Christiana Figueres speaks to Anna Collins on the role of women in the UN climate talks. Anna responds with her thoughts.
This is the second of a two part interview. The first part, which is on UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figuere’s hopes for the future of the UN Climate Talks in 2011, can be found here.
This question was a personal one for me, and I wanted to share some reflections:
Last week I had the privilege to interview Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, one of the questions I asked her was about the role of women in the UN climate talks.
As a young woman coming to these talks, though I am pretty confident and outgoing, I often feel like I struggle to find a space in a very male dominated atmosphere. On more than one occasion, I have withdrawn because I felt I wasn’t taken seriously because of my gender, my age, or both.
It’s not just that there are more males here, but the way we work is more ‘male oriented’, i.e. it is a highly competitive, powerful, intense environment where emotions very rarely come into play – even as we discuss the fate of millions of people. And it is not just in the halls. As I sit in the negotiations I also see this atmosphere and way of working prevail. At 1am, when talks are stalled over a power game that leads our not-known-to-be-feminist French team-mate to say “we’re never going to get anywhere if these men insist on fighting to the death”, I know gender is not just an issue for the women here, but also an issue that encompasses the whole way we are working and has implications for the outcomes of these climate negotiations.
Only 17% of lead negotiators at the UNFCCC are women, and though actually they are some of the most respected and well known of the lead negotiators, 17% really isn’t a lot. I think if we changed things with respect to gender, we could maybe change things in the talks.
So when I spoke to Christiana I wanted to know whether she had ever been treated differently because of the way she acts, and whether she thought things could be different if we upped the numbers of women negotiating.
At first I was unsure, Christiana as a role model for me and many of the young women here, someone I really look up to and aspire to be like, seemed to be delegitimising the way I felt. If she had never felt this way, was I imagining it? I went away and thought for a long time about what she said and realised I was not: every person is different, and even if one person feels this way, then this is a legitimate concern. Christiana is a strong and amazing woman. Perhaps, in our male dominated world, even someone who shows as much emotion as Christiana, still isn’t able to speak out on personal struggles for needing not to show weakness and vulnerability in a position of power.
It took me a long time to acknowledge and speak out about the way I feel at the UNFCCC. I’ve been to 10 sessions now and only recently began to put these thoughts into words. I don’t know how I would feel about doing this if I was so deep inside it and trying to live, work and gain respect in this world constantly.
Or maybe Christiana never has come up against these things, or thought about them; I know for a fact that she surrounds herself with a very balanced team. Of all the places to work within the UNFCCC it is the secretariat with the most women and whose way of working is least ‘male’, that’s in comparison to the negotiating teams and even the NGOs . It wasn’t always that way, but when Christiana took up the job, things started to change. Whether this was a conscious or subconscious decision, by being the way she is she has changed the atmosphere within her team. And even that small change has definitely started to trickle down into the halls.
Either way I believe and respect Christiana when she says she doesn’t know whether she has ever come up against problems, because she is “just being me, I don’t know it any other way”. As a role model, her being confident enough to say this, in whatever situation she finds herself in, is definitely something for me and many others to aspire to.
So what of the talks? I think Christiana and I were in agreement that something innate in women often makes them more prone toward compromise. And if compromise is what we’re looking for in the UNFCCC, then surely increasing the numbers would make it a more likely outcome? But Christiana argued for quality over quantity. I don’t know how I feel about this, if women are forever in the minority, then will we ever get past this male dominance, even if they are strong and powerful?
What I do know is that as I have followed these talks over the years, I have come to be aware that issues of gender, of race, of age, issues of discrimination and oppression run through the way all of us work. It is only by tackling them that we can begin to tackle the power imbalances that keep the UNFCCC among many other fora from working as it should. If we can address the power issues that run through the way we work and infect every decision that is taken, maybe we can get these talks back on track.
The opportunity to speak to Christiana one-to-one about these issues reminded me that even though I am sometimes intimidated in these halls, just being here means I am already in a highly privileged position. Speaking to her also reminded me of how much has already changed in the year since she became Executive Secretary, I continue to be inspired by the way she tackles her job each and every day. But the progress we have made since she took over, as much as I value it, also reminds me of how far we have to go.
As time goes on, I become more and more passionate about the ability to change things through addressing these issues of how we relate and work with each other. I would love to know how others feel after both hearing what Christiana had to say and reading my thoughts.
