Climate Change: Let’s Prepare To Survive As Best We Can


The Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) is now several weeks behind us, but is by no means “last year’s news.” I am continuing to share with you feedback and opinions from around the Caribbean. Please find below the official report of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), compiled by Chairperson Flavia Cherry. It’s a call to the women of the region to hold strong in the light of what CAFRA perceives as a disappointing outcome for Caribbean women and civil society in general. I highlighted some phrases, here and there.

This beautiful painting by Jonathan Gladding is a contribution to the "1.5 To Stay Alive" campaign. (Photo: Contributed/Panos Caribbean)
This beautiful painting by Jonathan Gladding was a contribution to the “1.5 To Stay Alive” campaign. (Photo: Contributed/Panos Caribbean)

SUMMARY

Climate Change is an imminent threat to humanity, but COP 21, which was held in Paris from November 27th to December 12th 2015 did not deliver the solutions and commitments that it was expected to. Despite the limited gains, it is a loaded barrel for us in the Caribbean and the best we can do now is to prepare to adapt and mitigate as best as we can, because the present trajectory is set to continue for the next five years and will not end the sudden and extreme weather events that have been affecting us as a result of climate change.

The new agreement does not have stand-alone provisions to enable our small island developing states to be compensated for the inevitable loss and damage that will result from climate change and it does not address the structures, injustices and inequality that have led us to this point of climate crisis.

BACKGROUND

The issue of Climate Change is one of the many priorities identified by members during CAFRA’s General Assembly which was held in June 2015 in St. Lucia. At the Assembly, CAFRA members from the Francophone Caribbean had recommended that the Environment, Disaster Preparedness and Intervention as well as Climate Change be included in the priority areas for programming regionally, and in August 2015 they wrote to the Secretariat to advise that they would organize a sub-regional meeting for the Creole and French speaking member countries to be held in Guadeloupe, as part of plans to prepare for COP 21 and to finalize plans for participation in the event.

That meeting was held in Guadeloupe on September 11th and 12th 2015 and members from St. Lucia, Dominica, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana and St. Martin attended. At that meeting members discussed the issue of Climate Change and presentations were made about the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States. Members also had the opportunity to learn about the actions and activities of other Civil Society Organizations that had been engaging in advocacy and action on the issue of climate change.

Copies of the last Climate Change Agreement were circulated and members had the opportunity to review the provisions and to make recommendations for inclusion and consideration. It was also agreed that:

  • All CAFRA members would be encouraged to undertake activities and outreach in relation to climate change
  • Members from Martinique and Guadeloupe had already raised funds for participation and would be including members from the other Francophone countries as well as Dominica and Haiti as part of the team to be sponsored.
  • At least one young feminist would be included in the participating group from Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
  • Members from the rest of the region would be encouraged to attend COP 21 and as part of country delegations (where possible)
  • A mapping exercise would be done, so that CAFRA members from around the region would provide the names and contact information of their respective national delegates who would be attending COP 21. Any other information regarding positions of states would be helpful for lobbying purposes while in Paris
  • CAFRA would join with other women’s groups and networks working on Climate Change as part of its strategies during COP 21
  • In light of the economic circumstances, other members who wished to attend COP 21 would be asked to raise funds through their respective national groups
  • Members would work on posters and material to be used at the Exhibition Space during COP 21

Most members arrived in Paris by the 29th of November and remained till the bitter end, to see the final agreement which was accepted on December 12th 2015.

We wish to thank all members of CAFRA who participated in the mapping exercise in preparation for COP 21 because it helped in no small way to facilitate the outreach to Caribbean delegations from the French, English and Spanish speaking Caribbean during COP 21. Delegates from Cuba and the DR were also contacted, thanks to the support from members in those countries.

PREPARATION for COP 21

In preparation for COP 21, CAFRA members from around the region (with the exception of two groups) participated in a mapping exercise and assisted in reaching out to delegates in-country. This made it easier to reach out to delegates while in Paris and in several cases, we were also able to do outreach via email.

Flooding in Cuba. (Photo: IPS News)

The 1.5 Campaign and Funding for Climate Change

As most members will be aware, the Caribbean had decided in advance of COP 21 to stand united in its demand for a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap on the emission of greenhouse gases. This was a position we supported 100% and had pushed for it to be included in the global women’s call. This was achieved and it is in fact the current No 1 demand from the Global Women’s Call for Climate Justice.

