Speaking Truth to Power: Gender Day

The state of gender at the Conference of Parties(COP) is largely unchanged since I have been attending for the last 3 years since COP18 in Doha, Qatar. As countries are called upon to raise ambitions regarding emissions targets, Gender Day stands as a reminder that ambition must encompass more cross-cutting issues. Gender Day emerged at COP18 in Doha, Qatar and has since become an annual event. The day is filled with gender-themed side-events and high level sessions that serve as a vehicle for advancing conversations of gender equality within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

The day started with the dedication of a tree planted in memory of Nobel Peace Prize winner, feminist, environmentalist, and human rights advocate Wangari Maathai. Gender Day at COP20 took a different tone than those of the past two years with Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, setting the mood at the high level panel for gender. Robinson acknowledged that gender equality has come a long way since the Beijing Declaration was adopted in 1995, but that there is still a long way to go. Robinson stated, “We need to continue to strengthen women’s rights and not let them backslide.” These remarks shortly followed the SBI decision on gender which was finalized on Friday, December 5th. The text denied the use of “gender equality” and instead utilizes the less impactful term “gender balance”. This means that low ambition for equitable gender participation will remain the norm within the UNFCCC in Lima and beyond. 

In the past two years, Gender Day has served as a platform for discussing women’s vulnerability to climate change without necessarily talking about how women contribute on an international scale. Although women are on the frontline of the impacts of climate change, there are not appropriate avenues for them to share their experiences and knowledge within the UNFCCC. Because of this, the side events and panels on Gender Day tend to be one of the few venues where women’s positive contributions can be heard within the conference. We need to re-center dialogue away from women as victims of climate change, but as key change and decision-makers. 

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

In order for Gender Day to fulfill its intended impact, the UNFCCC must fully recognize that gender equality is a human rights issue and address the institutional barriers that block progress. Gender Day must not only be about women, but should address the needs of all genders through gender responsive texts in the negotiations.

As Wangari Maathai said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness,” she said, “to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

From One Oil State to Another.

Here I sit, right where I began in Texas. My journey from one oil state to another has shaped the way I see the world.

Right now, I can say that I’m experiencing some slight reverse culture shock. Why are women showing so much skin when it’s this cold outside? I don’t hear car horns blaring at all hours of the day or the prayer songs from a dozen mosques playing 7 times a day (it’s eerily quiet at night when I try to sleep). There are Christmas decorations everywhere and pictures of the Emir are nowhere to be seen (I don’t think most people in Texas know that an Emir is, even.)

After not having driven my car for over a month, it’s odd to have to freedom to drive myself around once again. There are traffic lights, stop signs, and street names. Doha’s traffic circles, nameless streets, and camel-mounted police seem so long ago, and yet it was only a few days ago.

Jet lag has taken it’s toll again, but this time I am in my own bed surrounded by the comfort of my loved ones. Overall, COP made me think quite a bit about my privilege. I may not be able to enter negotiations with a pink badge, but by meeting with my negotiators I am able to influence not only the happenings within my own country- but within others as well. As a U.S. citizen, my voice directly impacts the climate because of my country’s wrong-doings. I think that I, as well as everyone else in my country, should take away from this COP that we are working on a strict timeline- Climate change will not spare island nations while we discuss the proper adverb in one of many treaties. We need to ACT and we need to ACT NOW.

What could the future look like if everyone got involved? We need to REALIZE that the time for action is not when we start to really feel the impacts of climate change (I would argue that we’ve already felt it enough).

That We Need Climate Action Now!

That We Need Climate Action Now!

Until next time: Aloha, Doha.

The Show Must Go On: KP Comes to a Close

The Closing of the first commitment of the Kyoto Protocol has been marked today, December 6, 2012 in Doha, Qatar. While not all parties are happy with the text, the main thought process seemed to be that any kinks could be ironed out within the second commitment period and outlined at intercessionals.

The Philippines said it best:

“The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.
I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want.
I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

For now, Aloha from Doha.

COP19: Poland= Coaland?

It was announced on Wednesday, November 28, that the host country for COP19 is going to be Poland. Just as this year’s COP(18) is being held in an oil state, Qatar, we have to wonder how a country whose industry is dependent upon dirty fossil fuels (a.k.a. COAL) are being granted the opportunity to host the meeting of parties from around the world “working” together to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Most of the work I’ve done at home has been centered around moving the United States Beyond Coal, so the fact that climate negotiations will be held essentially on the battle ground makes me rather unsettled, just as the influence of oil has been seen in this session of negotiations (what are you doing on the escalator in front of me, man from BP?)

Thoughts, world?

Byline? Skyline.

