For Earth & Future Generations: Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change, Paris

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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On December 7, 2015, women from around the world united at ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris’, a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network event held in parallel to United Nations COP21 climate negotiations.

In holding with tradition, WECAN began the event by honoring the peoples of the land on which event presenters and participants stood. Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Executive Director, presented a gift and opened the floor to Josefina Skerk, Vice-President of the Sami Parliament of Sweden, who offered a traditional Sami welcome on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of Europe.

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“We are all bound to each other, and we are all bound to Nature,” Josefina reflected, “As Indigenous peoples, the bond that we have to Nature is that of a family member, it is someone that does not have to be vocal for you to understand them. And right now our family member, our mother, our Nature is screaming. But thanks to people like you and me who are speaking out, taking action and working together to build strong alliances against this exploitation, there is hope. We are becoming joined in a beautiful weave.”

Sally Ranney, co-Founder of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network took the floor, sharing thoughts on consumerism, personal responsibility, and the imperative of changing our cultural narratives.

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Sally Ranney (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“We are experiencing a wake up call, both internally, for our internal journeys and decision making protocol, and for our global decision making protocol. Climate change asks us to look really deeply at what are values are, and these are the kind of discussion that aren’t happening inside COP21,” Sally explained, handing the mike back to WECAN co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake for a critical analysis and foundation for subsequent panels and presentation.

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Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“It is not a time to be timid, we are not in a rehearsal but rather in a truly a transformative moment,” Osprey began, noting that COP21 discussions and emissions cuts happening simultaneously just outside of Paris remained absolutely insufficient, “There is no later date – the time is irrefutable now, so we are calling for radical change and I want to bring that forward today,”

“There needs to be an understanding that there is a systemic link between the climate crisis, our economic model, and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women,” she continued, outlining why women are impacted first and worst by climate change, but more importantly, why women are key to climate justice and global peace making.

“To address systemic problems, women are advocating for and implementing models of collective ownership of the plants, the forests – they are working to localize their economies… they are already demonstrating alternative plans and policies, small scale solutions with very large impacts.”

“There is something else that women are bringing to the conversation that really cannot be left out as we face massive loss of life, species extinction, and the increasing threats of climate change, and that is our emotional and spiritual intelligence. Healing our seeming disconnect to Mother Earth is a solution, and women’s voices are central to this.”

Osprey drew attention to the critical leadership of Indigenous women across the globe – framing their struggles and solutions as one of the most critical untold stories of the climate crisis.

“We are Mother Earth’s immune system – standing up together to protect and defend and heal her. Through our collective networks, we are calling for system change, not climate change. We need climate justice, and we need to have the courage to change everything about how we are living with each other and the Earth,” Osprey concluded, bringing the first group of outstanding women leaders to the stage for the ‘Women Speak from the Frontlines of Climate Change’ panel.

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Pictured right to left: Kandi Mossett, Josefina Skerk, Eriel Deranger and Thilmeeza Hussain

Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Climate and Energy Campaign Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network of North Dakota, Turtle Island, USA spoke first – sharing immensely powerful words on what is happening in her homeland, and on the connections between capitalism, colonization, and violations of women and the Earth.

“This is COP21 – they have been doing this for 21 years… the truth is that women and Indigenous peoples have the answers, if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what is best for us. You cannot expect to take and take and take and never give back.”

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Kandi Mossett (Indigenous Environmental Network)

“Without balance we will destroy ourselves, and I think that is why women are leading the movement… women have always played a central role in the balance of life and livelihoods…look at the COP21 and what you’ll see is primarily a room full of older white males in suits making decisions on our behalf. My two and a half year old daughter is at home and has no idea about the decisions they are making for her, we must think about the next generation and the seventh generation. ”

Kandi’s spoke on her experiences in North Dakota, where fracking has exploded and brought dire environmental threats and a host of social injustice to her communities’ doorstep. She looked to the roots of escalating pollution, cancer, violent crime, drug use, and sexual assaults and sex trafficking – which all lie in the rapidly expanding toxic industry.

“We need to use the gifts that shine down on us almost everyday from the sun, the wind that blows in our face… So my message to the leaders that are listening, if they are listening, is to use your common sense. Get away from these ideas of greed and power – because when they are sitting around in a torn up world and everything around them is polluted, they will not be able to drink their oil and they will not be able to eat their money.”

Josefina Skerk, Vice President of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, took the floor again to share more on her peoples, lands and the stark climate impacts being felt there.

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Josefina Skerk (Sami Parliment)

Josefina explained that a two-degree temperature increase in most regions results in an eight degree rise in the far North, and that the traditional life and livelihood of the her people is already directly threatened and changing rapidly due to fragile ice and warming ecosystems. The Sami have persevered through intense discrimination and forced sterilization as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s – but now climate change is bringing new threats to their very existence itself.

“We are not strawberry jam, a wise Sami women once said…we do not want to be preserved,” Josefina stated to a resounding applause and calls of solidarity from the audience and fellow presenters.

