It was a beautiful day In Glasgow yesterday, clear and bright, with a lot of sunshine and not too cold; good for the thousands of people dashing from venue to venue for the next event. The COP26 Presidency Programme was focused on two themes, ‘Gender: Progressing gender equality and the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action.’ and ‘Science and Innovation: Demonstrating that science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet, and accelerate, increased ambition.’
Interestingly, of the six high-level events in the Blue Zone yesterday, five were around science and innovation subjects, only one about advancing gender equality in climate action. In the usual UK governmental way of not practising what it preaches, women are outnumbered overall in the UK COP26 team, and significantly so in the most senior, public-facing roles. And of the 250 or so UN Side Events, only 8 actually directly address gender justice and power in climate action, though more, in a way that is quite familiar to me, include the word ‘gender’ somewhere in their blurb.
But the civil society groups are much more direct in their approach. I attended a fantastic event organised by Christian Aid, launching a new report: Women on the Front Line: Healing the Earth, seeking justice. The report calls for a feminist and decolonial approach to climate change that shifts power and resources to women and the Global South, and delivers co-benefits for gender, climate and environmental justice. An inspiring panel of speakers from India, Kenya and Brazil, along with Christian Aid CEO Amanda Khosi Mukwashi, made a strong case for a new feminist social contract, especially in light of the COVID19 pandemic, and for a decolonial approach to climate change.
From Northern Kenya, Ikal Angelei described the systemic crises-of water, of poverty, of economics-that confront the women for whom climate drought is a lived experience, and who are actually the ones at the very frontline of emergency response. But women’s platforms are limited and decreasing, and too much is being given over to huge infrastructure projects. Who’s controlling the finance of these, what are the costs, who has access? The same is true for mining expansion-as mining for coal decreases, extraction of minerals increases, with the same huge environmental damage to local communities. Who owns this, and who is accountable? Adaptation should not be adaptation to injustice. Women don’t need empowerment, they need power.
Locally-led funding, the collectivising of small projects, a greater focus on gender impacts, new loss and damage, needs-based funding, and the ability to question what is being discussed about carbon-offsetting behind closed doors, all of these are crucial, and international solidarity is critical, especially given the shameful political failures on climate action since 2015. As Amanda declared, enough is enough, the time is now. The more we wait, the worse things are getting. The question should no longer be, ‘why women should be included in climate decision-making’, the question now is, ‘by what authority are women, the global majority, the experts in survival, the ones who are always doing damage limitation, being excluded?’ Or as the Poverty Truth Commission in Scotland says ‘nothing about us without us is for us!’
My other house guests, Manon and Mathilde, are in Glasgow representing the Climate Action Alliance in France at COP26. Mathilde is their communications lead, and Manon is an independent film maker, making two short films about COP26 for use on French social media. Both of them are working very long hours online and editing, but the five of us did manage to have a very convivial dinner last night, cooked by Manon. I was prohibited from doing the washing-up, since it is not considered culturally appropriate in Nigeria for older people to have to do this.
In other news, COP26 “has a massive credibility, action and commitment gap”, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). Despite the pledges made last week, the world is still nowhere near its goals on limiting global temperature rise. It calculates that the world is heading for 2.4C of warming, far more than the 1.5C limit nations committed to, and far more than the 1.8C that was being talked up over the weekend, rather over-optimistically, it seems. And the UK’s Met Office warns that a billion people could be affected by fatal heat and humidity if the global average temperature rises by 2C above pre-industrial levels. Given this (not unexpected) gloomy news, Boris Johnston is apparently on his way back to Glasgow.
And prayers for climate justice were offered in Glasgow at a service of solidarity with communities in the Amazon rainforest who play a key role as forest defenders.
– Kathy Galloway
Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.
Photo © Christian Aid. Used by permission of Christian Aid