CARICOM had stated earlier that it would be sending a very clear message at the negotiations, that our small island states are in serious danger and we were therefore not prepared to accept anything less. There is no denying this fact. All around the Caribbean we see the impact of climate change. We see the havoc caused by extreme weather systems, seaweed, floods etc. Our representative from Dominica, Ms. Rhoda Samuel put it best: “The World Bank has reported that as a result of the last extreme weather system, Dominica lost 90% of its GDP. This climate change reality is therefore no joke. Even our fishermen are not getting the catch that they were accustomed to. In fact, it is becoming more expensive to go fishing than to benefit from the catch. Climate Change is now one of our biggest challenges and we must do something as women.” That was the comment she made at our preparatory meeting and it signals the severity of this issue, for us. In fact, with Climate Change, we could lose most of the gains we have made towards gender equality in the region, if something is not done.

Because the Caribbean is already reeling from the harsh realities of climate change, CARICOM had also decided to push for funding for adaptation projects at COP 21 and to lobby for the removal of intermediaries such as the World Bank, when receiving promised funds to deal with climate change. In fact, Caribbean leaders had long complained that the funding for climate change which has been received so far, has all come through intermediaries like the World Bank, IDB, UNDP etc and the process for acquisition of those funds had been quite “burdensome.” The Caribbean was therefore pushing for receipt of those funds directly from the Green Climate Fund.

OUR STRATEGY IN PARIS

Our strategy in Paris was multifaceted. Some members focussed on advocacy and actions during the event, by participating in Press Conferences various protest activities and events. Others focussed exclusively on reaching out to delegates, following the discussions and studying the texts being submitted from the various meetings and break-out/spin-off groups, with a view to making recommended changes to be passed on to delegates. Most of this was done in collaboration with other organizations at COP 21. We were also fortunate to be part of the Women’s Global Constituency and members in Paris received all updates from caucus meetings. Pictures of some of the activities and solidarity among members at COP 21 are submitted as Appendix 1to this report.

Caribbean Civil Society at COP 21

Civil society from the Caribbean was largely missing at COP 21, with the exception of Gordon Bispham who came for one week and some youth delegates from the Caribbean Youth Environment Network who also came for one week.

With the exception of those mentioned above, CAFRA was the only group from regional civil society, which had a team at COP 21 and this experience helped us to become more committed to further involvement in Climate Change activism and also to push for involvement of more women from around the region as well as civil society generally. Climate Change is one of the most critical issues for the Caribbean at this time and we must find a way to make it more of a priority with other civil society groups.

Some members have recommended that we host a regional Climate Change Conference. This proposal will be discussed at our next meeting.

Caribbean youth posing at COP21 with Mary Robinson, former UN Human Rights Commissioner and a member of The Elders, who now leads a foundation dedicated to climate justice. (Photo: Ayesha Constable/Twitter)
Caribbean youth posing at COP21 with Mary Robinson, former UN Human Rights Commissioner and a member of The Elders, who now leads a foundation dedicated to climate justice. (Photo: Ayesha Constable/Twitter)

Youth Participation

We were extremely excited about the participation of Caribbean youth from the Caribbean Youth Environment Network but lamented the fact that they were there for only a limited period. For climate change negotiations, it is very important to be present and to lobby and keep that presence till the bitter end, because it is a very intense experience, with all kinds of machinations and bullying from developed countries.

Fortunately, our very own young feminists from CAFRA were there from beginning to end! They assisted greatly in our actions and were also able to work with youth from other regions of the world.

I was very happy to meet Ms. Ayesha Constable of Jamaica. We sat down and spoke about activism in the Caribbean and I informed her of the revitalization of CAFRA and our plans since the association’s general assembly which was held this year.

She is exactly the kind of young feminist who should be pivotal in moving the agenda for a revitalized CAFRA and I encouraged her to join. She promised to explore that option when she returns to Jamaica.

Flavia Cherry of St. Lucia, CAFRA Chairperson. (Photo: feministactivism.com)
Flavia Cherry of St. Lucia, CAFRA Chairperson. (Photo: feministactivism.com)

THE CARIBBEAN IN PARIS

St. Lucia led the CARICOM delegation at COP 21 and made the case for our Small Island Developing States. For us, this was a marked improvement from the earlier discussions for a draft agreement which had been held in Germany in October. As reported earlier from that conference, we felt that the Caribbean negotiators were weak so it was encouraging to see Dr. James Fletcher from St. Lucia leading this time, with a more competent team. We were optimistic, especially after St. Lucia’s Prime Minister addressed the opening of COP 21 and made a very strong case for 1.5 and inclusion of Loss and Damage as a stand alone section separate and apart from Adaptation. We had been lobbying for this in Germany and had high hopes.

