By Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director
Date: 8 December 2009
Occasion: United Nations Climate Change Conference, 7-18 December 2009
Copenhagen — The UN Climate Change Conference has opened with an unprecedented sense of urgency to act on climate change. World leaders seeking a political framework agreement should use this momentum to find a way to balance diverse histories, perspectives and priorities in order to move forward. By anchoring the issues of adaptation and mitigation within the right to development, such an agreement could provide a framework for implementation, enhancing the capacity of countries to adapt to existing climate change challenges, and supplying the needed technology and resources to do so. As such it has the potential to revitalize the partnership for development envisioned in the Millennium Declaration and give new hope to achieving international development goals, including gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Such an agreement requires acknowledging a shared interest in mitigating the impact of climate change, while recognizing the widely different degrees of responsibility for making it so urgent. It requires garnering the trust of the wider public in all countries, including those who have benefited the least from the kind of development that has created the problem and who have little voice in decisions to address it. If an agreement can be reached among countries at all levels of development, and widely different resources, to work together to halt this destructive progress, it can begin to make development meaningful for those still at its margins — including rural producers, urban slum dwellers, indigenous communities, poor households, refugees from natural disasters and other vulnerable groups, especially women.
Over the past few months, as women’s groups have successfully put gender equality concerns on the agenda, they are often asked why they see reaching an agreement such a priority. They answer in terms of its effect on their everyday lives. As providers of household needs, including fuel and water as well as food, women are on the front lines of climate change, and experience its impact most immediately. As farmers, entrepreneurs, managers of household resources, scientists and activists, they are also poised to drive positive change and contribute to a global response. They have participated in the environmental justice, human rights and development coalitions that have helped build the political momentum for an agreement. They understand that the longer an agreement is delayed, the more drastic the measures will have to be to address them, the more difficult they will be to take, and the less likely that the concerns of the most vulnerable will be viewed as priorities.
An agreement reached in Copenhagen will provide a template for next steps by a multitude of actors to mitigate and adapt to climate change — actors whose decisions and actions will impact women’s lives for generations. The Global Gender and Climate Alliance, a network of civil society organizations and UN partners including UNIFEM, is working to ensure that the shared vision for long-term cooperative action acknowledges the gender specific impacts of climate change and recognizes women as equal stakeholders in agreements to address them. Because the agreement aims not only to outline goals, but to set-up the mechanisms and processes to implement them, it is important to ensure that women are full participants in all of these processes, from adaptation and mitigation to technology transfer and finance.
If we are to develop the far-reaching climate change cooperation needed for effective development, world leaders cannot afford to ignore the potential contributions and needs of half of the global population. The resiliency of families, households and communities will depend on the strength and resiliency of women.