COP21 is too male dominated and has male priorities, says UN special envoy

Paris climate summit’s gender imbalance is detrimental to taking action on saving people from global warming, says Mary Robinson

The climate change talks going on in Paris are too dominated by men, to the detriment of effective action on saving people from the ravages of global warming, the UN’s special envoy on climate change has said.

Mary Robinson, the former UN human rights chief and Ireland’s first female president, told the Guardian in an interview: “This is a very male world [at the conference]. When it is a male world, you have male priorities.”

She pointed to the line-up of ministers now leading the talks, few of whom are women. “If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about people?”

Tuesday was officially designated as “gender day” at the fortnight-long talks, which began nine days ago.

At Paris, governments are meeting in the hope of signing a new global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which would kick in from 2020 when current commitments expire. It is seen as the last chance for the UN negotiations, which have been carrying on since 1992.

“We have to humanise this, we need to send a strong message that this is about people. We need to have legal text on human rights and gender equality,” said Robinson. “Women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.”

Of the talks, she said: “There is a tendency to think that this is not a place for women, and we have to resist that. I have heard women here saying they feel strange to be here. Women have to be here in large numbers, to have critical mass.”

She added: “Climate change is affecting the most vulnerable people around the world, and they are not the cause of it. This is at the heart of the future for all women, for all people.”

Some countries are understood to be opposed to including language on gender equality in the text, including middle eastern countries. The UK, US and EU have said they support the inclusion of such terms.

Climate change, Robinson warned, would prove a “serious disruption to social order” if allowed to go unchecked. The mass migration of people afflicted by warming, which is likely to render swathes of the globe virtually uninhabitable if temperature rises continue, would have a huge impact.

“We are not handling migration well,” she said, referring to the crises provoked by the mass movement of people from Syria, north Africa and across the region, which she said would be worsened by climate change. “We need to change our whole approach to it.”

Robinson said that a climate deal in Paris, if struck, would not be the end of the story. More work would need to be done on ensuring regular reviews of countries’ commitments on emissions and on finance for the poorest nations, to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather. “I know we can’t get it all done in Paris.”

She said that climate change should not be seen in isolation, but alongside economic development for the world’s poor, which she hopes will be fostered by the UN’s sustainable development goals. “From the first of January 2016, I hope we will be starting a new era of sustainable development. It will not be perfect, but every country has to strive to get there.”

As developed countries sought to gather together a “coalition of ambition”, including some of the biggest developed countries and some of the smallest developing nations, to strike a deal, Robinson said: “There is more ambition from developing countries [than the rich world] – that’s the sad lesson to the rich world.”

Robinson said that some women had been excluded from the talks, having failed to get the badge needed to enter the high-security compound. She was in touch with some of them, communicating the goings-on in the negotiations, she said.


Fiona Harvey in Paris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Women and climate change injustice: thoughts from the Paris talks | Nabeelah Shabbir
From presidents to poets, female delegates at the UN climate conference reflect on how global warming is affecting women, and how grassroots movements are leading the way in climate-proofing communities

Nabeelah Shabbir

10, Dec, 2015 @1:52 PM

Article image
Paris climate talks: vulnerable countries demand 1.5C warming limit
Countries most at risk from climate change warn of looming ‘disaster’ as they break from major blocs to call for more ambitious temperature target

John Vidal and Fiona Harvey in Paris

30, Nov, 2015 @12:24 PM

Article image
Climate change talks: five reasons to be cheerful or fearful | John Vidal
As world leaders convene in Paris for climate negotiations, the political and economic auspices are encouraging. Yet major obstacles will have to be overcome if the gap between rich and poor countries is to be bridged

John Vidal

30, Nov, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Paris climate talks: Developed countries must do more than reduce emissions | Shyam Saran
Shyam Saran: Developed nations must take responsibility for their historic emissions and contribute the funds and transfer of technologies to developing countries needed to help avoid dangerous climate change

Shyam Saran

23, Nov, 2015 @10:35 AM

Article image
African forestry scheme aims to build prosperity by restoring landscape
World Bank joins forces with private sector in $1.6bn AFR100 initiative designed to restore 100m hectares of forest across Africa by 2030

Sam Jones

06, Dec, 2015 @1:01 AM

Article image
Smart infrastructure is the key to sustainable development
Moving towards low-carbon, climate-resilient transport and infrastructure is the best route to reducing poverty worldwide

Luis Alberto Moreno and Nicholas Stern

10, May, 2016 @6:08 AM

Article image
Climate talks: rich countries should pay to keep tropical forest trees standing | Nancy Birdsall and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski
Tropical forests provide a bargain climate service, cheaply reducing emissions. The Paris summit should agree payments for anti-deforestation programmes

Nancy Birdsall and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski

02, Dec, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
World's richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam
Charity says world’s fast-shrinking carbon budget should be used to improve lot of poorest

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

20, Sep, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Coal lobby boss says industry 'will be hated like slave-traders' after COP21
The head of Europe’s coal lobbying association says his industry will be vilified following the landmark Paris climate deal to cap CO2 emissions

Arthur Neslen in Brussels

15, Dec, 2015 @2:09 PM

Article image
Ed Miliband pushes for zero carbon emissions target following COP21
Former Labour leader will lead cross-party campaign on issue in 2016 for Britain to put its own commitment on statute books

Daniel Boffey Policy editor

12, Dec, 2015 @5:32 PM