The time is 10:00 am. The crowd of negotiators briskly walk into the meeting room while the observers patiently wait outside the hall, hoping for a place to sit in the negotiation. It is the third informal informal meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB). On the table is drafting the decision to the COP about the 2018 report of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (Excom). This arm of the UNFCCC is responsible for providing recommendations to the COP regarding the issue of loss and damage due to the adverse effects of climate change. As I take a seat on the floor, I can see the negotiators carefully reading the updated draft decision. Immediately, the negotiators are addressing their concerns about the updated text. However, Honduras, on behalf of the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), raised a novel concern. AILAC intervened that the issue of gender has not been brought up as a recommendation by the Excom report. Under a new section of paragraph 5 of the draft decision, AILAC proposed that a sentence addressing the issue of gender equality be included.
There was an awkward silence in the room. A majority of people’s heads nodded, including mine. I immediately thought, “Wow.” But it was not just me who thought so. Placards were flipped up and eager faces were glowing. In succession, other negotiators were agreeing: United States, European Union (EU), Canada, Australia, St. Lucia on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and Timor Leste on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDC). However, other negotiators did not agree. Kuwait, who arrived slightly late, missed the comment and heard of it after the co-facilitator announced that the language would be included under paragraph 5(e). Afterward, Kuwait declined to include gender quality in the decision because climate change impacts everyone equally. Therefore, it argued, the language was unnecessary.
In response, Australia, Norway, and EU cited data that support differentiated impacts of the adverse effects of climate on different groups, especially women. Women are affected more because of their traditional roles as caretakers and vulnerability to violence in stressful environments. However, China also proposed that the gender text should not be included because of the short notice of time. China believes that the issue of gender equality deserves more dedicated time to thoughtfully implement the language as well as including other vulnerable groups such as children. As a result of these contentions, the co-facilitator called for a huddle to propose new language for the issue. What came out was, “To give greater consideration to gender and vulnerable populations, including youth, in the implementation of its 5-year rolling workplan.” Tension again rose over the use of the word gender and vulnerable populations and whether it was necessary to address both at the same time. Eventually, a compromise was reached when Australia proposed the text to read, “To increase its consideration of groups vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change when implementing its five-year rolling workplan.”
Despite the effort, the gender equality was swept under an umbrella term. However, are negotiators responsible for promoting gender equality or the protection of vulnerable populations? Canada made an excellent point when stating that the gender inclusion proposal aligned with decision 3/CP.23—the establishment of a gender action plan (GAP). Under paragraph 3 of the Annex, “GAP recognizes the need for women to be represented in all aspects of the UNFCCC process and the need for gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.” Furthermore, under paragraph 10 of the Annex, “GAP aims to ensure the respect, promotion and consideration of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the implementation of the Convention and the Paris Agreement.” As GAP is part of COP, it can be said that negotiators do have a duty to promote gender equality and not other vulnerable groups. If COP wanted to protect other vulnerable groups, it could have included those groups in the GAP decision or in another decision. On the other hand, the GAP decision text does not mandate the negotiators to take gender equality, but is more of a suggestion. Under this interpretation, protecting all vulnerable groups may be the balanced choice because then the text will incorporate women and other groups who are disparately affected by climate chance, like youth, elderly, minority, indigenous, and disabled. In the end, the acknowledgment that there is a need to protect vulnerable groups is an immense feat in moving forward on UNFCCC decisions. The fact that the negotiators agreed that more can be done to ensure these groups are protected is the future of what COP decisions will ensure – equality.