The global climate is changing and the effects are real. Several research studies have confirmed it and in reality we have all experienced or witnessed effects such as the acute droughts in the Horn of Africa, heavy floods, uncertain rainfall and the resulting consecutive crop failure and other more frequent and extreme weather patterns.
A dynamic two-week of intense negotiations on the climate change agenda in Durban, South Africa from 28th November to 9th December 2011 resulted in some decisive next steps for this global crisis that is threatening mother earth and her inhabitants. Various stakeholders from all walks of life were in Durban including civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, women's rights organizations, the youth, government representatives and development partners for the Seventieth Conference of the Parties (COP-17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The UNFCC Secretariat approximated up to 25,000 people from over 190 countries were in Durban and as with other COPs, the 17th COP was not only a place for heightened negotiations on the climate change agenda for all these stakeholders on one hand but also equally important it presented the unique opportunity of facilitating information and knowledge sharing through the numerous side events and caucuses.
The first week of the talks was marked with lots of speculations and uncertainty especially around the parties' consensus in entering into the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, as well as the much-expected birth and/or operationalization of the Green Climate Fund, which is expected to channel much of the annual US $100 billion to developing countries to aid in cutting emissions and adapting to climate change by 2020.
So Did Durban Deliver?
According to different expert observers, key outcomes of COP-17 include the reaching to an agreement on a second commitment period for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. There were fears that the Kyoto Protocol (the only legally binding treaty to combat climate change) would 'die' in Durban and this decision secured its extension while a new global and comprehensive climate agreement is being negotiated to be finalized in 2015 and operational in 2020. However, major developed-country emitters—including Japan, Russia and Canada — have withdrawn from the Protocol, with Canada being the latest in December 2011 and Japan and Russia having pulled out in December 2010. The United States of America remains to be the only country to never have ratified the Protocol. It is therefore hoped that the new global agreement to be negotiated in the coming years will include all parties not included in the Kyoto Protocol.
In addition, another significant outcome from Durban was the decision to operationalize the Green Climate Fund. It is hoped that the Fund receives adequate funding that shall be managed and administered in an open and transparent manner, with focus on supporting several activities on the ground in developing countries aimed at tackling climate change.
Gender and Climate Justice
In the context of climate change, gender justice is so critical. This is because women and men experience the effects and impacts of climate change differently due to the roles and responsibilities they normally fulfil in their public and private lives. Therefore, the gender differentiated effects and impacts have to be taken into account when designing policies and programmes for mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change and those anticipated to occur in the future.
According to the BRIDGE Bulletin, Issue 22 (November 2011) "responses to climate change tend to focus on scientific and economic solutions rather than addressing the vitally significant human and gender dimensions. However, for climate change responses to be effective, thinking must move beyond these limited approaches to become people-focused, and focus on the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents in the struggle for gender equality". Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland who now chairs the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice, was in Durban and she noted that "we have an opportunity if we link the leadership of women at the grass-roots, their wisdom, their knowledge, their coping mechanisms with the fact that more and more women are ministers and leaders who have access to the negotiating tables...where decisions are being taken."
Fortunately, there has been some progress since 2007 in incorporating gender dimensions of climate change in most documents and conversations by the UNFCCC secretariat. However, there is still need for gender advocates to continuously monitor the implementation at local and national levels critically. The UN Women have commended the outcomes of the COP-17 particularly in as far as integrating gender aspects in the soon-to-be created Green Climate Fund, in its objectives and guiding principles, operational modalities and goal for gender balance on its board and secretariat .
All in all, we still have a long way to go and hope that 2012 will be a year for renewed activism for global justice within the various planned multilateral processes, notably the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 (also known as Rio +20). FEMNET will keenly follow these and other process in our endeavour to promote and sustain communication, dialogue and collective action within and among women's organizations and networks in Africa on issues that shape their development and empowerment. Issues like access to information become very critical in the empowerment process and this is one of the reasons FEMNET as a Network that facilitates communication and information sharing will continue to support the joint initiative of FEMNET-Mali (an institutional member of FEMNET) and KULU (a Women and Development organization based in Denmark and FEMNET's partner) by way of introducing a web page on "Women, Gender and Climate Justice" on its website accessible at www.femnet.or.ke. The goal is to provide information and interesting updates on what is happening in the Africa region and globally on issues of women, gender and climate change so as to support the continued engagement in the international and regional climate negotiations, debates and processes.