Climate Change

Climate talks have to be reimagined as they’re dysfunctional, says Bonn delegate

Babitha PS speaks on visa issues, safety and women’s representation at climate conferences

By Anushree Pratap
Published: Tuesday 25 July 2023


Babitha leads protest on climate justice and gender rights in front of COP27 venue. Photo: Marisa Hutchinson / International Women's Rights Action Watch.

Babitha at action on climate justice and gender rights in front of COP27 venue. Photo: Marisa Hutchinson / International Women’s Rights Action Watch.

The countdown for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Dubai from November 30, 2023 has started.

Leaders and delegates worldwide at COP28 will debate critical actions to address climate change as the planet continues to grapple with global warming. 

As a prelude to COP28, delegates gathered in Bonn, Germany, from June 5-15 for the UN’s mid-year climate conference, also known as the meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB58).

The Bonn meet discussed several key issues, such as climate financing, the responsibility of the Global North to developing countries and preparation for the upcoming COP28.

However, experts at the meeting also raised various issues related to visa, safety and representation of women at climate conferences.

Down To Earth spoke to one such expert Babitha PS, an activist from Kerala. Babitha, who has participated in COP26, SB56, COP27 and SB58, will attend COP28 as a part of the “Not Without Us!” project of Gender CC, a women’s collective for climate justice.

“Not Without Us” was launched in 2017 to promote the integration of gender justice in international climate discussions. Babitha has delivered interventions and negotiations representing the Women and Gender Constituency, a feminist network under UNFCCC. Edited excerpts:  

Anushree Pratap: Do you think that over the time of multiple such conferences, gender justice has gained prominence and been given more time as an agenda point at Bonn? 


Babitha PS: Gender has been included in the agenda with a consistent push from civil society organisations. We have a Gender Action Plan, which I focus on, and Action for Climate Empowerment, which also has a gender element. 

Still, gender-related issues are not given importance to a great extent. Most importantly, sexual and reproductive health is nowhere in the picture.

AP: Climate financing has been one of the main points in many conferences, along with developed countries’ responsibility towards developing countries. But will climate financing benefit women (especially those from marginalised communities) and other marginalised groups in developed or developing countries? 

BPS: The first thing is to get the money, which is still being debated. At the last session, we heard developing countries saying that they felt targeted and bullied when the dialogue of money was raised. 

Asking for money is always seen as asking for charity, which it is not. Something we always talk about is the historical responsibility of the Global North which they cannot forgo.

However, there is something which we as a country should also be aware of. While we talk about racism, we fail to mention casteism. When the money comes, if at all, we (women from marginalised communities and other underrepresented voices) must get the finance we deserve. Systems should be placed in such a way that the beneficiaries are given space for decision-making.

I have concerns related to the distribution of the money. While there should be mechanisms to ensure the money is utilised well, getting what we need should be the priority. The current mechanisms and structures are dysfunctional and need to be upgraded. 

There are many grassroots-level leadership programmes run by women. Currently, they are not getting any kind of support from the state or the Global North, nor are they given any decision-making power. 

With finance, the motto is always: Nothing for us without us.

AP: How much space was given to different voices and narratives at Bonn? What actions should be taken before and during these conferences to ensure fair representation of intersectional gender identities and their access to decision-making power?

BPS: Obtaining visas to reach the venue has always been a huge hurdle. The amount of effort and resources required for the application process itself is very tiring, especially for smaller organisations and groups with limited support. This issue was presented at the SB. But they, too, are concerned about the visa process.

Moreover, there were multiple cases of sexual harassment during the entire process. This was brought to the attention and addressed at the SB session.

Civil Society Organisations (CSO) go through multiple hurdles in order to be represented. It starts right from getting badges, which are often limited in number.

Finding sponsors to meet the travel and accommodation is hard especially because CSOs have limited resources. Then comes the bigger hurdle of getting a visa. The application process is so hard and we never get an appointment in time.  Even if we cross all these barriers, there were times we were not allowed in meeting rooms saying that there are limited seating facilities. So being represented and making our voices heard has always been a big structural issue.

The shrinking space of civil society organisations is also something to worry about. The number of people who represent these organisations is also shrinking, especially indigenous people and youth.

The system itself has to be reimagined because it is dysfunctional. COP has been happening for over two decades. It takes years to add a text. And after it gets finalised, it may or may not work. A lot of dilution also happens even after addition. 

The language of the technical texts has also been exclusionary. The exclusion happens at many levels. It starts with accessing the data.

You have to sit and learn the terminologies and go through the process, and it has been made so complicated that whoever is trying to access it has to go through a painful amount of learning. Why is it made complicated — so that the access can be denied? 

AP: With regard to gender and caste justice in climate action from an Indian perspective, what more should India be bringing to this platform? 

BPS: India should lead by example by giving women of all diversities, youth and children more power. The country should hold the people who are responsible for their actions.

We can’t just put in policies and ask for foreign money while, at the same time, letting corporate companies snatch everything from the people. India cannot have that double standard anymore.

It is high time that we acknowledge that we do have the solutions. India takes pride in its indigenous and traditional knowledge. When I say traditional, I mean the indigenous people who know how to mitigate and adapt to climate crisis.

There are a lot of indigenous women leaders from within the country. Can we listen to them? Amplify their voice, give power to them and finance them. 

AP: What specific challenges do women and gender minorities face outside the main negotiation space?

BPS: Outside the venue, the safety of delegates and women coming into the space is compromised at many levels. This is something which was brought to the front this time.

If this is the situation at UN meets, how safe are we in our home countries? Because at the end of the day, we have to return to our home countries and work there. We have concerns about our digital safety as well.

People’s safety has always been a concern, let it be racism or harassment. This time, the media also took up safety issues. I was glad that this was addressed on a larger scale.

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