From the 6th to the 20th of November, heads of states, negotiators, scientists, lobbyists, and civil society came together in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP), or COP27, to negotiate international climate action. Clear results are urgently needed as there is only little time left to keep the 1.5 degree target established by the Paris Agreement – a goal that increasingly seems further away with every single COP. Of the 35,000 participants, 636 alone were fossil fuel lobbyists – largely outnumbering communities fighting at the frontlines. While negotiators were submerged in highly technical discussions, grassroots feminist organisations and civil society pushed for intersectional climate justice and the protection of human rights. But hosting COP27 in Egypt came with costs.
Tackle the root causes, not only the symptoms.
Regarding the outcome of COP27, a breakthrough was achieved when states agreed to establish a fund for loss and damage. The countries most impacted by the climate crisis demanded accountability for a crisis that was caused by the historic emissions of the Global North. This year, they overcame strong opposition, especially from rich countries, which previously opposed a fund, claiming that support was already being provided through humanitarian assistance. And so the establishment of a loss and damage fund was a step towards climate justice – particularly for Small Island states, who had pushed for such finance since the 1990s. So did civil society, who further pressured negotiators with powerful actions at COP to also cancel all debts of Global South countries to enable adequate responses to the climate crisis. Nevertheless, questions of who will be responsible for paying into the fund and who exactly will benefit as a ‘vulnerable’ country have yet to be discussed at COP28. And if we look at the $100 billion climate finance pledge already agreed upon at COP15, such funding promises unfortunately remain largely unfulfilled. What we need to see is commitment. Therefore, climate justice activists such as Mitzi Jonelle from the Philippines or Ayisha Siddiqa from Pakistan are urging to further pressure countries in order to see big polluters actually “pay up”. Especially as the lived realities of millions of displaced people due to the climate crisis, for instance in Pakistan and Afghanistan, show the urgency and necessity of a rapid implementation of a loss and damage fund.
Unfortunately, this success was aggravated and undermined by the failure of parties to agree to end the dependency on all fossil fuels within the final text. This does not come as a surprise, particularly not when around 636 lobbyists were registered at COP27 – 25 % more than at COP26 – pledging oil and gas deals and preventing fossil fuel phase-out. By adding words like “low emissions” to the renewable energy section, loopholes have been created that provide a basis for the fossil fuel industry to exploit. Until we truly stop all fossil fuels – not only coal, but oil and gas – we are only addressing the symptoms instead of the root causes of the climate crisis.
Even though parties at COP27 recommitted to the 1.5-degree goal, the realities look different as scholars predict that under the current emissions we are heading to 2.1 – 2.9 degree warming, thereby causing irreversible impacts for the planet and the people. It is therefore crucial for the processes leading up to COP28 that states do not divert their attention by focusing only on the negotiations of the loss and damage fund. Civil society must also reiterate the importance of ambitious goals for mitigation.
Demilitarisation is key for climate justice
Militaries are among the world’s biggest emitters. However, under the Paris Agreement, countries are not compelled to transparently lay open their military’s greenhouse gases. Throughout the conference, indigenous activists for instance from the Pacifics and several African countries highlighted the racial and gendered impacts of militarism through arms production, testing, and weapons export as well as the impacts of nuclear colonialism due to resource exploitation such as uranium mining. In the context of the above-mentioned climate finance, it is crucial to discuss the reallocation of military expenditure, for instance to the loss and damage fund. A TNI report recently stated that the wealthiest nations spend 30 times as much on their military forces as they do on legally required climate finance to the world’s most vulnerable nations. The report further elaborated that out of the top ten historical emitters, seven countries (US, China, Russia, UK, France, Japan and Germany) are also among the top ten spenders on the military. The military is not the solution to this crisis. On the contrary – only through demilitarisation and denuclearisation can we truly achieve climate justice and sustainable peace.
Urge to prioritise and mainstream gender in the negotiations
What became apparent throughout the conference is the lack of prioritisation of the gender negotiations. An absence of genuine and substantive proposals by negotiating states resulted in endless discussions on empty paragraphs that at best replicated what was already included from COP26. Civil society observers were often excluded from the negotiations, mostly based on excuses such as ‘a lack of chairs’. Following lengthy debates about commas and a lack of agreement, it was consequently decided on Wednesday of the second week, to defer the negotiations to the Bonn Climate Change Conference. However, the Egyptian Presidency pushed for a resumption of the talks at the last minute and placed pressure on the negotiators to reach a deal because it wanted to hold on to its ‘implementation COP’.