The Caribbean had come to COP 21 with a very clear and ambitious agenda which was in keeping with our own demands as women but for us, the icing on the cake would have been to see our recommendations for inclusion of both gender and human rights in the substantive text and not just in the Purpose or Preamble and in a few limited areas (in the case of human rights). We were on a roll and the first day started well enough, but while listening to the opening speeches of other world leaders, it was from that point we recognized that beneath all of the rhetoric, most countries were unlikely to make the major concessions necessary to reverse the destructive trend of climate change which is having such a terrible effect on our small island states.

Delegates from Caribbean countries came from Ministries of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and in some cases there were also officials from other Ministries. The French dependent countries of the Caribbean were also present. And for the first time, the Caribbean had its own designated space at COP, which made it a lot easier to meet Caribbean delegates. It was a great space for media outreach also, because we had two great female journalists from St. Lucia and there were French media outlets from the Francophone Caribbean. Unlike other times when delegates would have to be met in the halls of the conference room or during lunch breaks, this time was different because the Caribbean Pavilion (which was sponsored by the CDB, the Regional Council of Martinique, CARICOM, Panos Caribbean, OECS and St. Lucia Ministry of Sustainable Development), provided a space not only to meet, but to host events such as panel discussions and the like.

At the end of the first week of COP 21, our Caribbean negotiators handed over the draft version of the expected global climate change agreement to the Ministers who were expected to hammer out the final document by the end of the week. At that point, it was now up to Ministers to continue the technical discussions delegates had during the first segment of the talks but with a politically nuanced view as countries had to agree to complex economic and development meeting points to address climate change.

Dr. James Fletcher. Minister for Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology of St. Lucia took up the mantle as leader of the CARICOM team and worked with the politicians, Ministers and high level ambassadors who were there as heads of their delegations.

We were extremely disappointed with the first draft, but even at that point we were hopeful that world leaders would finally break apart from the world’s fossil fuel dependence and quickly move towards a more low-carbon economy with more resilient cities, communities and businesses. At that point, there was still no agreement on 1.5 but the Caribbean was intent on striking a deal to keep the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.

For this to happen, parties would have had to agree to heavy cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and financial support to comply with inversion to cleaner energy and adaption to climate impacts. By that time, (we) civil society had been locked out of the negotiations and the COP President had set up negotiating groups so there were co-chairs on particular subjects – ambition, differentiation, means of implementation and adaptation.

Dr. James Fletcher was one of the co-chairs with the Minister from Norway, looking at Ambition.

GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE CONFERENCE

The COP 21 opened with wonderful assertions by world leaders to take robust actions to halt further global warming and to lead the world towards targets that will allow humanity to survive in a more sustainable manner. Leaders from the world’s biggest polluting countries supported calls for a stronger target to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. The current temperature goal on the negotiating table was an increase of 2 degrees C and for us in the Caribbean this meant certain destruction and more extreme weather conditions which will eventually change human existence in the Caribbean, the way we know it. It was wonderful to hear the world’s biggest and historical polluters speaking of their commitments to limit climate change. It was like finally, we may have a united resolve on the way forward!

Achieving a 1.5 degrees C would not only mean significant changes to be made by developed countries, but in some cases they would have to reduce their emissions by more than 80% by 2030. Of course this would mean significantly overhauling existing production patterns and would require heavy commitments towards alternatives. This would be the logical solution (and in keeping with the UNFCCC’s principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities’) because the developed countries have already used up more of their fair share of the carbon budget in the course of growing their economies, and whatever is left is expected to have been apportioned to allow developing countries to achieve a certain level of economic growth. It means that countries that have contributed the most to the climate crisis must do more to cut down their pollution and help countries that are impacted.

Unfortunately the logical outcomes for COP 21 were proving to be an uphill battle, as developed countries were only willing to consider the issue of loss and damage on condition that they do not pay for the loss and damage that they have caused to developing countries hit by extreme weather events and other long-term environmental impacts. That, among many other contentious issues were being debated behind closed doors while we the observers were kept in the dark and were only hearing of the heavy handed and unfair tactics being imposed by developed countries.

It was therefore not surprising when the first draft of the agreement was released, that civil society stood strongly opposed to it.

 First Draft

When the first Draft of the Agreement was released at Le Bourget, there was widespread disappointment. With most of the crucial elements that we were pushing for now bracketed (i.e. uncertain), the draft agreement had been almost reduced to empty rhetoric and far from what was needed to prevent global temperature rise beyond the catastrophic 2 degree level, let alone 1.5 degrees.

