COP23 press conference, ‘Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’

International Rights of Nature Tribunal, COP23 Advocacy and Report Release


A woman leader from Bolivia opens the case on TIPNIS

Over the course of two days at the start of COP23, a global coalition of people’s movement leaders organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature convened to hold the Fourth International Rights of Nature Tribunal, in parallel to the UN climate talks.

Rights of Nature Tribunals are a unique, citizen-created initiative which give people from around the world the opportunity to testify publicly on destruction of the Earth and their communities, while advancing and demonstrating the possibilities of an alternative legal framework for justice and living in harmony with the world and each other. Over the course of the Tribunal, powerful testimonies were shared by global leaders on topics including oil extraction and deforestation; prosecution of Indigenous and land defenders; global trade agreements; industrial agriculture; mega-dams; false climate solutions; financialization of nature; and much more.

WECAN co-organized the Tribunal, and ongoing Rights of Nature events as a member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature Executive Committee, and WECAN’s Executive Director served as a judge to the Bonn Tribunal climate change case.

Though the tribunal and final case judgements do not have official legal implications, they do provide political power and strong persuasive value, and many cases were amplified and heard far outside of Bonn, including serious responses from the media and political leaders concerning the Tribunal’s preliminary analysis and recommendation for the TIPNIS development in Bolivia. We will continue to report back on this and other cases, including the release of formal closing comments and recommendations for each case, coming soon via the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature webpage.


Leaders of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature share a report back during a COP23 press conference

A formal press conference and report back from the Tribunal was presented inside COP23 by leaders from the Global Alliance, including WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake. Click here to watch the full Rights of Nature press conference and read our final Rights of Nature press release here.


Maude Barlow of the The Council of Canadians speaks for water, and against global trade deals which dangerously impact the Earth, and endanger the Rights of Nature and global communities

In conjunction with the Tribunal – we are also glad to announce the release of an important new report, ‘Rights of Nature and Mother Earth: Rights Based Law for Systemic Change’, co-edited by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Movement Rights and the Indigenous Environmental Network. Click here to download the full  Rights of Nature & Mother Earth report.

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At the closing of the Tribunal, the WECAN team had the opportunity to sit and speak with Mirian Cisneros, the extraordinary woman President of the Kichwa Pueblo of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon, who had presented at the Tribunal and events throughout the first week of COP. Click here to read the blog and watch the interview, where we speak with Mirian about the significance of being a woman leader in her community, and her people’s message at COP23.

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Women And Gender Constituency Advocacy


Advocates of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency at the daily Women’s Caucus meeting

During COP23 and far beyond, WECAN International is thankful for the opportunity to work in solidarity with the global members of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency (WGC). Before COP23, the WGC released a set of vital key demands, which can be read here, alongside other important analysis and copies of all interventions given by WGC representatives during the formal negotiation process.

Throughout the two weeks, the WGC members and allies carried forth ceaseless work, leading to the adoption of the Gender Action Plan (please refer to blog introduction for more analysis on this topic). While intense ongoing engagement is needed to secure real forward motion for gender justice in the UNFCCC climate process, it has been a powerful and beautiful process to watch the diverse women of the WGC make their voices and solutions heard. After many years of hard work, we have finally reached a point in the climate talks where global representatives are no longer asking ‘why is gender and climate relevant?’ – but rather ‘how can we address these complex inter-linkages?’.

One of our highlights with the Women and Gender Constituency in Bonn was participation in a critical direct action  on Gender Day, meant to bring light to the ongoing persecution of women land defenders (more information below!).


Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives represents WECAN during a Women and Gender Constituency Caucus meeting

Direct Action and Solidarity With Our Allies

We know that policy, advocacy and education are vital tools – however they are just some of the array of tactics needed in our movements to protect the Earth and generations to come. While retaining our strong presence in the meeting halls of COP23 – over the two weeks, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network also engaged in many direct actions, both inside and outside of the climate conference.

The day before the start of the COP23 climate conference, Germany’s powerful Ende Gelände movement and over 4,500 activists from around the world held a non-violent direct action to shut down part of Europe’s largest open pit coal mine, the Hambacher coal mine.