Christiana Figueres speaks to Anna Collins on the role of women in the UN climate talks. Anna responds with her thoughts.Read post →
Youth give a statement to UN talks calling them to join them to get on board with the Kyoto Protocol
A youth delegate hoping countries are willing stay on board the voyage of
the Kyoto Protocol for its 2nd commitment period
On the final day day of talks here in Bonn I took to the floor of the final Kyoto Protocol session to give a statment on behalf of youth NGOs outlining our demands for moving forward with the KP.
Thank you Chair. My name is Anna Collins and I’m speaking on behalf of YOUNGO.
We are on a voyage together, a voyage that sees us sailing to South Africa. In a ship called the Kyoto Protocol.
The voyage of the Kyoto Protocol has sometimes been a stormy one. But today, we find ourselves stuck in the doldrums, with little movement toward a second commitment period. We have become increasingly worried that we will not get where we need to go.
Fortunately, the youth have a plan to chart a course to success in Durban.
First. It’s time to raise the main sail.
Annex I parties, raise the ambition of your reductions to ensure we stay below 1.5 degrees. It may require hard work, but our future is not negotiable, and we know this is the only way to weather the storm of climate impacts together. COP17 outcomes must reflect renewed urgency and ambition in parties’ mitigation efforts, especially from Annex 1.
Second. The KP ship must be watertight -there can be no cracks – no gaps between commitment periods, and Durban must provide a clear legal transition. We must continue to have a legally binding international regime governing and enforcing emission reductions.
Time is running out.
Those pushing for a pledge and review system to replace the KP are not acting in good faith. The International Energy Agency recently announced that 2010 saw the highest global human emissions ever recorded. This is clear and damning evidence that pledge and review is not sufficient.
Third. A boat can’t sail without its crew. We are disappointed that some Parties threaten to jump ship and abandon the KP, and some are violating their first commitment period targets even now. Worse, some never got on board at all. Those who refuse to join us threaten to run this voyage aground.
This piracy is criminal considering the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and future generations.
So YOUNGO invites you all to stay on board and feel the sense of achievement when we arrive at climate safety.
Finally, our boat needs a captain. We hope that a crucial block of Annex I countries will show the leadership necessary to change this process.
To all annex 1 countries we call on you to raise your ambition, reaffirm our trust in you, and your trust in each other, and help steer us to the Cape of Good Hope this November.
Youth give a statement to UN talks calling them to join them to get on board with the Kyoto ProtocolRead post →
Last night we had the closing plenaries for both the SBSTA and SBI tracks of negotiations. In the early hours of this morning we finally emerged from the UN tired, dazed, confused, with SBI plenary unfinished and suspended, to begin again today.
For the last few hours we had been sat in the closing plenary of SBI as they tried to come to agreement on a section of the negotiations called loss and damage. Loss and damage is about climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. It is supposed to enhance their ability to adapt to these impacts.
However, repeatedly Saudi Arabia and Qatar have tried to hijack these negotiations and add response measures as a topic under them. Response measures refer to action taken to compensate countries who lose revenue from selling oil because we are transitioning to a clean economy. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, we shouldn’t be discussing this at the UNFCCC at all. However, because this is a consensus process we can’t move forward without it, because these countries constantly block progress unless it is there. The Saudi’s use response measures as a reason to stall and the talks all over the place, this week it feels like every second word has been response measures. They are such a contentious issue that we actually had a special forum that lasted 16 hours here in Bonn just discussing them!
Last night this reached a head. As the SBI chair tried to pass the new text relating to loss and damage the Saudi’s and Qatar took to the floor to once again block it for, among other reasons, the fact response measures weren’t in there. The chair tried to find a way forward for a while and countries quite vocally and passionately tried to get the Saudi’s and Qatar to change their mind, but they were having none of it. In the end the chair had to suspend the meeting so an informal huddle in the corner could take place where the delegates tried to find a compromise that would mean we could make a decision on the text. This was at around midnight, the chair said the suspension would last 15 min… an hour later we were still all in the bar (well what else are the young people to do here when we are given an hours impromptu break…).
As nice as the break was, the tension in the room before-hand really started to get to me. As I sat there and listened to the Saudi’s try to claim that compensating them for not selling as much oil should be as important as compensating and supporting people who have done NOTHING to add to climate change and yet are loosing their homes, their land, their health and their lives because of it, listening to that made me want to get up and hit something (or someone…), or at the very least yell a large amount of obscenities. As I stood at the bar during the break I started to despair, seeing the Saudi’s be so ridiculous and selfish in the face of such passionate pleas, seeing the process hijacked and blocked with no seeming way forward, seeing them bully and play power games with everyone else in the room, I started to lose hope in this process being able to get us where we need to go.
