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We must center gender and community rights for climate action (commentary)

  • The latest UN climate treaty talks continue in Bonn, Germany, from June 5-15.
  • Two campaigners argue in a new op-ed that inclusion of diverse voices in the negotiations is crucial to reducing human rights violations, gender inequalities, and biodiversity loss.
  • This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

As we head into the mid-year climate talks in Bonn, Germany, the corporate co-opting of the climate agenda has never been starker. Public pressure must be brought to bear on UN member states to reject the corporate-backed focus on carbon removals, offsets, and other false solutions and urgently shift to real, gender-just and rights-based actions capable of tackling the root causes of the climate crisis and securing a livable and sustainable future for all.

Following the last Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP27) in Sharm el Sheik, climate talks (SB58) continue in Bonn from June 5-15.

It has been 31 years since the UNFCCC and its sister conventions were established during the Rio Conference in 1992. Since then, emissions have continued to rise, biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented scale, and land degradation and desertification are advancing faster than ever before. This isn’t because we cannot find the solutions to these existential threats, but that corporate co-opting of the climate agenda has systematically and intentionally blocked genuine pathways to a sustainable future.

Women meeting with Tewa, the Nepalese Women’s Fund and the Prakriti Resources Center, a sustainable development and environemtnal NGO, in Nepal.
Women meeting with Tewa, the Nepalese Women’s Fund and the Prakriti Resources Center, a sustainable development and environmental NGO, in Nepal. Photo courtesy of The Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action.

Territorial conflicts have intensified, especially in the Global South, where Indigenous peoples, women and girls in all their diversity, and local and Afro-descendant communities continue fighting for justice, land, cultural and human rights. Significant increases of attacks involving the invasion of Indigenous lands and other forms of violence continue to be a challenge in key biodiversity areas.

Earlier this year, the IPCC published the last report of the Sixth Assessment Cycle, the ‘AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023.’ The world is already experiencing devastating effects of climate change at a 1.2 Cº increase, and in its report, the IPCC paints a difficult path to 1.5 Cº and it establishes with ‘high confidence’ that “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.” In fact, we are already in an era of irreversible losses and damages, where countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis, have also less means to face its impacts and overcome it.

Yet, policymakers and corporations continue to focus on carbon removals, offsets, and other false solutions while ignoring real gender-just and rights-based solutions to reach the 1.5Cº target. These false solutions, which reproduce the prevailing neo-colonial and patriarchal system, are being pushed and are creeping into public policy-spaces, programs and activities at different governance levels.

The role that corporations play in promoting these schemes is undeniable. Carbon markets, offsets, bioenergy, afforestation/reforestation with monocultures, and unproven and risky techno fixes are their ‘get out of jail’ card since it allows them to continue with their business as usual instead of cutting emissions.

But these systems do not work and, in fact, have negative and gender-differentiated impacts on communities on the frontlines as well as on the ecosystems and environment overall. Corporations are grabbing millions of hectares of land in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean under the guise of reforestation, imposing negative impacts on women and girls in all their diversity, increasing conflicts, creating deep inequalities, and strengthening colonial structures.

Célia Xakriabá.
Célia Xakriabá says climate justice was key to her election to Brazil’s Congress. Image by Mongabay.

Carbon offsetting in particular is increasingly being exposed for what it is. For instance, very recently, it was shown that Chevron’s carbon offsets are mostly junk, and earlier this year, Verra, the carbon credit certifier, was exposed for similar reasons regarding the so-called ‘quality’ of the credits they certify and their methodology. But market-based mechanisms are still portrayed as THE solution. Neither carbon offsetting projects, nor colonial and gender blind practices will take us out of the current climate crisis. Yet, taking immediate actions towards community-based and gender-just approaches will lead us to tackle the root causes of climate change.

The push for – and prevalence of – false solutions and corporate capture can also be easily observed in the UNFCCC negotiations, where market-based mechanisms, including carbon markets, have been prioritized over non-market approaches under Article 6 on Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs). This year, despite mounting social movements and diplomatic pressure, the COP28 president will be the head of a state oil company. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president-designate for COP28 and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, calls for “real collaboration,” “true partnership” and “collective responsibility.” Nevertheless, such demands would only be possible if the corporations and private interests that precisely have led us into this climate crisis stop interfering in policy making.

The IPCC reports have recognized that support for gender-just community conservation and restoration of forests and other ecosystems, including by strengthening land tenure rights, is one of the most effective ways to mitigate climate change. This is what policymakers must support and push for instead. There is a clear need to bridge the gap between some of the IPCC findings and the way they are often interpreted at the national and international levels by governments and corporations.

Feminism in all its multiple expressions advocates towards “dismantling those colonial structures embedded in our system, which perpetuate the cycles of violence and murder,” Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) Project Manager Gina Cortés emphasized in a webinar on gender-just perspectives recently hosted by our organization, the Global Forest Coalition.

Policies towards defending gender-just and community-rights-based approaches are fundamental to fighting extractivism, climate colonialism, racism, gender-based violences and other forms of power imbalances. The transformation of the economic system and its growth patterns, which necessarily implies cutting emissions, is a pathway that should be at the center of climate action.

Clouds reflected in a lake in the Amazon Rainforest.
Clouds reflected in a lake in the Amazon Rainforest. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

What ‘winning’ would look like in relation to the climate and other intertwined crises is when land and nature overall is no longer treated as a commodity; when often abused and  unprivileged  groups and rights holders, including Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, women and girls in all their diversity, gain access, control and governance rights to land, ecosystems and natural resources; when the exploitation of territories stops; when structural barriers, colonialism, extractivism, capitalist and patriarchal systems are torn down; and when people are placed over profit.

In a recent message disseminated by UNESCO on the occasion of World Biodiversity Day, young Indigenous leader Txai Suruí, from the Paiter Suruí people in Brazil, said that “in all the biomes there is standing forest thanks to the Indigenous peoples’ fight. Because we not only understand that we simply live here, but we are part of this territory. The trees are our sisters, the rivers are also our fathers.”

The inclusion of legitimate voices in forest governance is crucial to reduce human rights violations, gender inequalities and biodiversity loss.

As it can be often heard in the chanting of marches dreaming of and demanding social, gender and climate justice: “We are unstoppable, another world is possible!”


Coraina de la Plaza is the Forests and Climate Campaign Coordinator and Valentina Figuera Martínez is the Gender Justice and Forests Campaign Coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition.

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: At the recent biodiversity COP 15, corporate influence was also on display, listen here:

See related coverage here at Mongabay:

Women decision-makers can improve conservation and agriculture, study shows

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