Yesterday, I wrote about how women from across the globe had come to Paris to tell their stories and put their community views in front of the decision makers here at COP21. The media coverage that the “gender” day yesterday (8th) has received hopefully means that the decision makers and negotiators are listening.
For Genevieve Azam, Leader International Commission of ATTAC-France (a citizen education NGO see https://france.attac.org/attac/qui-sommes-nous) the struggle to get gender recognized has been a long one.
She says that “getting gender recognized in the negotiations has been tough. A lot of countries are pushing back on having human rights recognized in the final document, including USA and Norway.” But the struggle was worth it, she told us, and she will be proud to say that “when it was time to act, I was there!”
Jacquie Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Social Justice Program from the U.S. gave us some powerful and emotional stories from the front line of women and their families living near coal fired power stations and coal mines. She made a strong case to have economic justice measures as a component of any outcomes from COP21. This is one of the sticking points that we are hearing from with the discussions.
Neema Namadeamu from the DR Congo, told us that any solutions from COP21 had to take Africa into account. The developing world needed to be considered as so much of the decision making impacts directly on local livelihoods. After the Amazon basin, Africa offers the largest carbon “sink” and for Neema and her community the planting of trees is a crucial and necessary task to ensure this important resource grows. “Europe is not going to solve this alone, Africa knows about climate change, and has to be part of the decision making”.
Closer to our own neighborhood we heard from Aleta Baun, a conservationist and activist from West Timor, whose powerful story of a struggle against mining companies on her land resonated with the audience. For Aleta and her community the Land is a living sentient being. “The Land is flesh, the water blood, the forest hair and the stones bones” and the mining companies were destroying this living being. After much struggle, the community succeeded in “refusing” the companies permission to continue their activities. This took over a decade from 1999-2010 and the long slow process of rehabilitation is now underway.
The last story of struggle and renewal was from Georgia. Nino Gamisonia, Projects Coordinator with the Rural Communities Development Agency of Abkhazia, Georgia has been working to reduce the use of firewood for heating, and encouraging the increased uptake of solar energy for houses and hot water. In their cold and harsh winters, the gathering and managing of wood falls to women, and the introduction and adaptation of solar energy has provided entrepreneurial opportunities as well as better health outcomes. Solar now powers their greenhouses and gives them incomes from solar drying of their fruit and vegetables which they can then sell to make some income.
This blog finishes with words from Mary Robinson, well known to many of us in Australia as she has been a regular visitor. Mary was the former President of Ireland and now heads up the Mary Robinson Foundation (http://www.mrfcj.org) and she joined us directly from inside the blue room at COP21. (Which, by the way, was no mean logistical feat, as we were in the centre of Paris, and she was some 10kms out of town and then had to turn around and go back again in heavy traffic) and brought with her the latest news on how the negotiations were going.
She reminded us that when she was President, Ireland brought people together to hear from Women what the impacts of climate change meant for them and their families. She did this through “learning circles” by having key policy makers at the table with grass roots community women. The message she took from this experience was that “integrated thinking is crucial”.
“COP21 should be ambitious. We should be asking ourselves ‘when do we get out of using fossil fuels?’. We should be aiming for zero carbon by 2050”.
“Where do we go after this extraordinary year? We need to consume more sustainably, use our precious resources more efficiently, and support transformational change across the world.”
This is where women are central, as it is women “who change behaviour. Mother Earth needs us and we need to stay together, and stay strong”.
For those of us hearing these stories, it was both an exhilarating and sobering experience. What can we do? Where can we being to “make change happen” as Mary Robinson has asked of us?
Your correspondent is still processing all this, and in my final blog tomorrow I’ll reflect on the experience a little further.
For those of you interested in Mary Robinson’s contribution to this global discussion, she will be in Australia next year, as a guest of the University of Melbourne Sustainability Institute. Follow: http://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/ for more details.
Mary Robinson is President of the Foundation and Chair of the Board of Trustees. She is a former President of Ireland (1990-1997) and a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002).