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Standing with the Ende Gelände movement to shut down the Hambacher coal mine

WECAN International joined in solidarity at the action as hundreds of  movement leaders went deep into the mine, putting their bodies on the line to prevent the work of the massive excavators ripping at the Earth; and to say ‘no’ to fossil fuels, and ‘yes’ to a just transition to a renewable energy future. During our main public event, we were also honored to learn more about this incredible movement from community leader, Dorothee Häussermann.

Just before the start of COP, WECAN Joined over 25,000 people on the streets of Bonn for a large international climate march. Mid-way through the climate talks, a second march was held with a focus on resistance to fossil fuel and nuclear power.


WECAN marches with allies from La Via Campesina during the second climate march in Bonn

WECAN participated in one of the most vital and impactful direct actions held during COP23 , which was led by allies from SustainUS and the #ItTakesRoots delegation – who organized participants to creatively disrupt a side event, in which representatives of the US Trump Administration delegation were proposing “cleaner and more efficient” fossil fuel and nuclear use as a climate policy. Hundreds of grassroots, youth, frontline, and Indigenous leaders from across the United States and around the world stole the show with songs, chants and speak outs – decrying the insanity of the U.S. delegations backwards policies; sharing stories of real solutions;  and making clear that the people of the US will rise from the ground up, ever-stronger in our collective work to build climate justice, stop expansion of the fossil fuel industry, and work towards a just transition to a renewable energy future.


The US people’s movement disrupts the pro-fossil fuel climate event hosted by US Trump Administration representatives

On Gender Day at the COP23 climate talks – the members and allies of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency raised our voices with fierce power and determination to bring light to the persecution of women human right, Indigenous and environmental defenders, who have and continue to face repression, persecution, threats, intimidation, violence, and assassination for their work to stand up for all we hold dear.

During the action held in the central zone of the conference, we demanded that political representatives recognize the vital role of women defenders in achieving climate solutions – and called for immediate action to expose and address the many hundreds of cases of violations that have taken place in 2017 alone. During the action, we called out the names of 20+ women defenders killed for their work in recent years, making sure their voices are never forgotten in the halls of the climate talks.


Members and allies of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency bringing light to the criminalization of women Earth defenders, inside COP23 on Gender Day

Another important direct action was held during the second week of the COP, led by members of the Indigenous Caucus demanding respect for Indigenous rights and knowledge in the climate talks framework. WECAN participated in solidarity.


Indigenous leaders hold a direct action demanding respect and real action to uphold Indigenous rights

As week two of COP drew to a close, WECAN representatives had the great honor of joining a Water Ceremony led by Isabella Zizi, which also included a signing of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty, a document and movement uniting Indigenous women of North and South America in active protection and healing of their homelands.

On the last day of COP, we joined an action led by the SustainUS youth delegation, as they set forward key demands and principles to ‘reclaim power’ and demonstrate what real climate commitment from global representatives would look like.



In action with allies from SustainUs and others on the last day of COP23

International Launch of Women Speak Project

On November 1, 2017 – WECAN International launched, ‘Women Speak: Stories, Case Studies And Solutions From The Frontlines Of Climate Change’ – a web-based research database and initiative designed to shift the narrative and to challenge dominant systems of exploitation and oppression of women and the Earth, through the collection and sharing of many hundreds, and ultimately many thousands, of stories by and about women leading struggles and solutions for climate justice under a variety of cross-sectional themes.

During our time at COP23, we were thrilled to formally share the project as part of our main public event, as well as through many strategy sessions and meetings with our network of allies, as well as with policy makers and international leaders. We’ve received wonderful support and feedback, and look forward to the ongoing growth of this initiative.


Osprey Orielle Lake (Executive Director) and Emily Arasim (Communications Coordinator) present the project during WECAN’s main public event in Bonn

‘Listening and Learning from Each Other’ Event with Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice



On COP23 Gender Day, WECAN’s Exective Director was invited to a Talanoa event organized by the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ), which brought together Indigenous and grassroots women with international ministers, policymakers and several allied groups, for a morning of collective strategy building.  The Talanoa focused on enabling grassroots and indigenous women’s participation in gender responsive climate action, and providing a platform for them to share their stories and lived experience of climate impacts, and demonstrate the value of local and indigenous knowledge in informing climate policy and action. It provided ministers and negotiators with an opportunity to engage with the women in different national contexts to inform gender responsive climate policy, while making the case for women’s participation in climate decision making.