“However through global work and though connecting with Indigenous people and others – through raising our voices – we are truly finding a way forward. There are demonstrations, there are protests and what we see is leaders taking their place, and they are normally Sami women from our society,”

“I do not know where the men are,” she laughed, “but I do know that women are fighting back and I see the strength of this. Raising our voices is immensely effective.”

Eriel Deranger, Communications Manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Treaty 8 Territory in Northern Alberta, Canada spoke next, bringing critical light to the importance of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous women’s climate solutions.

“Despite centuries of colonization and attempted assimilation, we have persevered and we have survived. Now, in 2015, it is time to abandon patriarchal and colonial ideologies… we have always been here, we have not been discovered. … we cannot move forward to a just and balanced society if we do not unpack these systems of patriarchy and colonization that have brought us to where we are today.”

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Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation)

Eriel continued, “We are seeing a merging of movement, and it is imperative. The environmental movement, the Indigenous rights movement, they are coming together because we have a common goal – the protection and preservation of the lands, of Mother Earth, of the places that have given us life and bred cultures that have persevered… I have no intention of stepping down – I will stand up to every government so that my children know who they are, so that my children can go back to the Delta and eat the fish and caribou and moose and know who they are. Without the strong voices of the women on the frontlines of climate change, without the strong voices of Indigenous women on the frontlines – we would not have a hope, so I want to pay homage to the strong women, all the strong women, I raise my hands up to you.”

Eriel passed the floor to Thilmeeza Hussain, Founder of Voice of Women, Maldives, who offered a jolting testimony based in her experience as a woman of a highly climate vulnerable small island nation.

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Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women Maldives)

“We need to look beyond the negotiations, beyond the text – we need to put a human face on what is going on – we need to understand what is really at stake. Lives are at stake, we are loosing lives, people are dying – that is what is at stake… how many lives are we willing to sacrifice before we act on climate change? How many dead bodies should we serve on a gold platter to these oil corporations before we can satisfy their greed and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy?”

Thilmeeza continued, “as mothers, as women, as sisters – as responsible citizens of this world – we cannot afford to watch our children be killed by climate change, we need to look beyond Paris and insure our governments are held accountable for the promises made here… we need to take strength from each other and move forward, we cannot afford to look back.”

Patricia Gualinga, Indigenous Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador took the stage as the afternoon’s first keynote speaker. Patricia spoke on the struggle and victory of her people, who have campaigned and successfully prevented oil extraction in their territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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Patricia Gualinga (Sarayaku, Ecuador) with translation by Leila Salazar-López (Amazon Watch)

“Our people, our women are determined that there will be no oil extraction in our territory, there will be no mining or industrial development. For this reason, we can say that we are already combatting climate change,”

Patricia spoke to the role of women in this vital work, to the need for strengthened global solidarity, and on the Kawsak Sacha ‘Living Forests’ proposal, her communities integral plan for a just and sustainable future. She framed the global climate crisis as fundamentally rooted in Western thought’s division of the material from the spiritual, and its loss of vision surrounding the profound interconnection of humans and the Earth.

“There is much worry about regarding what the governments are doing [inside COP21]… in many ways it pains me, they are so isolated – have you noticed how they drive in blacked out cars, how they hold meetings in these very cold sites that are so cut off from contact with reality? They have imprisoned themselves in their own heads in some ways, and they are the ones making decisions about the planet. We need to be very worried – if they are generating laws that don’t include us, with which we have never agreed, then we do not have any reason to obey them. If they are going to destroy the planet, it is our responsibility to resist them.”

Patricia continued with words of hope and unity;

“Now is not the time to see social classes, or colors or different languages – now is the time to transform ourselves, it is time to see each other as brothers and sisters. It is the time to understand and the time to change…. This is not a matter for Indigenous peoples, this is not a matter for just those who are out on the front fighting every day against oil concessions in our territories. This is an issue for everyone – respect Indigenous rights, respect the integrity of our lives, of future generations. In this we are all united, and if we are just one more everyday, then we can generate change,”

After concluding the translation from Spanish, Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, provided closing comments contextualizing why it is imperative that we work with communities like Sarayaku to protect the Amazon, and sharing the newly released document, ‘Keep It In The Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth‘.

Fleur Newman, Programme Officer and UNFCCC Gender Focal Point representing the UNFCCC Secretariat, spoke next after having listened to the first panel.

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Fleur Newman (UNFCCC Secretariat)

Fleur presented an overview of her role within the UNFCCC, and the various programs and mechanisms around women and climate change that she helps facilitate, including the UN System Wide Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She shared words of support and encouragement with the women leaders, helping bring the formal COP21 process together with the frontline and grassroots women leaders present at the event.

Following Fleurs remarks, presenters of the second panel, ‘Women’s Strategic Analysis, Policy and Advocacy for Systemic Change and Climate Justice’ took the stage. 

