Ambition, Transparency and Differentiation: Women at the COP21

In the days before the document was adopted, there was a different debate on three different words from the same document: human rights, women and gender. Two very different debates, two very different outcomes from the same negotiations associated with climate change.
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The Paris Agreement was a historic moment with close to 200 nations agreeing to the document. The Conference of the Parties (COP) president declared that three words defined the new agreement: ambition, transparency and differentiation. Ambition to meet a 1.5 degree threshold; transparency to share individual country mitigation plans and differentiation between developing and developed countries. However, in the days before the document was adopted, there was a different debate on three different words from the same document: human rights, women and gender. Two very different debates, two very different outcomes from the same negotiations associated with climate change.

The debate on human rights and women (gender) issues started with the purpose of the agreement where on these issues was slated for removal early in the negotiations. Bracketing (negotiator speak for brackets placed around language to be removed or to be inserted) the entire paragraph in the purpose section (article 2.2 in the draft document) suggested gender issues and human rights were not within the core purpose of the document. The preamble, as was argued by the Women's Major Group (one of the nine recognized constituency group to the Framework convention) and many others was not sufficient and it was critical to reflect issues of human rights and women's rights throughout the document. However, when the gravel came down two days later, gender equality and women's empowerment remained only in the preamble.

Does the Paris Agreement ignore women's rights? COP21 president Laurent Fabius remarked that the agreement by necessity needs to avoid granularity. Specific issues such as stances on human rights were covered through the reference in the preamble back to pre-existing agreements (such as the Declaration of Human Rights). However, as climate change impacts are starting to be felt around the world, the impact on women and other vulnerable populations becomes ever more clear and women as climate refugees are even more vulnerable. While specific mechanisms, such as forests as part of the reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) are a core part of the agreement; other topics such as oceans (although covering 71% of the earth's surface) received only a passing reference and even glaciers, one of the most visible bell-weathers of climate change with their rapid retreats, are not mentioned at all. Women and gender issues associated with climate change apparently warranted reference only as gender-responsive policies on capacity building and adaptation. The empowerment of women, as proposed by UN Women, survived in the preamble as part of a list of issues to be simply acknowledged under the agreement.

The next step for the Paris Agreement will come through a series of smaller negotiating events leading to the next Conference of Parties (COP22) in Morocco. It is with great hope that the new Paris Agreement leaves an opening to include women's rights in issues such as finance, large-scale climate-induced disasters, and as climate refugees. In addition, the critical role of educating women and girls to be the next generation of scientists or negotiators could be a crowning ambition for the next climate agreement that could reduce the current differentiation by representation of women for all parties at the next climate conference.