Transforming Representation at the UNFCCC

By Bridget Burns, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) 

A few weeks ago, WEDO was invited by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) to speak on a lively panel addressing the question, “Is international consensus on climate change the way to save the planet?” With panelists each given 3 minutes to ‘pitch’ their ideas for better approaches to taking action on climate change, WEDO’s argument was simple: diversity is key. As WEDO’s Bridget Burns argued, “Alternative spaces for consensus decision-making is a futile discussion until there’s equitable representation of perspectives around any table. If meaningfully included at the negotiating table, women’s, young people’s, indigenous and other voices can provide the cross-cutting experiences necessary to both embody social equity and transform environmental consensus-making.”

Further, she added, “There are countries – where the evidence is abundant that women and youth and communities facing marginalization contribute less to and will be most affected by climate change – that are represented by delegations of up to 20 men and no women? 20 men and no youth? Do we really expect this demographic alone to transform business as usual? Beyond capacity building…there is a need for resources to support delegates with expertise in cross-cutting social justice issues and human rights.”

Women’s representation in climate change decision-making is an important prerequisite for more gender-responsive and efficient policies that ultimately best serve the needs of society. This is a driving principle of WEDO’s work here at the UNFCCC, including in facilitating the Women Delegates Fund*. As highlighted in WEDO’s recent report on women’s participation in the UNFCCC, the good news on this front is that women’s participation in the process has increased both at the levels of overall involvement as well as in the highest levels of decision-making. However, women continue to be underrepresented across many countries of the world, particularly with respect to higher levels of leadership positions at the negotiations, and in countries most vulnerable to climate impacts.

In 2001, at COP 7 in Marrakesh, the first decision (Decision 36/CP.7) was adopted at the UNFCCC recognizing gender equality, particularly women’s participation as needed to achieve progress on mitigating and adapting to climate change at all levels. However, progress on implementing this decision has been slow, as highlighted by the current numbers of women on UNFCCC boards, bodies and delegations.

This year at COP18, a new proposal for a strengthened decision to enhance women’s participation has been proposed and supported by several countries, and it is hoped that this will once again highlight the importance of this issue. However, beyond this important decision poised to come out of Doha, to truly transform representation, more capacity and resources will be needed. On Friday, November 30th, WEDO will be hosting a “brownbag” lunch, “Diversity and Inclusivity in Decision-Making: Changing the Face of Representation at the UNFCCC”, from 1:30pm to 2:30pm to discuss ways and initiatives to truly transform representation—for women, youth, and civil society as a whole. This was the emphasis of WEDO’s pitch, which won the audience vote for ‘best idea”, at the CDKN event in London last month. As usual, the best ideas are usually driven by common sense.

Click here to read WEDO’s full pitch and watch a video of the event!

Follow updates on Twitter @WEDO_Worldwide & with WEDO team member Bridget Burns, @bridiekatie!

* Established in 2009 with support of the Government of Finland, the Women Delegates Fund (WDF) provides support to women delegates from developing countries, and specifically least developed countries, to participate in the global climate change negotiations at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change).