Every evening, I have a long hour and a half to two hour long bus ride back from the QNCC (conference center) and my hotel. In the event that I am not sitting next to anyone, or anyone who would like to talk, this is my go to song:

“I got, got to get

Get my head back on

I got, got to get myself together

When this hurt is gone

I got, got to get myself together
I got, got to get

Can’t tell what’s going wrong

I wish there’s something could be done
I’m not that clever.”

There’s something remarkably soothing about zoning out, thinking of nothing, and just taking into the twinkling city lights of Doha. No thoughts of negotiations. No conversation about world problems. Nothing but my fellow Swede and I gettin’ ourselves together.

Doha nights.

Doha nights.

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Drafted December 5th, 2012 

Let the COP Begin!!!

Monday, November 26 marked the opening of the Conference of Parties 18 (COP18). My day started off bright and early with a meeting with Youth NGOs (YOUNGO) to discuss and share our ideas and what work we would like to get done at this COP.

Me enjoying some traditional Qatari coffee in the QNCC

The official day of the COP started with the opening plenary. In her address during the opening plenary, Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, shared her hopes that “the Doha COP also presents a unique challenge – to look at both the present and the future under the Durban Platform. May I dare say that under your guidance, much of this can be accomplished before the high-level segment, allowing this COP to finish not on Saturday, not on Sunday – but actually make history by finishing on Friday!”

Christiana Figueres’ address at the opening plenary (as viewed from the overflow room)

To this I say “Bring it on!” Historically, negotiations continue through the breaks over the “weekend” and tend to not propel solutions any faster. How can we make succinct, impacting, binding and non-binding agreements that are fruitful for mitigating climate change, preventing global temperature rise of 2 degrees, and keeping our atmosphere under 350 ppm? We speak our minds. We don’t take no for an answer. We react to inaction. 

On the very first day of the conference, we already had begun pressuring negotiators. An action called #ClimateLegacy staked out the front entrance that all negotiators pass through going into the conference center with youth from around the world sharing the impact that climate change has had on their lives. They asked negotiators, “what do you want to be your climate legacy?”

Sierra Student Coalition Youth Delegate Jahdiel showing negotiators the impact climate change has had on his life

In addition to the #Climate Legacy action, our very own SSC Delegate, Adriana, gave an intervention (small speech) to the opening plenary of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), saying that, “countries continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidizing fossil fuels each year. SBSTA should ensure its reporting guidelines for biennial reports include guidance to report on the existence of and efforts to remove these. ”

SSC youth delegate, Adriana, addressing SBSTA.

Later in the afternoon, YOUNGO had a special informal meeting with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Questions asked of her included:

  • How do we make the voices of youth who could not attend the COP heard by negotiators?
  • In what ways can we push a gender balance within the UNFCCC?
  • What advice would you give youth to make the most impact in their time at this year’s COP?
  • How realistic will it be for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to be passed and how can we make sure that it will be?

UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, talking with YOUNGO

After hearing Christiana speak a number of times today, I can happily tell you what I want to be when I grow up: Christiana Figueres.

Following and inspiring talk, myself and others from the SSC delegation headed to the Climate Action Network (CAN) meeting for non-governmental organizations. Now, this is a meeting that will teach you a lot. Within this meeting, there are briefings on all of the Subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC meetings and general talks about how the negotiations are going. CAN is a quirky group that awards “Fossil of the Day” to a country (or countries) who are underperforming during the negotiations and “Ray of the Day” to a country that is doing good work. The first day, CAN decided to give their “First ever ironic Ray” to the EU for:

“having already reached their pledged 2020 target almost 10 years ahead of time! They really are the fast­est under­achievers in the KP! But wait!? The EU has told us that they are not planning to increase their 2020 emissions pledge from the already achieved 20%. How outrageous! Is the EU really planning to go for the next 10 years without doing ANY further emis­sions reductions? EU you will need to quickly increase your target or the clouds will appear and it will start raining fossils on your negotiating table.”

Needless to say- I like CAN. I like CAN a lot.

That evening, we got to go over to the Sustainability EXPO for the opening party for the COP. It was a night of “mixed drinks” (which were really different types of juices mixed together since the public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Qatar- you have to be within a hotel bar), small appetizers, and native desserts (which of course included many nut and date filled goodies). After sampling these trifles, I was ready for something of substance. I saw of tray of falafel. It took another 30 minutes of searching to find it, but when I did, each and every bite of falafel tasted of sweet, sweet victory. The EXPO is filled with many companies, universities, and booths from countries. Each particular exhibit contains information (in most cases, green washing), reading materials, and SWAG. SO. MUCH. SWAG. Tricks of the trade include schmoozing, faking interest in attending a university, and relating the organizations work to your own- or, so I observed. I stuck to the whole genuine interest thing, which proved to be less fruitful.