To be clear: gender is not a ticking box, rediscussed at the last minute in order to have some empty phrases in the final text. It is also not an issue that should only be addressed on “Gender Day”. In several panels, grassroots feminist organisations highlighted gendered impacts of the climate crisis and the need to dismantle the patriarchy to truly achieve climate justice. In a conversation, feminist activist Marie Christina Kolo from Madagascar explained the impacts of the climate crisis for menstrual health, as people who menstruate are using sand for the bleeding due to water scarcity. Feminist climate justice activists repeatedly demanded a clear prioritisation of gender and this must be the case for COP28 in order to achieve meaningful gender-responsive climate action.
Intersectionality is not a buzzword
In several panels in the different pavilions, world leaders and negotiators addressed the importance of representation and inclusion of the perspectives of the most marginalised communities. However, there was a lack of such clear meaningful participation at COP27 – excluding women, non-binary, BIPoC and youth from the negotiation tables. Some examples: Only around 34% of the negotiators were women. Furthermore, Indigenous leaders reported lip service to Indigenous rights, while the expectation of representation in the actual decision-making room and incorporation of Indigenous knowledge was unfulfilled.
Other topics such as LGBTIQA+ rights were barely addressed due to fear of repression by the Egyptian government. Marginalised communities and in this case queer activists had difficulties to truly speak up. LGBTIQA+ activists were given a security notice to delete all queer content from their phones before attending the conference, had to set up queer signal groups under fake names or felt unsafe after speaking about queer rights at an event. All of this feels like a suppression of one’s identity. However, there was still resistance to the repressive environment. Particularly Indigenous activists interrupted the silence by addressing Two-Spirit and gender diverse people at COP and were vocal about the intersections with the climate crisis.
No climate justice without racial justice, gender justice, disability justice, queer justice and justice for Indigenous people.
Stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and environmental defenders
Reflecting on this COP, but also looking ahead at COP28 in the UAE, it must be clear that a fight for climate justice is also a fight for civic space. Restricted protests, strict monitoring of phones and intimidation of activists by Egyptian “representatives” who took photos and videos – all this was an attempt to actively silence activists. Not to mention that any mobilisation with Egyptian civil society outside the venue was impossible. The authorised protest of only about 400 people in the Blue Zone this year was in stark contrast to the 100,000 people who took to the streets in Glasgow at COP26.
One word that kept echoing through the wide corridors of the COP27 venue by civil society was ‘solidarity’. On Thursday, 12 November, hundreds of civil society representatives gathered in the plenary room demanding again the release of the British-Egyptian writer Alaa Abd El-Fattah and all political prisoners. The message of civil society was clear: There can not be climate justice without human rights. Being serious about a Feminist Foreign Policy means acknowledging the intersections of the issues at COP27. It means that Germany must stop its weapons export, which amounted to 4.3 billion euros in 2021, and must continue to raise the case of Alaa and all the other hundreds of political prisoners further with the Egyptian government. And there are more human rights violations to be addressed, such as, for instance, the repression and marginalisation of the Indigenous people living on the Sinai peninsula, where COP27 was held. The clear protection of human rights activists and environmental defenders have to be guaranteed – at COP27 and back at the frontlines.
The answers to the climate crisis must be intersectional and feminist
All of these critical issues mentioned above highlighted why intersectional feminist approaches and leadership are the solutions to achieving climate justice. It is crucial to paint a holistic picture and address the simultaneous intersecting systems of oppression that are at the root of the destruction of people and the planet. And these include capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and militarism. Intersectional feminist spaces at COP27 and beyond show what true leadership looks like by amplifying the voices of those most marginalised fighting on the front lines against the climate crisis – especially feminist grassroots organisations and Indigenous people. Intersectional feminists at COP27 created a space of healing and connection to the earth by rejecting colonial ways of knowing and instead creating connections through poetry, songs, storytelling and shared dance practices. Bringing emotion and empathy into the technical discussions at COP27 was an act of resistance, an act of caring and an act of love. Civil society stands united and in solidarity. The people are not yet defeated, and they never will be.
Michelle Benzing, joined CFFP as a fellow within the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs, specifically supporting our Climate Justice Programme as well as the Feminist Peace and Security Programme.