Titilope Akosa of Centre for 21st Century Issues, Nigeria and representative of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency opened the panel with an in-depth analysis on the status of gender equity in the Paris climate accord and the work of the Women and Gender Constituency inside of COP21.

She presented the ten point Women and Gender Constituencies COP21 Key Demands document, and outlined the Constituencies struggles and ceaseless work to retain gender responsive language in the Paris accord.

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Titilope Akosa (Centre for 21st Century Issues & the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency)

“We have made it clear that this agreement, the global agreement on climate change will not be complete without women…you cannot write off half of humanity, it is not possible. If gender is not referenced and if the aspiration of women is not included, if the aspirations of the women on the frontlines are not included in this global agreement, then a whole half of humanity is excluded,”

“We do not want a polluted future, we do not want a future that is used up before our children come to life,” Titilope continued, “We are women, we are the ones that create, we are the ones that bring forth life and this is why we must stand strong for the people and planet. And this is why I am here, I come all the way from Nigeria in Africa – I said that I cannot sit down and allow this to go on, and allow these leaders to gamble with the future. If I have to talk to my children, the ones yet unborn, I will be happy and grateful to tell that when it was time to act, I was there, I stood for their future and I am proud to say that I am a warrior on this land and I am ready to fight to the end. We will not give up on our beautiful planet.”

Mary Louise Malig, Campaigns Coordinator and Research Associate with the Global Forest Coalition in the Philippines spoke next, shedding light on connections between climate change, agribusiness and global industrial trade, and presenting small-scale agro-ecological farming as a critical, tangible and immediate climate solution.

She discussed how the WTO and trade agreements like the hotly debated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) effectively block the progress made through negotiations such as COP and other local and national initiatives, using its fierce, legally binding power to enforce trade sanctions that benefit very few over the health and wellbeing of people and planet.

Mary Lou shared the example of Ontario, Canada, where a tariff program to encourage local renewables was shut down by a WTO dispute claiming they were unfairly favoring local workers and processes – both vital to just climate solutions.

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Mary Louise Malig (Global Forest Coalition)

“It has to be the system that is changed. We cannot win a battle where we just fight inside this arena. We have to connect our struggles – we have to connect the struggles against deforestation, the struggle against free trade, the struggle for real solutions to climate change. We have to connect them all together and really fight to change the system and bring peoples solutions up to the front.”

Mary Lou passed the floor to Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental & Climate Justice Program, who shared a presentation called ‘Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation and Revolution’.

Jacqui spoke to the effects of environmental discrimination and industrial pollution on communities in the US, and called out false solutions such as natural gas, which are only deepening the climate crisis and violating rights, particularly those of frontline communities, low-income families, and peoples of color.

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Jaqcui Patterson (NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program)

“We must address the disparity between who is making decisions and who is most impacted,” Jacqui explained, simultaneously referencing her experience with the post Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and the concurrent COP21 climate negotiations.

She shared stories of successful, tragic and ongoing struggles of women and community leaders documenting pollution related health impacts in their communities and taking direct action to shut down toxic industries and build alternatives – and expanded Mary Lou’s insights on the intersectionality of our people’s movements.

“Not only are we pushing for clean energy, but we are also working to insure that there are economic justice measures in these policies,” Jacqui explained, emphasizing that things like women in renewable energy, accessible and sovereign food systems, immigrant rights and justice, and racial justice are all connected and essential elements of the just transition we so desperately need.

Angelina Galiteva, Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute in the USA closed the second panel with compelling comments on energy policy derived from years of work inside the industry and outside as an advocate, activist and mother.

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Angelina Galiteva (Renewables 100 Policy Institute)

“We are moving forward and we are going to transition the system to 100% renewable energy. Why? Because we have the technology, because it is possible,”

She shared poignant reflections on the role of women in the coming clean energy revolutions, “climate change is a man-made problem, women are the solution.”

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and Coordinator of the WECAN Democratic Republic of Congo program opened the third and final panel.

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Neema Namadamu (SAFECO & WECAN DR Congo)

Neema framed her work in the context of the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world and cradle of more than 60% of Africa’s forest area. She expressed solidarity with the global Indigenous women who had already shared their stories, and urged collective global action to care for the vital ecosystems of the Congo.

“Open your eyes, look to Africa…we must invest in Africa planting trees again, so you can have oxygen – after that we can negotiate everything else we need to negotiate.”

Aleta Baun, conservationist and activist of West Timor, Indonesia took the mike next, speaking on her communities successful resistance to mining, and the ways in which they took positive direct action to conserve the forest and build sustainable local economies around textile weaving in the aftermath of the mobilization against mining.

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Aleta Baun (activist of West Timor, Indonesia)

“In our worldwide land is flesh, water is blood, forest are hair and stone is like our bones… We plant trees to heal the water that was once destroyed by mining companies. We discuss how to build women’s strength, especially though weaving so that we can have economic strength and this will protect us from being uprooted again.”

Aleta passed the floor to Natalie Isaacs, CEO and co-Founder of 1 Million Women, Australia, who addressed themes of overconsumption and lifestyle choice amongst women in wealthy nations.