Outside of the bougie party (strings and opera singer, included), there was a great display of traditional Qatari dancing. It consisted of many men, each carrying a sword, swaying forwarding and backward and swinging their swords to the beat of a drum. There were two drummers and one man singing (or chanting, I couldn’t say properly which one).

Traditional Qatari dancing outside of the Sustainability EXPO COP opening party

At the end of this long, long night, we went back to our hotel to welcome our 14th and final delegate to arrive, Mallory. A very good closing to a long and eventful day, indeed.

Coming soon- details about GENDER DAY

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Doha: Stories Unheard and Voices Ignored

Today marks the third day of the Conference of Youth (COY8) leading up to the beginning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) international climate change policy negotiations begin tomorrow.

This morning was a rough start. We had to take care of some issues with the hotel (under-booked, overbudget) which took a little bit longer than anticipated. Once we finally reached our bus stop (which is about a 15 minute walk) our bus had already left.

After waiting for the bus for about 45 minutes (and making new friends with a youth delegate from Algeria), we were on our way. We were having a very intense conversation about the production of natural gas in Texas in comparison to that of Algeria, solar solutions for irrigation, and the environmental movement at large, when I was distracted by a beautiful building. The young woman sitting in the seat across the aisle from me told me that it belonged to one of the higher ups in Doha (I thought that it was a museum). She told me about how the current King took the throne from his father while he was on a trip and ever since then the cost of living has increasingly risen. If cost of living was high, I wondered, how was the overall standard of living?

Doha is a city that takes up 80% of the Qatar’s total population. Of this 80%, only approximately 10% of the people living within the city are native Qataris. The majority of the population consists of an immigrant workforce mainly from Southeast Asia, India, and Sri Lanka. My new friend’s name will be V. in this blog for the sake of anonymity. She is a local Qatari of mixed Indian and Sri Lankan descent and who was born and raised here in Doha. Before V. was born in Doha, her father, who is originally from Delhi, India, had been living here for the past 35 years. She was on our bus to the convention center because she is event staff for the conference. With tears in her eyes and a slightly choked voice, V. told me about the struggles of the laborers and “minority” populations (I use quotation marks to signify that they are, indeed, the majority of the population and are still treated as second, even third, class citizens).

In Qatar, every Thursday and Friday are what is called “family days”. This is the equivalent to U.S. weekends. In Doha, things to do are few and far between. One of the most common activities in the city is to go shopping. V. told me that laborers are forbidden from going to malls on these days, sometimes the only time off of work they will have. There is nothing else for them to do in the city. They are unable to go for drinks because in Qatar the consumption of alcohol is illegal save for within the confines of hotel bars, which are far too expensive for the laborers to afford. I was not only shocked and appalled by this blatant racism, but V. also told me that the laborers only earn an average of 500 Riyals per month(approx. $133) working well over 60 hours per week. She told me that most of the laborers will just work non-stop for two years, go visit their families for a few weeks, and then come back to work non-stop for another two years- the cycle continues.

What can they do about it? They are explicitly not allowed to assemble about it. Doha has never seen a march through the city or any sort of protest- it is illegal. I felt so much guilt when we mentioned that the COP NGOS had gotten special permitting to march on a very specific strip of road, for a very specific amount of time- the first march EVER in Doha. V. told me that she was excited about the march and that we was going to try to come because she would love to see it. While I was happy that she was so interested, I also felt guilty that we were able to march and express ourselves while others, who have struggled for years continued to be swept under the rug and denied the freedom to express their needs while we could get permission in a little under a year.

I look at the beautiful skyline and all of the growth and development and I think “wow, Doha is doing really well,” while the reality, as V. told me, is that most of the higher paying jobs in oil, architecture, and industry are outsourced to Western and other Arabic peoples. Most of the minority-majority are the ones building the new buildings, constantly cleaning the sand off of the perpetually gleaming glass buildings, and driving the frustrating turquoise taxis (a.k.a. mobile death traps).

What can I do about it? I don’t know. Other than continuing to treat every person I meet as a person and not just a door holder and entering each conversation I have with others with as much intentionality as I can, how do I approach the continual development of  exceptionally multi-faceted systems of oppression in a rapidly expanding nation, one with no outlets for people without money to voice their needs or concerns? Back home in the States, I’ve seen issues like these overcome by some of the most powerful people’s movements. In Qatar, however, they do not have the option to organize the way we are able to. How can I, as a visitor, show/express solidarity? (Any thoughts? These are my 1:30am reflections and trying to digest an issue that has been haunting me for the last 14 hours)

For now, I’m looking forward to learning more and am eager to understand the real struggles and power dynamics behind a shiny curtain of perfection, growth, happiness, and relative equality. I parted from V. with the promise and hope of seeing each other again in the next two weeks that I am at the conference.