The new draft presented two options for mitigation, a not very ambitious quantitative target and a qualitative target that would either be carbon neutral or decarbonisation—neither of which is very ambitious. We did not agree to both options because they would allow countries to keep emitting.

With regards to finance, the agreement was equally disappointing. While it said financial assistance would be provided to vulnerable countries, the options did not promise much and the key words and specifics were all bracketed. This was of course, a reflection of the resistance of developed country parties to describe finance in the way that is necessary to make that critical difference for our small island states, in light of what is happening. It was also our perception of what we felt was being pushed behind closed doors when developed countries were having bilateral meetings with our own leaders, including a serious push back on Loss and Damage.

In fact in that first draft, no new funding had been added to the table but rather, existing commitments had been rephrased and packaged in a new way, such as the much-hyped about commitment by the U.S. of $800 million in adaptation finance. We saw this as all lofty promises made on the adaptation section, but they were not supported by the content in the finance section, thereby making those promises virtually meaningless.

To make matters worse, while Loss and Damage (adverse effects of climate change that occur despite mitigation and adaptation efforts) had been included into the text, finance was not dedicated to it.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—i.e. the measurements countries have committed to take to combat climate change—that have been submitted so far, were much lower than what was expected and were not ambitious enough for the immediate cuts in emission needed to stay below the 1.5 degrees mark.

For all these reasons, including the shameful lack of proper inclusion for human rights we felt that the draft agreement was not acceptable and let our voices be heard through the many protest activities immediately following its release.

Logo_COP_21_Paris_2015MEETING WITH CHAIRPERSON OF G77 and China

At the Conference in Germany, we had secured a meeting with Ambassador Ms. Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa, Chairperson of the G77 and China group and this time around, in Paris, we also had a meeting with her, to express our concerns related to the Agreement. Together with women from other groups, we drafted our feedback to the Chairperson and thanks to Gordon Bispham’s input, we brought it down to the right level of diplomacy, while at the same time making our demands very clear.

As usual, we were grateful for that opportunity and the commitment received, to work with Parties towards a fair agreement in the days ahead.

ADVOCACY AND ACTIONS

Following the release of the draft agreement, we were very proactive and continued our lobbying efforts, while at the same time participating in press conferences, and solidarity events, as well as protest activities.

I participated in two major press conferences – one focussing on the need for inclusion of gender in the agreement and the other was with civil society colleagues from the various constituencies who had joined with us to call attention to the unfair removal of human rights in most of the text. We had decided earlier on, that we would all stand together for the inclusion of human rights and that second press conference was to show solidarity across all constituencies for its inclusion.

Meeting with Leaders at COP 21

In an effort to garner up support for our cause at COP 21, we also met with representatives of various organizations and some leaders. For example, we had a meeting with Ms. Aisha Mohammed, the new Minister of the Environment of Nigeria and also Ms. Catherine Mc Kenna (the new Minister of the Environment of Canada) and her team. At all meetings we got varying levels of promises regarding our push for 1.5 and the need for inclusion of gender and human rights in the substantive texts of the agreement.   See below picture of our meeting with the new Minister of the Environment in Nigeria

THE FINAL AGREEMENT

The final agreement is a major disappointment although we have conceded that we now have to work with it and indeed with our respective Governments to push for more effective implementation of climate change solutions and strategies to mitigate and prepare for it.

A copy of the final agreement has been circulated and I am sure you will all agree that contrary to the exercise in self- praise at the end of COP 21, we really do not have much to hold on to. In fact, current targets will allow emitters to have a free rein for another five years, as the agreement only comes into effect after that. That means Governments and the big offending companies will continue their use of fossil fuels and in the meantime, the debt that they owe us for all the past and continuing destruction will remain unpaid.

There is no doubt about it. We, in the Caribbean will continue to experience permanent losses and widespread destruction from climate change. This reality, coupled with the widespread inequality, increasing debt, rise in crime and violence as well as issues of sexual and reproductive health, means that as women of the Caribbean, there has never been a better or more urgent time for us to be united to deal with our imminent challenges.

Finally, I wish to thank again, all members who participated in our pre-COP activities, including the mapping exercise. Thanks to our Francophone members for making it possible for most of those who attended and also our most gracious thanks to members from the Spanish Caribbean who also reached out to their delegates, especially our members from Cuba.

 

By: Flavia Cherry, Chairperson – CAFRA

 

 

 

 


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