“Individual action, action of households, action of communities and all of us acting together actually makes a big difference,” Natalie began, reflecting on her personal transformation from an unengaged corporate leader, to a catalyst of women and girls for healthy lives and climate justice.

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Natalie Isaacs (1 Million Women)

“In all our discussions, inside the COP21 climate negotiations – behavior change and how we live our lives is actually the elephant in the room, it is not being talked about…1 Million Women has a big task, we are trying to change the way people in a developed country like Australia live – but luckily we all know that women and girls are incredible change agents,”

Nino Gamisonia, Projects Coordinator with the Rural Communities Development Agency of Abkhazia, Georgia spoke next, providing insights on renewable energy and solar water heater programs in her country, and their benefits for the environment and rural communities.

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Nino Gamisonia (Rural Communities Development Agency)

She highlighted how women are disproportionately impacted by dirty energy and the burning of wood as fuel, and detailed how women’s engagement in solar water programs has generated a profound and critical sense of empowerment amongst those involved.

Naomi Ages, Climate Liability Project Lead with Greenpeace USA closed the third and panel of the day with thoughts on risk, bravery and action on climate change. Drawing on stories of activists who put their bodies on the line for climate justice, Naomi asked each person in the room to reflect on the level of commitment and action that they are willing and able to make in order to contribute to critical climate solutions.

“This is a call to action – choose your version of courage and do the thing for you that really contributes and combats climate change.”

Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, current UNFCCC Climate Change Envoy and former President of Ireland, took the stage to present her thoughts on the climate negotiations and women’s leadership in climate change solutions at COP21 and beyond.

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Mary Robinson (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice)

Mary acknowledged great strides by COP21 government representatives to address the needs of most vulnerable nations and recognize the imperative of human rights and gender equality – however also spoke to a sense of stagnation and repetition within climate negotiations and the struggles to retain gender responsive, just and concrete language within the accord.

“But we’re back again with a real sense that this will be a very important agreement. It wont be a great agreement, but it will hopefully be ambitious enough to help us to realize that on the 1st of January of 2016, we are in a new era,”

“We really need the power and knowledge of women leaders at all levels, it is so important for the future. Indeed, if we had more women’s leadership, I do not think we would be where we are now…women’s participation is an enabler of climate justice,” Mary attested, discussing her foundation’s new report, ‘Women’s Participation – An Enabler of Climate Justice’.

“There really is no longer a divide between the sustainable development goals and the France climate agreement, we bring them together in January. And I really do think that women are at the forefront of what happens after that. Why? Because it’s women that change behavior, its women who influence change – starting in the family, starting in the community, starting by assisting in the schools and having young people encouraged to think about their futures in a way that is sustainable. And it is every little step in all of that…we are going to need transformative change throughout the world, and women in every community would be on the frontlines … in the beginning of next year comes a new surge of energy and commitment to start implementing what this year has brought us at the global level, but we know that it is at the local level that things will really make a difference,”

“In a way, we are privileged to be at this moment when we can in fact bend the curve and get back on track towards a safe world. We are not there, and we will not be there the day after Paris, but we will be heading in the right direction. And we will put gender equality issues on the frontlines, because we know we are sacrificing our children, in my case my grandchildren, to a much more dangerous and catastrophic world, and we cannot have that. … We are ready to take the leadership, to give the changes to make sure that there is no going back and that we have a world of sustainability with our Mother Earth, our beautiful Mother Earth, who we must cherish more, who we must reinvigorate in the degraded areas. Take back the deforested areas and have Mother Earth breathe freely as she has for centuries upon centuries until we started to interfere with her. And it is women who have to be at the forefront of that.”

Following Mary Robinson’s keynote, members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature provided a brief recap and analysis of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, held over two days in Paris the previous week.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance provided an introduction,

“What we’re really seeing, and as we heard from so many of our speakers, is that the way that we are interacting with Mother Earth is not working and part of that is also based upon our legal system that treats Nature as property.… we have to change this system, so the Rights of Nature movement is really looking at the DNA of our legal frameworks and saying NO, Mother Earth has rights, rivers have the right to flow, all the systems of life have the right to grow and thrive and be healthy, and we as human being have to have new laws that allow us to live in good harmony with Mother Earth,”

Osprey continued, “What we are saying through these Tribunals is that we have the right to create laws that work for the people and for the plant, we are not asking for permission. Humans invented our governance structures, humans invented our economies, that means that we can reinvent them again and take back our power as people,”

Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights in the USA shared her insights;

“As long as we continue the story of separation, that Nature is owned by humans, that we are separate from Nature – we are never going to be able to move forward. So the Rights of Nature Tribunal has been a very powerful place, especially when put head to head with the COP, to ask, ‘what would it look like in a world where we recognized the inherent rights of ecosystems to live, to thrive, to regenerate…Imagine if we acted like rights matter, as if our human rights came and were derived from the rights of ecosystems, from nature, from creation – what would it look like to be in that world?”

