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COP27 Fails Women and Girls – High Time to Redefine Multilateralism –Part 3

The writer is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and former President of the Security Council.

Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Dec 14 2022 (IPS) - As COP27 was coming to a close, the leader of the Youth Constayituency of UNFCCC declared in an emotion-choked voice that “Incredible young people from the global North and the global South are standing together in solidarity asking for action. We need to look for more than hope. We need those in power to actually listen and implement the solutions”.

Action for implementation is the clarion call of the younger generation to tod’s decision-makers. It would be prudent to listen to the future decision-makers in the best interest our people and planet.


First, G20 Declaration last month in Bali, Indonesia resolved, “We will demonstrate leadership and take collective actions to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs by 2030 and address developmental challenges by reinvigorating a more inclusive multilateralism and reform aimed at implementing the 2030 Agenda.”

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

As we get energized by this commitment of the G20 leadership, a sobering UN Women 2022 research report tells us that the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 – in fact it is almost 300 years off. Our planet absolutely require the full and equal participation of women and girls, in all their diversity.

Without gender equality, there is no climate justice. Gender equality is the crucial missing link in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 5. Let us always be deliberate and consistent in ensuring space for young women and girls who have been leading global and national climate movements.

Only an estimated 0.01 per cent of global official development assistance addresses both climate change and women’s rights. The necessary structural measures require intentional, meaningful global investments that respond to the climate crisis and support women’s organizations and programmes. Astonishingly, less than 1 percent of international philanthropy goes to women’s environmental initiatives. That must change.


Second, activists express frustration saying that “Gender is still largely seen as an isolated issue that is discussed in a room away from the main debates about mitigation, financing, and technology. Thus, it does not appear to be an issue integrated within the intersecting policies of different ministries.

This reinforces the ignorant notion that women in all their diversity are neither key actors nor agents of change but merely victims of the climate crisis.” That mindset should go as it results in the continuation of patriarchal hegemony.

Women’s and girl’s full and equal participation in decision-making processes is a top priority in the fight against climate change. Without gender equality today, a sustainable, more equal future remains beyond our reach. Give power and platforms to the next generation of Earth champions. As has been said recently, “Our best counter-measure to the threat multiplier of climate change is the benefit multiplier of gender equality.”


Third, the current process continues to fail to meet the urgency and clarity of purpose that science and experience are calling for—a full-scale, just, equitable and gender-just transition away from a fossil fuel based extractive economy to a care and social protection centered regenerative economy.

Globally, for every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies. These subsidies are intended to protect companies and consumers from fluctuating fuel prices, but what they actually do is keep dirty energy companies very profitable. We are subsidizing the very behavior that is destroying our planet.

The UN should not allow future COPs to be an open platform for the presence of the fossil fuel lobby. Concrete action is needed to stop the toxic practices of the fossil fuel industry that is causing more damage to the climate than any other industry.


Fourth, the full impact of climate change on kids is becoming clearer and more alarming. Children’s developing brains and growing bodies make them particularly vulnerable. The very experience of childhood is at risk. Research reports concluded that with the increasing frequency and severity of climate crisis, young children are at risk of severe trauma during the period of life when neural connections in the brain are forming and susceptible to disruption. Reports found that “This trauma can have lifelong impacts on learning, health, and the ability to form meaningful relationships.”

Bearing this in mind, a much-needed step was taken at COP27 by recognizing “the role of children and youth as agents of change in addressing and responding to climate change”. It also encouraged “Parties to include children and youth in their processes for designing and implementing climate policy and action, and, as appropriate, to consider including young representatives and negotiators into their national delegations, recognizing the importance of intergenerational equity and maintaining the stability of the climate system for future generations.”

The decision expressed appreciation to COP27 Presidency “for its leadership in promoting the full, meaningful and equal participation of children and youth, including by co-organizing the first youth-led climate forum (the Sharm el-Sheikh youth climate dialogue), hosting the first children and youth pavilion and appointing the first youth envoy of a Presidency of the Conference of the Parties and encourages future incoming Presidencies of the Conference of the Parties to consider doing the same.” It would be more meaningful if the hard-headed negotiators and fossil-fuel lobby were exposed to the children and youth events at the main conference hall at COP27. Hopefully COP28 would arrange for that to happen.


Fifth, another positive outcome at COP27 is the first multilateral environmental agreement to include an explicit reference to the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This should open a path for this right to be recognized across all environmental governance and also codified by the United Nations.


Sixth, key civil society leaders were critical of their exclusion complaining that “Observers were consistently locked out of the negotiation rooms for a repeated ‘lack of sitting space’ excuse … We have also witnessed painful orchestration of last-minute decisions with few Parties.” They alerted the organizers and hosts of future COPs by saying that “This needs to be called out and ended.”

Strong civil society organizations are a critical counterbalance to powerful state and corporate actors. They help to keep governments accountable to the people they are meant to serve –– both key to climate action that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and planet.


Seventh, bringing together feminism and environmentalism, ecofeminism argues that the domination of women and the degradation of the environment are consequences of patriarchy and capitalism. Ecofeminism uses an intersectional feminist approach when striving to abolish structural obstacles that prevent women and girls from enjoying equal and livable planet. This is a smart and inclusive policy not only for women, but for the humankind as a whole.

Vandana Shiva, one of the world’s most prominent ecofeminist, propounds, “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” Any strategy to address one must take into account its impact on the other so that women’s equality should not be achieved at the expense of worsening the environment, and neither should environmental improvements be gained at the expense of women. Indeed, ecofeminism proposes that only by reversing current values, thereby privileging care and cooperation over more aggressive and dominating behaviors, can both society and environment benefit.


Civil society representatives at COP27 verbalized their anger by announcing that “Even as we call out the hypocrisy, inaction and injustice of this space, as civil society and movements connected in the fight for climate justice, we refuse to cede the space of multilateralism to short-sighted politicians and fossil-fuel driven corporate interests.”

Patricia Wattimena of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development pushes the point further to say, “We can’t keep on negotiating people’s rights at global climate talks. The rich must stop commodifying our rights especially women’s human rights and start paying for their ecological debt.”

With the 2030 deadline for SDGs knocking at the door, the call in the Bali G-20 Summit declaration for “inclusive multilateralism” is a timely alert to realise that current form of multilateralism dominated by rich and powerful countries and well-organized vested interests, on most occasions working with co-aligned objectives, cannot deliver the world we want for all. That elitist multilateralism has failed.

Minimalistic, divisive, dismissive, and arrogant multilateralism that we are experiencing now gives honest multilateralism a bad name. Multilateralism has become a sneaky slogan under which each country is hiding their narrow self-interest to the detriment of global humanity’s best interest. It is a sad reality that these days negotiators play “politicking and wordsmithing” at the cost of substance and action.

Multilateralism – as we are experiencing now – clearly shows it has lost its soul and objectivity. There is no genuine engagement, no honest desire to mutually accommodate and no willingness to rise above narrow self-interest-triggered agenda. It has become a one-way street, a mono-directional pathway for the rich and powerful. Today’s multilateralism needs redefining!

IPS UN Bureau


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