The Calculus of Living and Dying: Towards a Feminist COP27 and Beyond

A catastrophe of epic proportions shakes a region of our earth every other month. When it doesn’t rain nonstop and submerge entire communities, there is a protracted starvation that leaves a trail of shrivelling bodies, both young and elderly. The climate catastrophe was once discussed as a problem for the far future. Today, the climate issue is constantly in the headlines, and for some of us who are living it directly, passivity is no longer an option. 

After six years, the 2022 climate negotiations (COP27) are now back on the African continent. At this critical time when the world and Africa particularly are battling multiple crises—climate change, economic crisis, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic—it is time for the global community to prioritise the needs of the region. Africa has contributed negligibly to climate change but has been hit the hardest by climate impacts. Although a changing climate affects all, women and girls—particularly those marginalised by various systems—bear greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. Despite facing multiple challenges and structural barriers, these groups are leading exceptional work protecting the natural environment, and their unique perspectives and solutions must be centered on climate change policies and processes.

On October 12, 2022, a coalition of African womens and girls advocates under the African Feminist COP27 Task Force launched a set of collective demands for meaningful accountability and action for climate change ahead of climate change negotiations (COP27) due in Egypt from the 6th to 18th of November, 2022. The 27 demands cover diverse areas of concern from women’s and youth leadership in climate processes, energy transition, climate finance, technology, and the interrelated demands for climate, social, and economic justice.

One of the primary concerns of the Taskforce is the historical and perpetual exclusion of women, girls, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and youth in their diversity at national and global policy dialogues concerned with climate change. Thus, the first set of demands calls for inclusion, equal representation and meaningful engagement of these marginalised groups at all climate change processes at global and national levels; knowledge and skills development opportunities related to the climate processes to aid their engagement; and the prioritisation of investment in implementation and monitoring of the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan, including support to National Gender Climate Change Focal Points.

Despite the continuous emphasis of the importance of women’s leadership in climate change policymaking across several key decisions, progress remains unacceptably slow. In a 2022 report on Women’s Participation in the UNFCCC, the Women’s Environment & Development Organisation reports that the percentage of women across all national delegations rose from 30 percent for meetings in 2009 to 38 percent in 2021, a less than 10 percentage point increase despite greater policy commitments and activities to promote equal participation. For several COPs, 10 percent of Heads of Government Delegations were women in 2009 and 13 percent  in 2021. The COP held in 2015 registered the lowest representation in the decade at  9% percent and 2017 was the highest of 26 percent. At this rate of change, the organisation warns, that gender parity in national COP delegations will not be achieved until 2040, and gender parity in COP Heads of Delegations will not be achieved within the forecastable future.

At this year’s COP27 the Taskforce is also calling for an equitable energy transition that urgently shifts from a fossil fuel-based economy to investments in safe and clean energy. Within this demand for a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels, for all, they call for developed countries to commit to immediately halt all new investments in fossil fuels and nuclear energy, with a clear and urgent shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to a sustainable, just and feminist economy centering gender-responsive use of renewable energies. In addition, they call for developed countries, particularly the European Union, to pull out of the Energy Charter Treaty and stop its expansion to other countries – as the treaty allows coal, oil and gas corporations to obstruct the transition to a clean energy system. 

Climate justice requires a just, 100% transition to renewable energy that is rights-based, justly sourced and that divests from the mining, fossil fuel, and agribusiness-based economy that fuels climate change. Last year at COP26 was the first time fossil fuels were mentioned in the UN-led climate talks, and the debate saw a fundamental division over coal versus oil and gas. Wealthy nations were willing to commit to phasing out coal, a key resource for developing nations, but were unwilling to commit to phasing out oil, a key resource and income stream for rich nations too. In negotiating on fossil fuels, the economic burden on the Global South grew with a focus on coal instead of oil, and language to “phase out” fossil fuels was watered down to “phase down. This therefore left a multitude of loopholes for the continuation of fossil fuel activities and investments.

COP27 got off to a historic start with loss and damage being officially included in the official COP agenda for the first time. Climate negotiations have continuously failed to meet developing countries’ needs and have been marked with empty promises and lack of support to fully address loss and damage and reparations for historical environmental injustices. Last year, the proposal for a dedicated funding mechanism for loss and damage was at the top of the COP26 political agenda, but was blocked by the United States and members of the European Union and others. Developed nations didn’t meet past climate financing commitments and the commitments made at COP26 did not reflect the urgency, or meet the needs, of the climate crisis.

The African Feminist COP27 Task Force therefore calls for the provision of adequate, accessible, affordable, flexible, and human-rights-centred climate finance as a matter of justice and equity. Furthermore, they demand the creation of a dedicated, debt-free finance facility for “loss and damage” to urgently support developing countries currently dealing with multiple losses and damages caused by the climate crisis; the delivery in full of $100bn climate finance per year; and the scaling up of adaptation finance by prioritising grants as opposed to loans.

With climate change threatening food production, the lobby to industrialise food production in Africa is changing seed and land laws across the continent to serve agribusiness corporations. These changes which have been facilitated by the privatisation and liberalisation of the agriculture sector has opened up the traditional seed system to profit oriented seed companies that are now contesting indigenous farmers’ rights to save, reuse, share seed, and exchange seeds. In addition, Africa remains at risk of losing out on indigenous seed varieties, biodiversity and food sovereignty through the introduction of hybrid and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO seeds). Contracts or “technology agreements” between farmers and seed companies dictate how farmers should grow their crops and force farmers to buy new genetically modified seed each year. 

The African COP27 Task Force demands expanded women’s access to and control over land, productive resources, and debt-free, flexible funding for ecological agricultural production and food sovereignty efforts; protection of the rights of women small-scale farmers and food producers, artisanal fisheries, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples from losses and damages caused by climate change, eviction, abuse, and violence; respect for communities’ rights to full control of their agriculture and indigenous seed and food systems, as well as traditional farmers’ rights as espoused in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. They also call for an immediate halt to the practice of “biopiracy” (the unauthorised appropriation and commercial exploitation of knowledge and genetic resources from farming and Indigenous communities by individuals or institutions seeking exclusive monopoly control through patents or intellectual property); and that private sector investments in mitigation and technology are not used as replacements for public investments. The Taskforce calls on the world to defund false solutions and untested, unsustainable and imposed technological fixes that prove to be nothing more than to spur profit generation schemes for foreign private investment. These corporate-friendly false solutions, like carbon markets, nature-based agendas, net-zero emissions, and financing tied up in loans amount to carbon colonialism. 

What the current global crises has truly further laid bare are the flaws and perversity on which our current economic system has been shaped and arranged. The ideologies that have been deployed to justify the accumulation of capital live on today through neoliberalism and the insidious contemporary incarnations of patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonialism that are central to its functioning. As systemic drivers of women’s oppression and inequality, they form an interlocking system that must be confronted and dismantled. As feminists who have long worked at the intersection of multiple forms of crises, oppressions and identities, we know that women’s human rights, gender justice, economic justice and climate justice for all cannot be achieved without systemic change—and that a ‘feminist recovery’ from COVID is impossible if it is not linked to a broad economic justice agenda aimed at creating an equitable, peaceful and healthy planet for all. In order to meet this moment, feminists are bringing both a synergy and a strong structural solution for global economic justice and one that interlinks the issues of trade, taxation, debt and overall macroeconomic systems and structures.

Najjuko Joanita

Programme Officer- Economic Justice and Climate Action

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