“We heard not just from experts, but from people who are living this everyday on the ground, defenders of the Earth, people who are living under these conditions. We are really showcasing the world as it could be, because the one thing that I think was critical for the Tribunal was to see that the way the COP process is operating isn’t the way it has to be,” Shannon continued, “We are looking at two very different power structures –we are looking at the power of corporations running the world one way, and we are looking at the power of people taking ownership and responsibility and connection for their communities and saying ‘we can work together, there is a way forward’ – we can together actually commit to our relationship and break the cycle of separation from Nature, we can live as one. We can put forward new laws and really showcase how to make this shift.”

Natalia Greene of CEDENMA (Coordinadora Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y del Ambiente) and Fundacion Pachamama in Ecuador provided more background on the Tribunal and on implementation of Rights of Nature in her country.

“People are thirsty to have these places to voice new ideas, to voice their suffering and the hurt to Mother Earth,” Natalia explained, “Rights of Nature is not theoretical, it is happening in Ecuador, it is happening in the US and in more communities and more places if people start to understand that we cannot work without Mother Earth…. If we want to have peace on the Earth, we must have peace with the Earth.”

Closing the Rights of Nature report back, Osprey called to the stage a group of outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across North and South America to share their stories, struggles and solutions for climate justice as part of a presentation of the Indigenous Women of the America’s: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation)

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation elder and representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island, USA opened and guided the subsequent series of thought-provoking, hard-hitting and heartfelt presentations.

“There is much we want to share, but we want to share first and foremost is our love of you and Mother Earth….it is very simple my relatives, if our [Indigenous] rights are upheld, we know how to save you. So together we have a path to walk.”

Casey spoke on the connections between the conditions experiences by her family– relocation, persecution, boarding schools, and labor camps – and the modern environmental genocide and crisis with which we are all faced, and which Indigenous peoples feel directly and disproportionately.

“The struggle for us is not one issue, it is a totality of all the issues – it is whether or not humanity will continue on this Earth, do we get that honor? Do we deserve that honor? My mother, my relatives felt that we do, they felt that we simply need to align ourselves with the natural laws.”

Faith Gemmill, Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan woman from above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, USA addressed the room next, speaking first in her traditional language. For over 30 years Faith and her community have been protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee, one of the last stretches of Arctic Alaskan coast still free from oil extraction.

The land that Faith and her community defend is the land of the threatened polar bear, hundreds of species of nesting birds, fish and caribou, an animal deeply sacred to her people.

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Faith Gemmill (Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabasca)

“Our elders knew about climate change, they prophesized it. And they said, ‘tell them that we are not standing here for ourselves, we are standing for them [the animals], for their children’. And it is our belief that if this place is ever accessed, it will begins a cycle of destruction of humanity…All of our prophecies are all connected, in the South, in the North and across the world, Indigenous prophecies all say the same thing – there is a path destruction, but there is also a path of life, and we have a choice as humanity – and right now we are at that place where we make that choice.”

“We have to think about our children – what are we going to leave them? We have to change the consciousness of the leaders of the world, that’s what we have to do, that is our responsibility. And I have hope because my people said, if we do it in a good way, we are going to be successful – I believe in us and that is why I am standing here today…I think if we all keep holding our ground, if we all keep defending our territories, protecting these spaces – if we keep it in the ground, we can make it, we are going to win.”

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Canada and Kandi Mossett, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara woman of North Dakota, USA spoke again briefly, sharing messages of solidarity and encouraging everyone in the room to stay engaged with the issues and stories presented, including through donations to the women and organization putting their all into speaking out and driving forward momentum for a just world for all.

“We have to take back the power in our communities because no one else is going to do it for us,” Kandi concluded.

Ena Santi, women’s leader of the Kichwa community of Sarayakyu, Ecuador spoke next on behalf of the women of the South.

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Ena Santi (Sarayaku, Ecuador)

“I am feeling so much emotion to be here and hear the voices of all my sisters gathered here today….we as women are treated so badly so much of the time insulted, violated, treated poorly – physically and physiologically,” Ena began.

“But even with all of these obstacles that we are experiencing in our Indigenous communities, us women are fighting, we are continuing ahead. To save our Mother Earth we have confronted the military, the police – and when this happened I carried on my back my baby of just 2 months,”

“In this way we can save our Mother Earth, because within Mother Earth exists all of humanity… Us women fight for our grandchildren, for our children, for the children that will come in the future – it is for them that we fight. Human beings are not eternal, in whatever moment we will go to rest.”