The whole process felt lost and damaged.
I felt a little lost and damaged.
Close to 1am we finally reconvened the plenary, we listened with baited breath as the chair read out the changes that had been agreed on.
No response measures. A sigh of relief. A small amount of damage control.
There had been some edits to a part of the text that refers to elaborating on the themes of loss and damage so we can get a clearer understanding to move forward from, but there had been no new text inserted.
But as the chair banged the gavel to declare the decision passed I wondered whether we had won or not? And as we made our weary way home and I mused on this whole thing, and the dynamic I had witnessed in the room, I wondered how we could change it to allow this process to work? It seems I wasn’t the only one, our French tracker, not a renowned feminist, also commented that we are never going to get there if we let these men do the man thing and fight to the death.
Because this is this is the point, this is the crux of it all: it’s not the process that’s broken, it’s the people in the process playing protracted power games who are ruining it. This is what we need to sort out to get this thing working, to put us back on the right track and restore the damage we have caused.
This is what we have to change.
In the meantime, as we stumbled back to our hotel at 3am, as I thought about this all and ran it round and round in my mind, as I struggled with being so involved in this process, I inserted a few response measures of my own to deal with it. Anna style. With a can of spray paint and a bit of art…
And today I am all the better for it as we wait for the SBI plenary to resume with KP and LCA plenaries to come.
Imagine for a minute if you will that instead of a boring legal document what the negotiators here are trying…
A book to save the world.
When completed the plot of the book will paint the narrative of what we did and how we did it. There’ll be an introduction, of what the world was like before we realised how our actions were impacting the planet, and an epilogue, a portrait of a beautiful world.
If you sat down to write this book where would you start?
If it was me I’d think about the book as a whole. Before I put pen to paper, I’d map out the overall picture, I’d think about the plot arc and the character development. I’d work out the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. I’d take a step back and think of the book as a single piece of work. Thinking of how all the subplots could weave together.
That’s not how they write books here at the UNFCCC.
No here at the UNFCCC they write books chapter by chapter, section at a time, without much idea of how they all fit together, what the whole book looks like, or how we get from intro to epilogue. They have different people working on all the sub plots and very rarely step back to work out how they are going to weave them all together into a coherent piece.
If I come down from my metaphorical ramble for a second what i’m alluding to is the fact that we are here in Bonn with negotiations happening in informal break out groups where they are discussing quite technical issues, and at the minute we really don’t know what we are working towards. If we take a step back from a convention that now has 6 sets of negotiations happening under it, we have no idea what our goal (our novel) looks like anymore.
This is something that many of the countries and NGOs alike have been mulling over for a long time. We call it the legal issue: as yet we still have no clear picture of what form this takes.
What we do have is some form of collective writing process. And unfortunately all the editors have very different ideas of what the final piece will look like.
Over the last few months we have been working to get some clarity on the options on the table, the different ideas as they stand, and it seems to have boiled down to 4 main ones, with a variety of combinations of them available and being championed by different countries (or should I say editors…)
So what form could our book to save the world take?
Well option 1 is a book where we scrap all the sub plots and just go for one main killer plot line. In UNFCCC land this means we have one single treaty under which everything we do falls. No more KP and something else, no instead we combine them all and all the contributors feature in the same narrative. This isn’t a very popular option as many of the editors feel it will take away from the ideas they have already, ie. that the KP will not exist.
Option 2 for our book on how to save the world is a novel with 2 subplots, one of which we have published before as a short story and are now extending and weaving into a longer novel. Both plots are equally as important, they each feature different characters as the main protagonists and the story they weave is similar yet different. Together they balance each other to make a novel slightly more repetitive than a single plot line option, but with a more nuanced style with room for plot diversions that bring a much wider audience on board. In UNFCCC speak this is the 2 protocol option: where we keep the KP (the original short story) and have a second commitment period, while also getting another legally binding treaty from the LCA. This is an option championed by a lot of countries who like the original story and would like to create a book with balance.
Option 3 sees us once again keeping the KP, and this time it features as the main plot line. Along side it we have a series of sub plots developing slowly as the story unfolds. Here at the UNFCCC this translates into a series of decisions being made as we go along, so each time there is a COP different decisions can be taken on different issues. A lot of the countries here, though they would prefer a more coherent novel, could perhaps be persuaded to compromise and take this approach.
