COP21 Insights: Climate Wise Women

Tracy Mann, Climate Wise Women, shared a series of reflections during COP21 in Paris.


Dear Friends:

Our last night in Paris together seems to have come too fast; although we have lived lifetimes in these past nine days.  Four women from four different corners of the world have laughed, gossiped, cried, questioned, raged and sung together in mutual pursuit of a better future for all.

Yesterday, Gender Day at COP 21, Ursula, Thil and Constance set out while it was still dark for a breakfast with women ministers and environmental leaders.   I used the early hours to catch up on our accounting.

Later that morning, Ursula, the least prone to tears among us, choked up as she received her award for Transformation Change from the Women and Gender Caucus. Once again she told the relocation story of the Carteret Islands and expressed frustration with inaction on climate change, “Climate change violates our human rights!”   Ursula was a popular interviewee throughout the day with representatives from the international media.

Thil drummed up robust support for a social media campaign to free former Maldives president and environmental hero Mohammed Nasheed, whose health is failing in solitary confinement.  But she was rattled by a UN security officer who told her that political campaigning was forbidden in the Blue Zone and admonished her against photographing Nasheed testimonials.   If COP itself is a political exercise, than why prohibit free speech and free expression?

Last night, digging into a late dinner of Thai take-out, we coached Constance on a fund-raising program for her campaign for district office in her home sub-county.  We quickly schooled ourselves on ‘campaign-finance’, Uganda-style.

Today we had the pleasure of meeting our Climate Wise Angel, Andrew Bradley of the European Climate Foundation.  Andrew had accomplished the impossible by securing the last-minute visa appointment for Ursula and even came to the rescue when the Sydney hotel wouldn’t honor the pre-paid reservation I had made for her.   Over lunch, he generously provided multiple contacts and encouragement to further the work of each Climate Wise Women.

The day ended on a perfect note.  The Climate Wise Women took part in a well- attended demonstration by civil society, just outside the rooms where negotiators deliberated, to reiterate demands for climate justice and meaningful action on the part of leaders.  So many friendly faces surrounded us; so many who have worked tirelessly for progress on climate change spread their energy throughout the corridors of COP21, making it impossible to lose hope.  We marched out into the night with our voices raised, “We are unstoppable; Another world is possible”.

Deepest thanks for sharing this journey with us.  We look forward to taking you with us as we plan our site visit to the Carteret Islanders re-settlements in Papua New Guinea in mid-2016.


Good evening friends:

Although COP21’s official gender day is tomorrow, Climate Wise Women got a jump on gender and finance at an excellent panel hosted this morning by the IUNC.  An impressive line-up of experienced panelists spoke passionately about the need to increase the representation of women on the boards of the major funds set up to address climate change.

The theme of women and climate change continued throughout the afternoon at the WECAN event, “Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change”, where Thil lit up the crowd with an appeal to acknowledge the lives lost to climate change and to ratchet up ambition accordingly.

Yesterday was a day dominated by conversations around women’s leadership.  In the morning, we joined indigenous women leaders from East Timor and the DRC at the Global Landscapes Forum.  We’ve had some very lively discussions on what makes someone indigenous, arriving at the obvious conclusion that all of the non-American Climate Wise Women are indeed indigenous, even if they don’t all chose to use the term. In this setting, Ursula was a strong advocate for empowering women-led community work on adaptation.  She expressed a widely-felt sentiment of fatigue for all of the talk at the national and international levels that has produced little result, especially for people like the Carteret Islanders. The strong voices of the indigenous leaders and their examples of their own pro-action in the face of government inaction, raised our spirits.

In the early afternoon, however, at a press briefing with a distinguished NGO, we struggled to get our message heard.  The conversation focused on renewable energy and the business benefits of climate action and purposefully steered away from a people-centered discussion.  We heard Maldives, as well as Shanghai and Miami, calmly ticked off a list of unavoidable losses, without a single mention of the livelihoods, homelands and cultures represented by those losses.

Peter Thomson, Environment Editor for Public Radio International’s The World, restored our belief in humanity with a sensitive and thoughtful interview, taped at our apartment late in the afternoon. The interview will run in the US on over 350 public radio stations on Wednesday or Thursday, it seems. There you will hear the power and passion of the Climate Wise Women in their own words.


Greetings Friends:

“I think this is the best conversation I’ve had at the COP so far”.   Our fourth day in Paris started out with an impromptu meeting with poet and teacher Kathy Jentil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, in the Climate Generations space.   Recognizing we were among kindred spirits, we quickly got down to the deep subjects of climate migration; how one can emotionally handle planning their own cultural extinction; the impacts of having someone outside of your community dictating your relocation strategy.  South to south support and understanding were profound.

We were fortunate to spend the better part of our lunch hour in the company of Mary Robinson who helped to answer some of the questions we’d been wrestling with the past couple of evenings in our nightly de-briefings over home-cooked meals. She provided excellent insights into countries’ national motivations in their negotiations and clarified the language around human rights, women’s rights and indigenous rights in the COP draft document with her wise perspective.

Earlier in the day, Constance, Ursula and Thil joined a spontaneous action within the Blue Zone, the official meeting space for the COP, with young people gathered around a placard that read “What are you (really) negotiating for?” They spoke out for their children, for their islands, for their communities as bystanders cheered and applauded.

We ended our day at the Global Landscapes Forum, meeting with women from Biodiversity International who were extremely enthusiastic about new information from their researchers showing the benefits of women’s knowledge in rural agricultural practice.   While the value of women’s wisdom in addressing a changing climate may be well known to us, we were excited to see new players embracing the gender emphasis, increasing the possibility for real transformation.

We walked home from the Metro, under the twinkling holiday lights of Rue Montorgueil, grateful for each other’s company and for the many thoughtful dialogues of the day.


Dear Friends:

The last few days have been nothing short of amazing for the Climate Wise Women.

A week ago, we believed that our colleague Ursula Rakova would not be able to travel from her small corner of Papua New Guinea to Paris to speak on behalf of her Carteret Island community, the world’s first climate migrants.  Through an heroic effort mounted by the European Climate Foundation, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the French consular service at the eleventh hour, Ursula was able to get to Sydney and received an expedited visa.  As I write to you now, she has already started her journey to Paris and will join us on Friday.

Thil and I arrived this morning and found Constance patiently waiting for us, unaccompanied by her luggage, which had not made the switch fast enough in Amsterdam to arrive with her in Paris.

Constance had a CNN interview scheduled for the evening so, as the luggage made its leisurely trajectory towards our rented apartment in the 2nd arrondissement, Thil and I took her shopping to find something colorful and appropriate to wear on TV.

You all know what a powerful speaker Constance is. Tonight she had Thil and I in tears as she spoke about her optimism that the world will reduce Co2 emissions enough for the places most affected by the impacts, like her village in Uganda, to recover and adapt to what they have lost.  “People will realize,” she said, “that we are just like you.”

The three of us ended the evening prepping Thil for her panel tomorrow with Mary Robinson and Ministers from France, Morocco and Peru. and deciding that our definition of success in Paris would look like a genuine start, not an ending.  We would roll up our sleeves and get to work.