“So us together, sisters that are here now, united, we women must together put forth a strong effort to save our Mother Earth, because pure air still exists in the Amazon of Ecuador. We must keep this in our hearts…. As women on our Earth, in my land where I live in Sarayaku in Ecuador, we will fight until the very end. We will not allow oil, mining, wood companies to enter. We will fight, not with guns, but with thought, in a peaceful way,”

Mirian Cisneros of Sarayaku also shared words,

“We have flown from very far away, like the eagles… we have a prophecy that Sarayaku is called the ‘pueblo de medio dia’ – the people of the noon time. That when all our neighbors had been contaminated, that we would be that community that would be there until the end defending the Earth. We take on this great responsibility as mothers, as wives, as givers of health, food and the security of future generations…. And so we are here, to ask for solidarity, for an alliance between all sisters and brothers of the world to defend our only Earth, the one that has been left to us by our ancestors, by our grandparents,”

Mirian then called on the whole room to join hands and speak together with her, ‘Pachamama estamos contigo’ – ‘Mother Earth, we are with you’.

Monique Verdin, a Houma woman of the Mississippi river delta in South Louisiana, USA spoke next,

“We have lost our land, they cut down our forest, we have waste pits in our back yard and we are loosing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet next to the Maldives,” Monique began,

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Monique Verdin (Houma)

“I came to Paris not knowing what I’d find, and I found these amazing women who are standing up, and I am going home with inspiration…. we cannot be silenced any longer…even though our men are afraid to say anything, even though they are the ones witnessing the land going and know why, they are also being paid by the oil and gas companies and that’s how they feed their babies. They’ve told us that we don’t have any other economic source, but they are wrong.”

Pennie Opal Plant (Yaqui, Mexican, English, Choctaw, Cherokee and European) of Movement Rights, USA took the floor next, providing a beautiful and vital overview, and reading sections of the ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact’, which can be read in full here.

“By this time next year I imagine that there will be millions of women around the world shutting it down…so I want to ask you, whose with us?” Pennie asked, the whole room rising and raising their fists alongside her.

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Pennie Opal Plant (Movement Rights)

Casey Camp Horinek took the floor to close the presentation,

“I want to take this moment to remind us, what is real power? Is it what is in COP’s? Is it Obama? Or, or, realign your thinking, realign your thoughts so that we all go forward with the seventh generation philosophy, each and everyone of us. To think about the seven generations that came before us, and what they went though to arrive at this point, to bring us into life. What about the seven generations to come? If every step you make is thinking about those coming in the seventh generation, then thank you. If not, then switch it up, right now… Realign your thoughts, what is real power?”

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN closed the event with brief words before an end of event group action.

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“We need to reconnect with our original instructions, we need to reconnect with Mother Earth. We have these incredible women and Indigenous peoples who are generously, kindly offering knowledge and information to us, so lets have really big hearts and respect and dedication to what they are offering us. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is first and foremost dedicated to frontline communities in countries all over the world … we the people have power, we the people are making change, this, right here, is where real change is coming from.”

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From right to left: Patricia Gualinga, Neema Namadamu, Mirian Cisneros and Ena Santi – women of Ecuador and DR Congo united

The event will be commemorated and continued through the planting of a French olive tree near Paris – a symbol of hope, peace, growth and resistance into the future.

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WECAN International at the Coalition Climat 21 Gathering in Paris

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For the past three days the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) has been on-the-ground in Paris, France participating in a Coalition Climat 21 organizing session with a diverse group of leaders, united for collective action before and during the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations happening in Paris this December.

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Coalition Climat 21 is composed of over one hundred associations, networks, social and environmental NGO’s, trade unions, youth groups, and grass roots organizers, joined together with the goal of creating a strong civil society voice and popular movement pushing for climate justice and ambitious action during the COP21 negotiations and beyond.

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Payal Parekh, 350.org Global Director & Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director.

The June strategy session served as a platform for groups from around the world to share their movements, network with allies, and strengthen plans for events, demonstrations, and other calls to action happening worldwide over the next few months and in Paris during COP21.

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Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP leader & honored WECAN US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Steering Committee member with Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director.

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While on-the-ground, WECAN International participated in a Women and Gender mobilizing session and had the opportunity to lead a workshop on Rights of Nature and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal which will be happening in Paris in December.

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Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network speaking about Indigenous rights and climate change.

“This year is one of the most critical years for addressing global climate change. If we do not act now, we risk catastrophic impacts that will effect all we hold dear,” explained Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International co-Founder and Executive Director, “COP21 will thus likely be the most important UN climate negotiation of our time. The decisions and actions to protect the Earth and next generations laid out by COP21 international agreements will have a profound impact on our global trajectory. The peoples movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and bring real change is dynamic and strong, and we must demand and work ceaselessly to insure that world governments step up and answer their citizens calls. We all need to look upward to the sun and wind for a just transition, with frontline communities leading the way.”


Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

Behind the Climate Negotiating Text for COP21

Pablo Solón

The future lies in the past. What has happened will determine what will come. The idea that we can change everything and save the world at the last minute is exciting in movies but it does not work in real life. It particularly applies when we speak about issues like climate change where the consequences of what we did in the past century are just beginning to manifest.

This principle applies also to climate negotiations. What is now on the table after the climate negotiations held in Geneva from 8-13 February 2015 is setting the scope and the range of possibilities for the climate agreement at the upcoming COP 21 in Paris this December.

