At my final event of the first day of the COP21, a female panelist expressed her concern that the future of her children was in the hands of “old white men.” I feared the same reality as I made my way towards the 21st Conference of the Parties. Though there is much to say for the inequality present among the deciding forces behind negotiation walls, I was happily surprised to see all those who were represented and included. Namely, I’d like to highlight their contributions and celebrate the many faces of the COP.
The very first side event we attended was sponsored by the Third World Network. At this event, we heard world leaders from China, India and Bolivia talk about their expectations of the COP21. These leaders championed for adaptation as the “forgotten child” of the COP, as people more so enjoy throwing their money at the more flashy mitigation. Bolivian delegate Juan Hoffmaister made the point that developing nations simply no longer have a choice. Time has run out, and we need adaptation now. The general perspectives of developing nations at the COP thus far has been that developed countries must take historical responsibility for the damage they have caused and thus pay for these strategies that they are requesting developing countries to uphold. If we had the chance to develop freely and extend our arms and legs out into the world, why shouldn’t they?
Unfortunately, the paternalistic ideology that supported many developed nations in their procurement of wealth also serves to exacerbate inequality within and between nations. The side event that I sat in on in particular was impressive, as it was made up of women who had all gone above and beyond to spread the voices of silenced women around the world. Whether it is disaster reduction teams in Vietnam or organized gatherings in Nepal, women all over the world have risen up to fight climate change. This is especially pertinent as women are more vulnerable to climate change than men, frequently receiving lower incomes than men and having generally fewer resources such as education and work experience. Fortunately, these women are far too great to be squashed into a corner. They have risen up, they are proud, and they are fighting.
Also marginalized frequently are indigenous peoples around the world. Though their mention is often thrown around in conversation about development or more recently in light of the refugee crisis, indigenous peoples are still not receiving the respect or the support that they are entitled to. I say entitled to specifically, as they are not a charity case and our poor treatment of them is truly illegal. It was incredible to watch the activists from these indigenous communities share their knowledge and passion with the audience. Adorning large feathered headdresses and painted faces, they commanded a strong presence, showcasing a pride in their culture and their people. Many of the indigenous individuals spoke of concrete ideas for how we can better support their communities, including examples of coalition-building and a new fund in their name.
While it was inspiring to hear all groups talk about their fears of climate change and it’s impending effects on their prosperity, it was powerful to hear from the prosperity themselves. We heard from absolutely inspiring youth at one event, some of whom had assisted with the formation of the UN sustainable development goals and others who work with the UN already. Regardless of their backgrounds however, they all had very strong opinions as to how this COP should be run. It was inspiring to see such passion among my peers and I am truly hopeful that we will lead ourselves into a brighter future than our predecessors.
These are just a small sample of the many incredible nations and groups represented this year. Though COP21 has only just begun, one thing is certain. Our future is not being fought for by white men. In thinking so, we give them the power. The future is truly in the hands of the women, indigenous tribes, students, youths and many more who are here today and every other day fighting for their rights and the rights of those who are silenced. Let’s make sure their voices get heard.
Written by Naomi Maisel, 11/ 30/15