COP28: ‘Political momentum should translate into adequately funded collective action’
CIVICUS discusses the hopes and roles of civil society at the forthcoming COP28 climate summit with Caroline Owashaba, an eco-feminist and gender inclusion specialist and Executive Director of Action for Youth Development Uganda (ACOYDE).
Founded in 2014 and fully operational since 2014, ACOYDE is a community-based civil society organisation (CSO) working with adolescents and young people to set the agenda and influence policymaking to tackle young people’s challenges at the local, national and international levels. Its head offices are in Mbarara District, southwestern Uganda.
What environmental issues does your organisation work on?
ACOYDE works on a variety of environmental issues. In August 2022 we officially launched Climate Justice Clubs in Schools, aimed at helping teachers and students learn more about climate issues, bring this information into their families and the wider community, advocate for climate justice in their localities and create their own sustainable solutions. Schools are in a good position to start up sustainable solutions – for instance, some schools have agreed not use polythene bags as packages for the food consumed at break times.
We also run a social enterprise that uses banana fibre to produce a variety of useful items. In this way, we contribute to the green economy by producing eco-friendly products that are biodegradable and support community livelihoods, especially for women and young people. This adds value to available community resources by training women to learn new skills to enhance their livelihoods.
We have recently launched a climate justice club for adolescents and young women in Mbarara, which works as a peer learning and knowledge exchange platform focused on learning new skills. We also aim to build the resilience of rural women and raise the voices of women environmental human rights defenders. Women make up a large portion of the agricultural workforce in Uganda, but their importance is largely unacknowledged: their voices and concerns are rarely heard at the national and global levels and they are largely absent from decision-making roles. Our work has focused on training young women environmental defenders to be better able to tackle the challenges they face, including threats, intimidation, harassment and evictions, amplifying their voices, sharing their best practices and providing the conditions so they can learn from one another.
Over time, we’ve seen growing collaboration between environmental activists and organisations working to protect biodiversity and those working for the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Why is civil society participation in climate talks so important?
Civil society plays critical roles in pushing for new laws, programmes, policies and strategies on climate change, holding governments accountable for their commitments, identifying the lack of coordinated government responses to climate change and ensuring that national policymaking does not forget the poor.
CSO networks also collaborate to engage the media in order to reach the public and important decision-makers to impact on policies at the planning levels.
What are your expectations concerning the outcomes of COP28?
We expect to see a clearly defined agenda take shape to implement the loss and damage strategy agreed at COP27. Political momentum should translate into adequately funded collective action.
The loss and damage fund launched at COP27 lacked a clear action plan, so we now expect to see a strategy to make it operational. Loss and damage funds are supposed to be aimed at assisting global south countries that are most vulnerable and have experienced the worst impacts of climate change. This is meant to cover the costs of natural disasters caused by global warming, such as wildfires, rising sea levels, heat waves, droughts and crop failure. Affluent countries must be the main source of funding for loss and damage, because forcing poor countries to borrow money to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and climate disasters would create more problems than it would solve.
We would like to see more heads of states present at COP28, especially from the worst polluters and largest geopolitical powers, and held accountable for their countries’ emissions.
We would like to see progress towards a just economic transition across key climate policy sectors. Meaningful partnerships are needed to link the climate agenda with broader issues of gender, food systems and ecosystem restoration. A fund should be set up for women farmers because in terms of climate resilience, grassroots and rural women are the most unsung change-makers of all time. They provide food, decent jobs and income to a large number of people. Consider how many households would be positively affected if they are adequately funded.
That’s why I take part in the COP’s national gender and climate change working group, which has a chair reporting to the global chair. This is how we connect with the global climate movement and engage in conversations to influence climate policy.
Do you anticipate any obstacles in engaging with COP28?
Gender underrepresentation is likely to persist. Women have historically been underrepresented at COPs, for a variety of reasons including lack of funding to cover airfares, accommodation and living expenses. For example, when two young women from our organisation arrived in Egypt last year, they had trouble with their accommodation reservations. They had an incredibly hard time because hotels kept increasing their rates, and the hassle hindered their involvement in the event. We were very dissatisfied with the COP’s organisational planning.
We have also witnessed accreditation procedures limiting women and girls’ involvement in COPs. The number of accreditations given is always limited, and a low share is granted to women, limiting their voices in decision-making spaces. In 2011 states agreed to boost female participation at COP, but their numbers have continued to significantly decrease. This happens at every level: for instance, a photo that was widely circulated at the start of COP27 showed only seven women among 110 leading negotiators.
If we educate women and girls but do not provide them the opportunity to participate in international conferences, we are wasting their education, time and brains. Among participants at COP27 in Egypt, only 34 per cent were women. We don’t want this to happen at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates. We want to see educated, learned women and girls representing us at COP28. More inclusiveness is needed, including of women and girls with disabilities, from Indigenous and grassroots communities, rural and peri-urban communities, and especially those working in agriculture.
What measures should be taken to make it happen?
States should invest in funding more women and young people to take part in COP28 negotiations to ensure their issues are addressed and their voices are heard. Governments should invest more in women to drastically increase the current rates of female representation, which for some countries is as low as 10 per cent.
As a result of their bigger burden of unpaid care work and more limited access to resources, women are more affected by climate change and suffer its economic impacts more. In some contexts, women are forced to drop out of school or marry to alleviate financial stress. If women and girls are given more space in negotiations, it will be more likely that these issues are addressed.
We acknowledge that COP27 had the first-ever children and youth pavilion, where young people were able to participate effectively in the process; however, there is a need for higher numbers in subsequent sessions.
The United Nations Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change made a credible attempt to involve and engage young people at COP27. But there are ongoing barriers to youth participation in high-level events, including lack of commitment from older people and lack of funding, which must be addressed.
Civic space in Uganda is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.