The good news

The good news is that in Geneva the climate negotiations have finally really started. Smoothly and quickly, delegations from different countries avoided long speeches and went directly to work to compile their different proposals for a future climate agreement in Paris. At the moment, the negotiating text has 86 pages and 1,273 brackets. The task for the next 10 months is to streamline this bracketed draft and come out with a text of around 20 pages without annexes and zero brackets.

In the current text there are good and bad proposals that yet need to be negotiated and agreed. The final result will be something in between the most ambitious and the weakest proposals. So how good are the more positive proposals on the table? Are they going to put us on a path that limits the increase of the temperature to 1.5 ºC or 2 ºC?

Disturbing omissions

By now, it is well known that to achieve the goal to limit the temperature increase to below 2ºC, we need to leave 80% of the current known fossil fuel reserves under the ground. This has been stated in many studies, reports and interventions, but not one single country has submitted this proposal in the current text of negotiations. The word “fossil fuels” only appears twice throughout the text and only in reference to the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies. How are we going to cut back greenhouse gas emissions if we don’t have an agreement to leave under the soil, the 80% of the “black gold” that has been discovered?

The other disturbing omission is the short-term target for 2025 and 2030. In the text there are 13 references to zero emissions by the mid and end of the century. But when it comes to this decade and the next, there are no concrete targets and just general references about “enhancing the mitigation ambition” that appears 61 times in the text. The targets that are needed are very clear in different studies. The UNEP Emissions Gap report and other studies show that to be consistent with a trajectory that limits the increase of the temperature to 2ºC, global greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to 44 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2e by 2020, 40 Gt by 2025 and 35 Gt by 2030. This is the cap the world needs to avoid a future too dire to imagine.  Now, in the text there are no references to these figures. There are only proposals in terms of percentages for the next half of the century. The most ambitious for the near term says, “Developed country Parties shall take mitigation commitments for the post-2020 period that are more ambitious than emission reductions of at least 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020”. In other words, the next decade you have to be more ambitious than this decade. That is not really a clear target.

These omissions in the text are not an accident, they reflect an agreement that for the coming years until 2030, every country will do what they can/want and the UNFCCC will just summarize the “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)”. No single country has challenged this suicidal path by putting in the negotiating text that we need a global target to reduce global emissions to only 40 Gt of CO2e by 2025 to avoid an increase in the temperature of 4ºC to 8 ºC.

The center of the debate?

Looking at the negotiating text, it is clear that what seems to be the center of the controversy is not about how much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but around the supposed conflict between developed and developing countries. The word “development” appears 247 times in the negotiating text, “developing” countries 410 and “developed” countries 342 times. The debate in the text is more about who should do what in the reduction of green house gas emissions (developed and developing), what flexibility mechanisms (carbon markets) are going to be in place, how each one is going to report, what kind of verification process will be established for the different type of countries and what kind of financial and technological support there will be to implement the mitigation actions.

The position of developed countries in general tends to water down the difference between developed and developing countries, promoting more the use of “all parties” (134 mentions in the text). On the other hand, developing countries want to keep the firewall between developed and developing countries.

The group of Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) that includes Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela has included the following paragraphs in the negotiating text that show their approach to developed and developing countries:

“Developed country Parties shall commit to undertake Absolute Emission Reduction Targets during the period of 2021-2030, in accordance with a global emission budget including their historical responsibility, through quantifiable, economy-wide mitigation targets, covering all sectors and all greenhouse gases, implemented mainly domestically, which can be aggregated and which are comparable, measurable, reportable and verifiable, with the type, scope, scale and coverage more ambitious than those undertaken under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol during the pre-2020 period, and communicated and implemented without any conditions”.

On the other hand, Developing country Parties should commit to undertake Diversified Enhanced Mitigation Actions (DEMAs) during the period 2021–2030. They may include, inter alia, relative emission reductions; intensity targets; REDD-plus activities and other plans, programmes and policies; joint mitigation and adaptation approaches; net avoided emissions, or also manifested as adaptation co-benefits, in accordance with their special circumstances and specific needs.”

While it is true that this is a real source of debate – the maintenance of the delineation between developed and developing countries so that developed countries do not escape their historic responsibility, and that countries make commitments according to common but differentiated responsibility, it is also one that serves as a smokescreen for the deals that have been made between polluters – one developed and one developing. China, which has caught up to developed countries on levels of emissions, maintains the developing country title but does the rest of the developing countries a disservice by striking a very bad deal with one of the largest polluters in the world, the United States. The highly publicized US-China deal last year is a reflection of how the US and China, two of the largest polluters, have decided not to do what is needed for 2025/2030. The two big polluters account for more than 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is a “laissez faire” deal in which China will only peak (reduce in absolute terms) emissions in 2030 and the US will reduce 15% of their green house gas emissions in 2025 based on their level of emissions in 1990. As a reference, the EU has committed to reduce 40% of their emissions by 2030 based on their 1990 levels.