The final option keeps our short story as the only story we have. Then we have a wide amount of ongoing text with no clear form, it’s like we haven’t finished the book. In fact it is that we haven’t finished the book, instead we have asked our publishers to publish the original short story again then applied for and been granted an extension to finish the novel. Here at the UNFCCC that means we get a second commitment period for the KP and a mandate to continue discussing in the LCA. At the minute this isn’t too popular, however again those countries who definitely are against the single story approach have some wiggle room in agreeing to this format.
So one novel with 4 ideas of the overall story line. Each of the editors here has a different idea for which of those they would like what we have to develop into. Some of the editors are flexible, some are not.
What we need now is for the editors to sit down and really decide what this novel looks like. It’s great to be working on sections of the book, in the long run we can slot them in, but it would be a lot easier for everyone to write their sections if we knew how this plot plans out.
If we could do that we could get on to much more exciting things, like working on the launch party of our BOOK TO SAVE THE WORLD!
And if you’re looking for the slightly less waffly, more straight forward explanation of what I am trying to explain check out our latest video from an expert on the issue here.
Imagine for a minute if you will that instead of a boring legal document what the negotiators here are trying…Read post →
I’m confused. Really confused.
I’ve been following the UNFCCC process for 2 years now, I’ve slowly got to grips with whats going on, what the acronyms mean, and how all these complicated sets of negotiations come together. I came to Bonn pretty confident in my ability to keep on top of things, to pick up documents and know what they meant, to see what meetings were going on and know what they were discussing in them.
I was wrong.
For a while I thought I had lost it, that my magic UNFCCC super policy wonk powers had deserted me. I didn’t want to mention it to anyone for fear of looking like an idiot, but then I overcame my fear and mentioned it to one person, then another and another.
And it turns out I’m not alone. There’s rather a lot of confused people in the halls.
One reason is because at this session we are no longer working in the big negotiating groups that we are used to seeing. It is usual at these sessions to break out of full plenary (where all the countries sit together) into smaller groups, however this time round things seem to have got out of control.
Today we had up to 30 informal sessions going on, on a range of issues, under all the different sections of the negotiations. We had contact groups, we had informal consultations, we had informal informals, we had informal informal informals, we even had some people chatting in the bar… The amount and the different scope of all the sessions is simply mind blowing. But it’s not just the number of sessions that is depleting my super policy wonk powers, no it’s also what they are discussing. This negotiating session is really not about the big political issues such as emission reduction targets or amount of finance (though of course they will never not be issues and we are definitely still seeing discussion on these things), but here a lot of what is going on is very much about the technicalities and the details of specific parts of the negotiations. This stuff is important as we head to Durban and hope to get more of it ironed out, but the sheer complexity, volume and scope of it all means i’m not the only one whose head is hurting.
I can only imagine what the smaller delegations are thinking of it all. Because this whole informal informal informals, multiple meeting situation, is a double edged sword. On the one side its great that they are getting down to business, that these discussions are happening and that some things are getting done. But on the other hand when there are so many meetings going on if your team is small it is completely impossible to participate in them all.
And it’s not just the smaller teams who can’t participate fully when the negotiations are going on in this form, it’s civil society too. Because when the negotiators break down into informal informal consultations and meetings in the bar, the doors are firmly closed. The negotiators here say this is so they can be franker and get stuff done, which in a way I can totally understand – I think all of us are more likely to be honest when we feel we are not being watched, people are more likely to talk openly and say what they are thinking.
But is it for the best? I really don’t know.
I know for sure that I would prefer it if civil society were allowed in, for me this is a power issue and I don’t believe in allowing the political elite to dominate the way we work. However as someone who has also struggled with this process and the slowness of it all I appreciate that these smaller closed informal groups may get stuff done.
I guess as this rumbles on I’m looking for a compromise. I want to do it well, I want to do it fairly, but I want to do it fast – this is a time bound situation. And when I commit that to paper, when I think of the internal conflict, then the external discussions that this conflict involves, I realise that this is it, isn’t it?
This is the dilemma at the crux of it all.
Climate change presents us with an issue we have to act on fast, with the most urgency of perhaps any issue in the history of humankind. But it also presents us with an issue that affects humankind as a whole like none before, consequently demanding a way of working, a solution, that is a just and fair one for all.
What we need is something which is fair and fast.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
But what if you need to go far and fast?
About the authorAnna Collins
Born and bred in Warrington in the *sunny* North of England, Anna was brought up by parents with a deep sense of justice and taught to always fight for what she believed is right. "I guess you could say it was in the blood, my gran went to Greenham Common in the 80s."