During the event hosted by MRFCJ, Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN shares a moment with President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, the first female leader of any independent Pacific island nation

WECAN Visit and Reporting on the Hambacher Forest  Frontline Resistance Efforts

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WECAN Executive Director interviews women defenders of the Hambacher forest occupation

With the desire to learn about and support frontline struggles in all of the places where WECAN travels and works, our team visited the Hambacher forest, just 45 minutes outside of Bonn, the day after the close of the climate talks. This was our second visit to the mine site, where we also participated in the Ende Gelaende action just before the start of COP23.

The area is being ravaged by the largest open pit coal mine in all of Europe, which extends over 33 square miles, and is a site for digging and burning of lignite coal, considered one of the dirtiest of all forms of fossil fuel energy. To pursue expansion of the mine, 90% of the Hambacher forest, an ancient and unique ecosystem, and one of the last mixed forests in Central Europe, has already been cut. Many local villages have also been destroyed, or face imminent eviction to make way for growth of the mine.

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Overlooking the mining devastation

For the past five years, brave group of activists and Earth defenders have been peacefully occupying the remaining forest on the edge of the mine – setting up tree houses and a year round encampment. WECAN was honored to visit with some of the women of the Hambacher occupation to learn more about why they stand for the forest, and their visions for systemic change and climate justice. We encourage allies to learn more about  the mine and the Hambacher occupation, and the interconnected Ende Gelaende movement – and to keep an eye out for more multi-media storytelling from WECAN, coming soon.

Media Wrap Up: Explore select links below highlighting the efforts of the WECAN COP23 delegation!


Patricia Gualinga of Sarayaku Ecuador Delivers High Level Intervention at COP23 Bonn

During the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany – Patricia Gualinga of the Kichwa Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador delivered a powerful high-level intervention on one of the closing evenings of the conference.

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is honored to have helped support Patricia’s presence at COP23 Bonn, where she participated as a member of the WECAN, Amazon Watch, and Indigenous delegations.

Watch the video – and read the full transcription below!


My name is Patricia Gualinga and I come from the Kichwa People of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Our peoples fight for Mother Earth. Governments and the private sector only distract from the reality of climate change with their false solutions.

Climate change is not a business! Carbon markets, REDD + and geoengineering are nothing but distractions and attempts to maintain the system.

We, the grassroots communities and indigenous peoples of the world, we have the real solutions. From the people of Sarayaku to Standing Rock, from the Ogoniland to Lancashire to the Ende Gelände movement here in Germany – we are all fighting against destruction and for a decent life.

We are fighting for Climate Justice! We must keep fossil fuels in the ground!

We demand a profound transformation of the energy system and no new extraction. We demand a just transition to a 100% safe renewable energy for everyone. We’ve had enough with the financing of fossil fuels and false solutions.

Our struggle is for life, for justice, for Mother Earth. For women, youth, our children and their children. For our future!


Mi nombre es Patricia Gualinga vengo del Pueblo Kichwa de Sarayaku en la Amazonía Ecuatoriana. Nuestros pueblos luchan y resisten por la Madre Tierra. Los gobiernos e industrias solo distraen de la realidad con sus soluciones falsas.

El cambio climático no es un negocio! Mercados de carbono, REDD+ e ingenieria climatica son sólo distracciones y negocios para mantener el sistema.

Nosotros, las comunidades de base y los pueblos indígenas del mundo, tenemos las soluciones reales. Desde el pueblo de Sarayaku a Standing Rock, del Lancashire a Ogoniland al movimiento de Ende Gelände aqui en Alemania – todos luchamos contra la destrucción y por una vida digna.

Luchamos por Justicia Climática! Tenemos que dejar combustibles fósiles bajo suelo!

Demandamos una transformación profunda y no más extracciones. Demandamos una transición justa al 100% de energía renovable y segura para todos! YA BASTA con el financiamiento de combustibles fósiles y las soluciones falsas.