This is the heart of the deal in Paris and with these emission cuts from the US and China, the rest of the countries will not do much more because as they have expressed, that would go against their competitiveness in the global economy. The negotiation around the text is about how to package and sell a bad deal to public opinion and how to dilute the responsibility of polluting countries of the developed and the emerging developing world. Probably the issue about “common but differentiated responsibility” will be solved through the addition of some “innovative language” like “in light of different national circumstances” as it happened in COP20 in Peru.

Opening the door for new carbon markets

Even with the failure of carbon markets, the debate is not if this mechanism should continue or not, but how to enhance the current ones and develop new ones. No country has submitted text to avoid carbon market mechanisms or REDD+. Carbon market mechanisms are mentioned 27 times and REDD+ 13 times. In the text there are mentions of an “enhanced Clean Development Mechanism (CDM+)”, the “Emissions Trading System (ETS)”, “REDD Plus”, “market mechanism in the land use sector”, “sub-national and regional emissions schemes” and “carbon pricing”. A reading of the text shows that COP 21 will open the door for new carbon market mechanisms but that the real development of them will be agreed at future COPs.

Finance: the forgotten promise

Finance, which was supposed to be one of the most crucial commitments by the developed countries to the developing countries, has now become an issue relegated to the sidelines. The climate debt owed to those suffering the impacts of climate change, yet who are the least responsible, is on the way to being forgotten. Looking at the text, the word finance itself is mentioned 203 times but when it comes to concrete figures, there are only a measly 14 mentions with only four proposals:

  • [Developed countries][All countries in a position to do so] commit to provide at least USD 50 billion per year during the period from 2020 to 2025, at least USD 100 billion per year by [2020][2030] for adaptation activities of [developing countries].
  • The provision of finance committed by developed country Parties to be based on a floor of USD 100 billion per year since 2020.
  • A short-term collective quantified goal of USD 200 billion per year by 2030 should be committed by developed country Parties,
  • [Developed country Parties][Parties in a position to do so, considering evolving capabilities] to provide 1 per cent of gross domestic product per year from 2020 and additional funds during the pre-2020 period to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

If current promises are to be a basis, there is little confidence in these promised numbers. At the COP20 in Lima, there was triumph around the achievement of reaching 10 billion USD – out of the 100 billion USD that was originally promised several COPs ago.

Furthermore, in the text, developed countries prefer to use the term “mobilize” instead of “provide” and they do not limit the obligation of funding to developed countries but to all countries in a position to do so, further diluting the responsibilities of the developed countries as they spread it to developing countries. The term “mobilize” is not associated with any figure in particular and in general includes “from a variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources” which means that even loans and carbon markets will be accounted in the process of mobilization of financial resources.

Rights and compliance

Human rights are mentioned seven times and mainly in the preamble and objectives section. There are no concrete proposals to guarantee human rights in mitigation, finance, market or technology measures. There is only one mention in adaptation and only in general terms. In some cases, the mention of human rights is at the same level as the right to development.  Indigenous peoples’ rights appears only two times in the preamble. Migrant rights are not included, and in the loss and damage chapter, there are only two mentions of “organized migration and planned relocation”. The proposal of Rights of Mother Earth or Rights of Nature is not included at all as an option to be discussed. The only mention to Mother Earth is in relation to “protecting the integrity of Mother Earth” without further development.

When it comes to mechanisms of compliance, there are those that say, “no specific provisions required” and those that suggest a “Compliance Committee” with “an enforcement branch and a facilitative branch”. The possibility of sanctions is mentioned and also suggested is the “use of economic instruments such as market mechanisms as a way to promote compliance”. Bolivia has included the proposal for an “International Climate Justice Tribunal”.

These token mentions of rights and recognition of those at the frontlines of climate change are empty promises with no concrete commitments attached to them. The negotiations around solutions to climate change need to have the rights of peoples and Nature at its heart.

Fighting for our Future now, not in Paris

The nature of climate change with its feedback mechanism is such that what we did in the past is what we reap now. Following this logic, what we do now is what we will reap in the next 10 years, and if the current text is to be the basis of that future, we will have none of which to speak.

There is no cheating, buying or creating loopholes to delay action until 2030 – the time to act decisively is now. And these are very concrete and clear actions that need to be taken:

  • leave 80 percent of the known fossil fuels reserves under the ground
  • deep emissions cuts to achieve global targets – 44 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2e by 2020, 40 Gt by 2025 and 35 Gt by 2030
  • reduce military and defense expenditures, which account for more than 1.5 trillion dollars globally, and instead channel these funds to provide public finance for developing countries for adaptation, mitigation and for loss and damage
  • the recognition, respect and promotion of the rights of people and nature

A bad deal in Paris will lock in catastrophic consequences for the future of the planet and humanity. The urgency of the task at hand cannot be emphasized enough – we need to act now.

*Pablo Solón is Executive Director of Focus on the Global South.