Transformative pathways and decolonizing climate action – COP27 side event

Colonialism’s legacy is still affecting people, nature, culture, and bodies. It is still shaping behaviours, structures, norms, conceptions, imaginaries that continue to be a precedent for different inequalities linked to. The notion of economic growth poses a contradiction to the goals that the 2030 agenda is trying to achieve. Infinite growth is not sustainable. In the Global North, continued growth leads to excessive energy use, leading to extractivism in the Global South where it exacerbates cycles of violence and poverty. In this context, women are among the most impacted but also at the forefront leading transformative pathways.

This year, with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), we launched the publication “Transformative Pathways: Climate and gender-just alternatives to intersecting crises”, generating a critical reflection on the causes of climate change rooted in colonialism, while proposing models inspired in the contribution of local initiatives to climate change mitigation and gender equality.

During the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP27, we hosted a side event at the Capacity Building Hub to share proposed gender-specific targets and recommendations for policy benchmarks needed for transforming our notions of development. This session opened a dialogue with the leaders featured in the publication who promote community, gender-just, and context-based alternatives implemented on the ground to mitigate climate change. The event opened a learning space for policymakers, practitioners, and leaders of gender-just climate solutions to discuss more broadly about their experiences and lessons learned over the years.

Three photos of various people holding the Transformative Pathways publication
Left photo: Gustavo Petro, President of Colombia and Gina Cortés Valderrama, WECF & WGC. Middle photo: Gina, WECF, Irene Vélez Torres, Minister of Mines and Energy of Colombia and Valeria Peláez Cardona, WECF. Right photo: Mayana Nell, WGC member and journalist. COP27. Photo credit: Annabelle Avril / WECF.

Dr. Heike Henn, Director for Climate, Energy and Environment BMZ in Germany, in her opening remarks, stressed the “climate crisis is not taking care of existing inequalities as there are intersecting factors that will only worsen it. Women face structural barriers concerning their rights and access to resources e.g. land ownership, access to finance, access to spheres of decision-making”. Dr. Henn also announced the continued collaboration with us for the next 3 years for the objective of strengthening and expanding the capacities of climate actors on gender-transformative planning, financing and implementation of their climate strategies. It combines two BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany) leadership priorities: feminist development policy and just transition as a paradigm for the global transition. The participation of local women’s and gender organisations with the promotion and analysis of their transformative pathways for the integration of a holistic, intersectional, power-critical and human rights based approach into climate programmes is key. The project will be undertaken in selected countries (with international extent) up until the end of 2025 in collaboration with local women and gender organisations.

Two women sitting on a panel, in from of a WECF banner and a projected screen. The woman on the left is speaking into a microphone.
Dr. Heike Henn, Director for Climate, Energy and Environment BMZ on the left and Gina Cortés Valderrama, WECF, on the right. COP27. (Photo credit: Annabelle Avril / WECF)

This was followed by Gina Cortés Valderrama, WECF, who introduced the analysis and main reflections of the publication, highlighting that “we must move away from the accumulation of capital, and power. We need to shift towards a feminist agenda to redistribute power. To address climate change it is crucial to integrate a decolonial, intersectional, and degrowth approach. The only way to ensure climate justice is with gender justice.”

Maria Victoria Bojacá, General Director of Enda Colombia, stated that a core element of their work is to “strengthen the agency of women recyclers, increasing their power as political actors and leaders to address the structural causes of political, economic, social, and environmental exclusions and conflicts”. ENDA Colombia is fostering an alternative to development through a solidarity economy model. The organization has advocated for the formal recognition of womxn recyclers as environmental agents of change and public service providers. Through a Training of Trainers (ToT) program on natural resource management and political participation, womxn recyclers strengthen their leadership skills, gain control over their income, and develop cooperative structures to tackle barriers imposed by formal banking.

Two women and one man standing looking into the camera. Woman in the middle is holding up a colour publication which reads "transformative pathways". Photo was taken during COP27.
Maria Victoria Bojacá, ENDA Colombia (on the left) together with Jessica Pinilla, Gender Expert E2050 Colombia and Juan Andrés Casas, National Gender & Climate Change Focal Point Colombia. COP27. (Photo credit: Annabelle Avril / WECF)

From Senegal, Fatou Ndoye, ENDA Graf Sahel, spoke of rural women in Africa, and fisherwomen in Saloum Delta in particular, having time poverty due to their unpaid care work. Enda Graf Sahel is promoting a gender-just transition through a shift to a care economy. The organization conducted a survey to determine how work time is distributed in the households of the Saloum Delta Community. They found that per day, men only spend 6 hours working while women spend more than 16 hours – if you include household chores and agricultural tasks. “With the results of this survey, the organization developed a training and action strategy for different topics of ecological transition and capacity-strengthening. Women now have more time for themselves and a decrease in gender-based violence has been observed.” Enda Graf Sahel has contributed significantly to shifting power relationships and the division of labour within the fishing communities of the Saloum Delta.

Through ancestral knowledge, ARUWE in Uganda is driving decentralized and community-owned energy technologies. The organization has promoted a model of women-led energy cooperatives as a pathway to a just transition that recognizes women’s needs and priorities as key energy users, their work burdens and time poverty, as well as the importance of solidarity networks. Agnes Mirembe, Executive Director of ARUWE, shared how massive deforestation, partly caused by the need to supply the electricity deficit in Uganda’s rural areas, has imposed an extra workload burden for women. Through a decolonial approach that seeks locally-owned and autonomous development, women farmers decide collectively on which technology best suits their needs and priorities, and the organization supports them with training for its installation, use, and maintenance – without imposing a pathway to follow.

Another key message of the event was how actions that integrate gender at the heart of climate action generate co-benefits in multiple ways. In the case of CAMGEW in Cameroon, agroecology is implemented as a pathway to conflict resolution and social cohesion. Due to the country’s geographical location and ecological diversity, reforestation and forest conservation in Cameroon are central goals in mitigation actions to tackle climate change. CAMGEW engages women from ethnic groups in environmental protection activities by strengthening their capacities and knowledge in agroforestry and developing an inclusive and stainable management model for forest regeneration in the Kilum-Ijim area. Ernestine Leikiki, Empowerment Officer, highlighted that “these activities have also brought the community closer together with the inclusion of different members: youth, traditional leaders, and women”.

Ambrosio Yobánolo del Real, Chair Technology Executive Committee (TEC) UNFCCC, shared some of the TEC shortcomings and challenges when integrating a gender-transformative approach in technology deployment. He navigated through good practices from the TEC to address them.

Key takeaways from the session:

  • The persistence of gender-based discrimination, inequality, stereotypes, and patriarchal institutions inherited from colonialism continue to hinder women´s access to, control over, and use of resources and information to address climate change effects in a timely manner.
  • Climate justice calls for alternatives that move away from the indiscriminate accumulation of wealth through the burning of fossil fuels and the extraction of other common goods from our ecosystems. It recognizes the ecological debt of rich nations and corporations, making a clear demand for them to answer to their historical responsibilities.
  • Different movements are coming together to demand climate and gender justice. From the global south, decolonial imaginaries that challenge preconceived beliefs and practices of predominantly Eurocentric thinking are materializing. Concrete alternatives to the dominant development model already exist on the ground where real solutions come to life.
A participant of the COP27 side event on Transformative pathways is reading through a hard copy of the publication. (Photo credit: Annabelle Avril / WECF)

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Photo credit: WECF / Annabelle Avril