Climate Change

Climate Emergency CoP 25: Gender justice being marginalised in Madrid

Countries are nitpicking on Sustainable Development Goals and are divided on finance  

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 11 December 2019
Gender justice is being marginalised in Madrid
Photo: Jeannette Gurung @jeannettewocan / Twitter
Photo: Jeannette Gurung @jeannettewocan / Twitter

Climate justice is considered impossible without gender justice. But as the climate emergency builds closer to social tipping points, there is a danger that progress toward long-standing social ideals is undone. The UNFCCC process recognises these truths, which is why a Work Programme on Gender was initiated at the 20th Conference of Parties (CoP 20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima in 2014.

In 2016, at CoP 22 in Marrakech, countries adopted a decision to extend the work programme for three years. It underscored the importance of aligning gender-responsive climate policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by United Nations member countries in 2015.

The fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG5) mandated by the United Nations specifically calls for Gender Equality. This includes some general goals — “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere” — and some specific ones, for example:

  • “Eiminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”;
  • “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights […]”;
  • “Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources”

The decision at CoP 22 in Marrakech also laid out some climate-specific action points for countries:

  • Appoint and provide support for a national gender focal point for climate negotiations, implementation and monitoring
  • Increase the representation and active participation of women in the bodies established under the Convention
  • Mainstream a gender perspective in the enhancement of climate technology development and transfer
  • Integrate local and traditional knowledge in the formulation of climate policy and to recognize the value of the participation of grassroots women in gender-responsive climate action at all levels

Progress on these latter action points was supposed to be reviewed at CoP 25 this year. On December 9, 2019, at the beginning of the ‘political’ week of the CoP, the chair of the technical body discussing this issue handed it over to the political negotiators, noting that no consensus was found. This is a surprising and troubling development.

There was an inexplicably specific disagreement regarding how to refer to the 2030 Agenda within a CoP decision on gender — whether cohering climate policies with the 2030 Agenda “can improve”, “will improve”, “will contribute to improving” or “can contribute to improving” a gender-just transition.

Representatives from African and South American countries pushed for the stronger language, with the United States, Canada, European Union (EU) and Australia pushing back. The Canadian representative pointed out at one stage that this was a debate over semantics, but it did not seem to produce consensus.

In addition, developing countries wanted to discuss the question of “direct access” — transferring money from funds like the Green Climate Fund and Adaptation Fund directly to organisations operating at ground-level. There is a feeling among developing countries that more sub-national organisations need to be authorised (by the Funds) for such “direct access”, including grassroots organisations focused on gender.

This builds on a trend at CoP 25 of developing countries emphasising finance in every discussion. It is a development born out of too many broken promises by developed countries on finance, and finance is justifiably discussable under the stated agenda on gender. But developed countries including the EU and the US pushed back strongly, arguing that a separate finance agenda item was available for that debate.

The upshot of these disagreements is that — despite the Paris Agreement stating that countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on […] gender equality” — a forward-looking work programme on gender is on the verge of falling off the agenda in Madrid. 

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