Until later, Aloha from Doha.

Songs listened to while blogging.

New Faces & New Places: COY8 Day 1

It all started around 4am this morning. In Doha, it is November 23. I woke up around 4am Arabic Standard Time, otherwise known as 7pm Central Standard Time. I’ve heard it was because of this weird thing “Jet Lag” that people keep mentioning. Hm.

Anyway- after a lovely productive morning of blogging and stuffing my face for three hours, I was able to successfully start the day! Myself and the four others here for COY from my delegation started heading out to find A. Phones B. the COY venue.

We started to walk down our busy street, stopped by a marketplace to get a bottle of water (I know, SEAKers, I know), and continued on our ventured past the numerous furniture stores to find a main street to hail a taxi.

As luck would have it, as we approached the main road, we saw signs for the COP18 bus loading stop. We might as well just check it out and make sure that we know where we’re going, right? So, we headed over the bus and saw a a large group of youth and asked where the bus was headed. The Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC)? PERFECT! We hopped on. We didn’t know whether or not we were supposed to be on it, but after a go-around numbering off we felt pretty at home on our bus. It turns out that we ended up on the same bus as Arabic Youth Climate Movement (AYCM).

SSC U.S. Youth Delegates (from left to right: Jahdiel, Jessica, Adriana, Heather) on the COP18 bus to the QNCC.

We ended up getting to the QNCC and being told that our bus would not take us to the COY venue which was not taking place at the same location as the negotiations. We, all twenty-something of us, ended up crossing crazy Qatar traffic and walking through two construction zones only to cram into a smaller bus (imagine a VW Bus from the 60s) with twenty of us, zooming through the campus of the Qatar Foundation’s Education City to our final destination: the Student Center.

The outside of the Qatar Foundation Student Center.

Having planned on eating when we purchased our phones, with our stomachs rumbling, we realized that there was not anywhere to eat around the Student Center nor transportation that could be easily hailed. So, what did we do? We explored the building. We found wonderful water fill stations and steadily growing thirstiest from our treck to the Student Center it was a welcome discovery.

Water fill stations made in Keene, New Hampshire! (One of the more positive U.S. exports here… Papa John’s in the Student Center dining hall?)

The architecture in the building is GORGEOUS! The walls are made of polished stone. There is a central elevated floor couch square (great for conversing in a relaxed setting). My favorite part of the Student Center is the sculpture garden.

After two hours of wandering around, checking e-mails, working on blogs (cough, cough), and making new friends (from the UK) it was time to register! COY8 had officially begun. Our first order of business was getting to know each other. With 100+  youth from over 30 different countries, we started to mill around in a circle and when the music stopped we introduced ourselves. What was the song they played, you ask? A song that anyone with internet would know…

Next on the agenda? An anti-oppression(AO) training. For most of the youth in the room, this was their first experience with AO and people seemed to feel empowered once they realized that we share identities that help us to relate to one another that are not easily visible. Following AO was a presentation from the Arabic Youth Climate Movement. They only started 11 weeks ago and already have participation in 22 out of 24 Arab countries.

Arabic Youth Climate Movement Presentation.

Following the AYCM, two lovely ladies from the Netherlands presented their initiative. Their idea? Make negotiators accountable through the frame of “being the solution”. Some negotiators will be put on the list of polluters, while others will be put on the list of the “soluters”.

Be the Solution!

After a few more presentations we had a “Keynote” from Bill McKibbon. He sent us a pre-recorded message telling us about his “Do the Math” tour and inviting us to join him at the Global Power Shift that will be in Istanbul next June.

Bill McKibbon’s face on a screen.

That was the end of COY day 1. Day 2- coming soon!

More adventures to come. For now, Aloha from Doha.

Observation

The smaller, less modernized portion of Doha that my delegation is staying in has a lot of shops surrounding our hotel. There are market places, furniture stores, and a LOT of barber shops that they call “Hair Saloon”s.

The most shocking thing for me to see, or rather NOT to see, is that there are no women walking around on the streets or in the shops. The only time I’ve seen women in the area where we are staying is when they are passing by in cars. Why? I don’t know. Closer to the city, there are more women out and about, but only in the seemingly more touristy areas of town.

More on this later. Right now, I am preparing for the Conference of Youth (COY) at the Qatar Foundation Student Center.

The small sculpture garden in the middle of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Center at the Qatar Foundation.

Keynote speaker this evening? Bill McKibbon!