Nuestra lucha es por la vida, por justicia, por la Madre tierra. Por las mujeres, los jóvenes, nuestros hijos, y sus hijos. Por nuestro futuro!

WECAN Speaks With Mirian Cisneros, Woman President of the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador During the UN COP23 Climate Talks

While in Bonn, Germany for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP23 climate negotiations, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) had the opportunity to sit and speak with Mirian Cisneros, woman President of the Kichwa Pueblo of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Over many years, the community of Sarayaku has taken strong and courageous action to confront and work to stop stop oil extraction in their territories, setting an extraordinary example for fellow Indigenous nations, and for people all around the world seeking to prevent harms to the Earth and their ways of life.

WECAN spoke with Mirian about the significance of being a woman leader of her community – and about her people’s message to the world during COP23.


Osprey Orielle Lake: It is just really a momentous time that you are a woman president of your community – and I would love to know what that means to you, and the significance of that?

Mirian Cisneros: I’ve always loved to work with women, since I was very young, I’ve always worked with organizations, such as the youth organization of Sarayaku, through which I’ve worked a lot with women of different nationalities in my province, and across the country, with the women of the high mountains, of the coast, and of the Amazon. And the fight of the women has always been for us to come and occupy space within organizations, because they have often been led just by men, and the women have always had to complete our roles as women, taking care of the children, being a wife, taking care of the gardens and the homes. So often to assume a role of leadership has been complicated, has been difficult for women, but with the passing of time, through a process, us women have learned to value ourselves and raise our self esteem to say both of us, men and women must work together. More than just gender equality, we are talking about living in harmony. It could be a man or a woman leading within the organization, so long as we have the same rights and respect for both.

When I was named as President by the Congress of Sarayaku, I felt so nervous, because first of all, I did not know what challenges were awaiting me. And what I said to the women, because the women had been supporting me, was, ‘now is the time for us to demonstrate our leadership, because women have always been at the front of all of our fights, carrying our children, caring for our husbands, caring for the garden, feeding our households – in all aspects, including in the marches, so now we need to bring our strength together, to say that we are united, that we cannot be forgotten as leaders’. And so I said to them, ‘women, don’t leave me alone, I will be at the front, but it will be with the help of all of you that we will continue ahead. I will take the baton to lead not just the women, but the whole community.’ And the past presidents and leaders, wise people in the community, and the other women themselves, they have given me the support to assume this role and help strengthen my community. They have given me the strength to take on this role, so now I can say, ‘I am with my Pueblo, and my Pueblo is with me’.

Osprey Orielle Lake: It is so beautiful to hear, we love to hear these words about women and how they are working together. Because we are finding in our networks all across the world, that there is this beautiful solidarity that women are showing one and another at this time, and I think we really need that in terms of healing how we are living with Mother Earth and each other.  So, here we are at the climate negotiations in Germany, and I would love to hear from you, bringing the voice of your community, bringing the voice of women of Sarayaku and deep in the forest – what is your message here at COP, to the governments, and to the environmental movements, the social movements here. What is it that you would like us to know, the message you are bringing from your people?

Mirian Cisneros: My message here at COP23 for the people, for allies of the world – is that we need to fight together, unite forces, because the states that are here speaking in our name are at a negotiating table where supposedly they are looking for solutions, but these solutions are for them, not for Indigenous peoples. Our people are in our communities, while they are here making decisions for us. They are putting prices on our natural resources, they are putting prices on us, without fully comprehending that within our territories we exist as communities with huge wisdom, knowledge, science, technology. So we are asking allied peoples to keep resisting, because this fight is how we must maintain life, and to have the freedom to express ourselves.

We must be in these spaces and we must be consulted to see if we are in agreement or not. They are here deciding the fate of us all, so our presence here is vital, we must be here to express, to ask for a change in international politics so there is respect for us – and so that the proposals that come forward are from the original people themselves, made of our own cosmo-visions and our own decisions about how our lands will be cared for.

