Installment 15: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 15 was written by Lindsey Forsberg, a graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
A Tale of Two Conferences
Greetings from Prague! The 24thConference of the Parties (COP) has finally concluded and attendees from around the world are slowly making their way home. As observers at COP24, the experience for us students in Katowice was more like a normal conference than an ongoing negotiation. Every day there were dozens of panels and presentations on topics like renewable energy financing, supporting gender-resilient climate adaptation, and plant-based diets for climate change mitigation. The negotiations happened primarily behind closed doors, and observers received occasional updates on the progress.
Earlier this summer I attended another international climate conference, Adaptation Futures, in Cape Town, South Africa with Dr. Chan from the Humphrey School. As the name suggests, Adaptation Futures was focused entirely on adaptation, whereas COP24 covers both mitigation and adaptation. I intended to write this blog post about gender and climate – specifically, Gender Day at the COP – but as I attended gender-themed events my mind shifted to a constant comparison of the two conferences. My key takeaway was simply this: COP is not the best place to have meaningful discussions on gender and climate. Here are some of the key differences I noticed:
- Diversity on panels was poor at the COP. Presentations were done primarily by white men and a handful of women. This was a sharp contrast with Adaptation Futures, which was purposely held on the African continent this year to attract a more diverse set of panelists. Especially for discussions of gender and vulnerability to climate change, it seemed like many important voices were missing from regions that are dealing firsthand with gender and climate. Of course, Adaptation Futures was not perfectly representative either, but it did feel one step closer.
- COP24 felt infinitely more chaotic than Adaptation Future. There were 30,000 people at COP24 (compared with closer to 1,000 at Adaptation Futures) which made it hard to see the same individual more than once and build connections for meaningful discussion. It also meant that at any given time there were about a dozen different talks and events to attend, and prioritizing was challenging even with a focus on one topic like gender and climate.
- COP is designed for practitioners at high-level funds and organizations operating transnationally. In contrast, Adaptation Futures was in all ways a research conference. For a topic like gender and climate, the research field is young and still developing. We don’t have all the answers and best-practices nailed down yet! For that reason, I found the research approach more interesting and appropriate for discussing gender within the context of climate change.
- It was clear that adaptation is the side show at COP. Rightly so, I would argue. We need to keep most of our international efforts focused on mitigation, while still acknowledging that adaptation is a topic that cannot be ignored. Gender, as a subset of adaptation efforts, felt almost too tangentially related to the goal of the conference to be discussed.
- Our research last year highlighted that gender mainstreaming, or incorporating gender language into policy, may not be a very effective way to improve gender equality. Because of the goals of COP24, the depth of gender discussions rarely went beyond gender mainstreaming. The focus was on language within specific policy, primarily the Paris Rulebook. Adaptation Futures looked one step beyond policy to implementation and impact.
For me, the experience highlighted the importance of carving out separate spaces to discuss, strategize, and plan for adaptation, especially as it relates to gender. The annual Conference of the Parties may not be the place to meaningfully find solutions to address gender-based vulnerability to a changing climate. I certainly don’t mean to downplay the importance and impact of the COP! Mitigation is my key professional focus and finding agreement on rules to implement the Paris Agreement is essential to prevent further dramatic climatic changes. However, as the climate regime expands, we need new spaces and voices to discuss linked issues like gender, and to find meaningful solutions for individuals already feeling the impacts of a changing climate.