Activists at Lima UN Climate Talks Advocate for Gender Equality

Posted Dec. 31, 2014

MP3 Interview with Osprey Orielle, executive director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


One of the many civil society groups to attend the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties meeting in Lima, Peru – known as COP 20 – was WECAN, the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network. The organization works with women leaders around the world to promote rights-based solutions to climate change, including the rights of women, indigenous peoples, nature and of future generations.

The UN Meeting in Peru was organized to begin drafting a global climate agreement in preparation for negotiations in Paris, later in 2015. At the conclusion of the Lima meeting, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the outcome, but many climate activists were disappointed. Critics say that delegates failed to deliver a strong draft on which to build the Paris agreement by accepting a deal that only requires "self-certification" of commitments to cut carbon emissions, rather than binding reductions that would be reported and transparently regulated.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with WECAN founder and executive director Osprey Orielle Lake, who attended the meeting in Lima with about 30 other members of her group. Although these UN climate meetings are known more for "generating global warming gases as attendees fly in from around the world" than for any accomplishments in addressing climate change, Orielle Lake says WECAN's attendance in Lima is just one part of their Inside-Outside strategy.

OSPREY ORIELLE LAKE: You know, an organization like ours, we really have an inside-outside strategy in which we're really working on the inside to influence the process as much as possible, to influence governments as much as possible, to advocate against false solutions which are being discussed there, such as geo-engineering and nuclear power, and things that we don't agree with. So we think it's important to be inside that process and as well as to advocate for gender equality and make sure that whatever laws are put in place, that they're gender-responsive. So we think there's a lot to be done on the inside. That said, you know, most of our work is not actually inside the UN process, but outside the process in creating pressure in more local grassroots, on the ground solutions and different policies that we can more immediately affect. So most of our work is not involved with the UN but at the same time we think it's important to have our voicces heard, have members that are involved with us, especially women on the front lines, women from low income communities, women from indigenous communities – having their voices there is a really important thing, so we can do the best we can with the UN process.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I was fortunate to be able to cover the International Women's Earth and Climate summit outside New York City in September 2013, which was organized by your organization, WECAN, the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network. And out of that came the Women's Climate Action Agenda. Can you talk about what's in it and how you're using it?

OSPREY ORIELLE LAKE: It's a very dynamic document that we released in September during the UN Climate Summit and the People's Climate March in New York. And we brought it also to Lima, Peru, and we released it inside the UN, and it goes through an entire host of solutions and recommendations, everything from addressing unsustainable consumption and production in the global North. It recognizes how to take action with common but differentiated responsibilities. We talk about leaving 80 percent of the oil in the ground; divestment from fossil fuel companies and investment in clean energy. We talk about the protection of the rights of nature and the end of the commodification and ownership and exploitation of all ecosystems. It addresses how we can democratize our food, agriculture and seed systems, the protection of the rights of indigenous people and how we can really transform our extractive economies, which is so important right now, and how we move to a socially just and environmentally sustainable economic pattern. And of course, something very central to our organization, which is really the promotion of women's rights and women's leadership in all steps of climate change, adaptation and mitigation.

And inside the COP we also worked very closely with the Women and Gender constituency, which is led by organizations like the Women Environment and Development Organization – WEDO – and Women in Europe for a Common Future, WECF. And these are very long-standing, prominent women's organizations internationally, who are really directing the leadership of women's groups inside the UN. And I really want to commend the work that they do. And together we all advocate to the delegates and to governments, and a big focus, of course, is insisting on a fundamental framework of a rights-based agreement that's focused on climate justice and focusing on gender equality, women's rights, indigenous rights and ensuring that we really look at historic responsibilities, and pushing for that kind of agenda inside is really important, so that was our work on the inside as we held an event. We were part of a press conference releasing our report – our Climate Action Agenda – and supporting the leadership of the women inside in climate negotiations.

And then we also did several events on the outside, parallel to the negotiations. We held a big event, which we were very excited about, in downtown Lima called Women Leading Solutions on the Front Lines of Climate Change. We really need to stop treating nature as property and start really seeing nature as a rights-bearing entity, and how we can really, as human beings, harmonize our lifestyle and our way of living, to be in harmony with nature and the natural laws of the earth. So there was a very, very large two-day tribunal with people all over the world coming to hear the tribunal but also coming as witnesses and presenting cases and offering testimony. It was a very, very powerful – and, I would say, heartbreaking – experience hearing a lot of these cases, but it was also very empowering for people to participate in the tribunal. So those are a lot of the activities that we were involved in when we were there – so both inside and outside the formal process.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So I was going to ask you if you thought it was worth the trip to Lima. It sounds like you thought it was.

OSPREY ORIELLE LAKE: Absolutely. You know, I think a lot of these international gatherings are really key for civil society and for a lot of us involved in different environmental organizations or human rights organizations or indigenous organizations, different social justice movements to gather and meet on our own, and strategize together, have our voices be heard, to be able to have direct action, to be engaged in the process, to engage with our leaders. So I think it's extremely valuable because if we're not there making a stand and not making our presence known, then we're not influencing the process at all, and I don't think that's productive or wise.

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