Environmental Destruction In Climate Vulnerable Maldives, To Make Airport

This guest blog post/op-ed was written by the woman leaders of Uthema and Voice of Women, Maldives – November 14, 2017

Maldives is a nation of nearly 1200 natural coral islands in the Indian Ocean, hosting approximately 150 wetlands of varying sizes with significant biodiversity and environmental importance. Kulhudhuhfushi island lies in the northern region of the Maldives in Haa Dhaal Atoll.  It is the most populous island in the north of the country, with a resident population of 8440, which includes 4475 women and 3965 men (Census, 2014).

The island of Kulhudhuhfushi is home to the seventh largest mangrove wetland in the Maldives. It is of special interest because it is the largest white clay wetland in the country.  The wetland is an integral part of the island and its relevance is woven into the fabric of the community, with links to the economy, culture, traditions and way of life of the community.

The Issue

The government of Maldives has made the irresponsible decision to reclaim a large part of the Kulhudhuhfushi mangrove wetland which involves the destruction of its mature mangrove forest, to make way for the development of an airport.  Notably, there is an existing international airport on the nearby island of Hanimaadhoo, which is only a 20 to 30 minutes speed boat ride away from Kulhudhuhfushi.

Concerned citizens, environmental and human rights advocates with civil society partners have been raising concerns since the government made its rushed decision to reclaim the mangrove wetland a few weeks ago.  A key justification is that this is a 2013 campaign pledge of the incumbent President. The Maldives Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report had warned of the damaging consequences of such a development. Nevertheless, the Minister for Environment and Energy, Mr Thoriq Ibrahim over-rode the due processes to expedite the reclamation project, by signing the decision statement of the EPA himself.  Additionally, the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE) undermined due process under existing laws and regulations by approving and starting the project 5 days before the public consultation and comment submission deadline. This denied the Maldivian public their right to have a say on the irreversible destruction of the Kulhudhuhfushi wetland.  The multiple irregularities and disregard to due processes by the authorities have led advocates to conclude that this alleged “development project” is flawed and unsound in every way – environmentally, socially, culturally, economically and in its governance.

On 13 November 2017, a leading environmental NGO, EcoCare Maldives lodged a civil law suit against the MEE and EPA in the Maldives Civil Court.

Environmental Damage, Climate Change and Disaster Risk

The mangrove wetland of Kulhudhuhfushi is an integral part of the island ecosystem and acts as a natural defense system of the whole island.  The wetland acted as a natural drainage system when the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit the island.  Notably, the island is geographically located in an area that is designated as ‘high risk’ to environmental disasters.  A 2013 detailed island risk and vulnerability assessment produced by the Maldives Ministry of Environment and Energy estimated that in the event of a severe tsunami, Kulhudhuhfushi may suffer loss and damage to the value of MVR 100m to 126m (USD 6.5m – 8.2m).  In the event of a swell wave, the island is estimated to suffer a ‘tangible loss’ of MVR 29m (USD 1.8m).  The significance of the mangrove wetland ecosystem to the stability of the community in both environmental disaster mitigation and financial terms cannot be over-stated.

Mangrove wetlands are well known for their carbon absorption capacity and are natural carbon sinks. The government’s decision to destroy a carbon sink to replace it with an airport, well known for increasing carbon emissions, is contrary to every climate change adaptation and mitigation principle or policy in the global climate change discourse.

The reclamation of the Kulhudhuhfushi wetland will cause widespread damage to the surrounding area, using a much celebrated trailing suction hopper dredger named “Mahaa Jarraaf”, purchased from China by the government company Maldives Transport and Contracting Company Plc (MTCC).  The impacted areas will include the pristine reef ecosystems of the island and its surrounding areas, which remain relatively untouched because large-scale tourism has not reached these areas of the Maldives yet.  The damage caused due to dredging and consequent sedimentation is expected to negatively impact the soft coral reefs in the area.  Professional divers and environmental experts raise serious concerns about the irreparable damage the dredging activities would do to the under-water reef ecosystems and wildlife.

Sustainable Livelihoods

The mangrove wetland of Kulhudhuhfushi is a source of livelihood, specifically for women on the island.  The wetland is used to bury coconut husks for soaking, a process that takes about 6-7 months.  The coir from the husk is used to make rope, a specialised skill that has been practiced in the community for generations.  The coir rope which is used for house-building and boat-building traditionally, continues to have a market in current day Maldives, particularly in the tourism sector.  The rope is also a completely natural product made sustainably using naturally available materials on the island.

Available information from a community based organisation shows that a total of 404 families depend on the mangrove wetland for livelihoods in coir rope making.  This informal industry is driven primarily by women and estimates show that this skilled manual rope-production work accounts for an annual revenue of MVR 8.7m (USD 0.6m), which is a significant income to the island’s economy. However, the families were given a few days to vacate their working areas on the wetland, to make way for the reclamation project. Notably, this informal economic activity has no social protections, unlike the formal employment sectors.  The vulnerability of those making a living from the wetland is highlighted by the fact that there has been no information about any plans to provide compensation for the women and families who have lost their livelihoods.  Additionally, it is known that 18 households would be relocated to facilitate the project.  However, news reports suggest that the householders remain “in the dark” about their relocation plans, as the project got under way on 28 October 2017.  

The reclamation project was formally inaugurated by the President of Maldives on 12 November 2017. Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, he said that Maldivian youth would not have to continue to soak coconut husks in the wetland because his vision of development is to expand the tourism industry in the atoll, increasing the bed capacity by an additional 1500 beds.  This would involve the reclamation of two large lagoons in the atoll to make artificial land to build resorts.  However, it is unlikely that the coir-rope makers of Kulhudhuhfushi would find their employment in the tourism sector.  History shows that three decades of tourism in the country has only provided space for women’s representation in that sector at a mere 7%.  Furthermore, a significant percentage of that single digit would be women employed as informal workers in insecure unskilled jobs and labour, such as road sweeping.

Biodiversity and Food Security

Kulhudhuhfushi mangrove wetland is a mature ecosystem that has survived and evolved over centuries and is home to a variety of vegetation and wildlife.  The mangrove habitat hosts 8 ‘true mangrove species’ that are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. The wetland is also a host for seasonally migrating birds that cross the Indian Ocean.  As a complex ecosystem of multiple types of flora and fauna, the wetland is a significant natural treasure and national asset in environmental terms.

Maldives is almost entirely dependent on foreign imports for food, and remain highly vulnerable to external economic and other shocks.  In times of food insecurity, many of the plants and trees that are abundant in this mangrove forest are known to have been sources of sustenance to the island community, preventing famine.  In addition, the wetland lake itself is a source of fish stock during monsoonal rough weather when fishing in the open sea becomes difficult and dangerous.  Although these resources are not used as a regular food supply today, their continued existence ensures a sustainable source of food in times of hardship and food insecurity.

The COP Must Not Be A COP-Out

The Minister for Environment and Energy Mr Thoriq Ibrahim is currently representing the Maldives at the UNFCCC’s 23rd COP in Bonn, Germany.  The assumption is that he is there to discuss the Maldives’ commitment to address the issue of global climate change with other member states.    Maldives is a climate vulnerable, low-lying small island state, concerned about rising sea-levels which would contribute to beach erosion and land loss. A situation which will increase the damaging impact of severe weather events on its communities which have inadequate resources to mitigate or adapt.  Maldives is concerned because of rising global temperatures which are bleaching and destroying the corals that make up the foundations of its islands.  Without active destruction of its fragile natural ecosystems, there are enough worries for Maldives about mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The question is, do member states of the UN COP know what the government of Maldives is doing to the country’s fragile environment back home? As the incumbent Chair of AOSIS, what quality of leadership is Maldives providing for other small island states to follow, to commit to the Paris Agreement or whatever other agreements they would commit to this year at COP23?

Is the donor community aware of the unsustainable and harmful environmental practices the government of Maldives has chosen to adopt, as global efforts are made to address the realities of climate change to communities like Kulhudhuhfushi at the forefront of climate related disasters?

As the high-level discussions at COP23 get under-way, the narrative of the global sustainable development goals must not be allowed to ring hollow.  The COP must not be turned into a platform that enables malfeasance by duty-bearers, to enrich themselves while they leave behind vulnerable communities to perpetually seek refuge from disasters due to climate injustice at home and abroad.