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  • Writer's pictureVijay Krishnarayan

The Climate’s Right for Feminist Foreign Policy: Feminist Foreign Policy’s right for the climate

I was really pleased that the Open Think Tank Network invited me to speak at the launch of their “Crowdsourced recommendations for a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP)” earlier this month (9 December 2020). It was an opportunity to congratulate them on the process and content and welcome this contribution to the continuing discourse on FFP and in particular on Gender, the Environment and Climate Change.

I offered a perspective as someone who served for 13 years in a multi-lateral system as an international civil servant. I used to be a bureaucrat but my path has been a winding one. My academic background is in Urban and Regional Planning – which in turn led to a sociological interest in the environment and then ten years in the Caribbean working for civil society organisations at the interface between development and conservation. I am a Caribbean person. This means I have a direct interest in the impacts of climate change on the sub-region. I am currently working on a global climate change campaign called Count Us In.

Climate change is currently one of the main drivers of global insecurity, migration and displacement due to frequent natural disasters and extreme weather conditions. It is true that climate change impacts all of us – indeed the unity of that threat has the potential to galvanise greater ambition globally. But this gender blind approach to climate action has left little space for discussion on the ways in which climate change impacts us differently.

  • While we all might be at risk, are some not at greater risk than others?

  • While we all have to clean up afterwards, are some not called on to clean up more than others?

  • While we all have something to gain from effective climate advocacy, might some not have more to gain than others?

It is therefore imperative that gender analysis be applied so that women's and indeed men’s specific needs and priorities are identified and addressed.

I also welcomed the language of intersectionality that you bring to the discussion on climate and gender. The intersections of marginalisation and discrimination that impact on access to opportunities and rights of people with interlocking gender, age, disability, class or other identities need to be better understood in order to strengthen inclusion and improve the integration of gender into policy making.

But this frame of analysis should not be seen as the accumulation of the burdens of different oppressions – that would only serve to reinforce the narrative of the victim, which you rightly reject. Rather it aims to reveal the multiple forms of exclusion and improve the understanding of the advantages or disadvantages that converge and that are experienced in situ.

The paper rightly highlights the small steps that have been taken by the international community to recognise that voices are missing from the policy making process. COP23 made provision for two platforms to address the deficit: The Gender Action Plan; and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform. These were important first steps in understanding that people nearest the problem are by definition also nearest the solutions.

These mechanisms were at least a recognition of the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and indigenous communities. While stakeholders recognised that the adoption of the Gender Action Plan by COP23 represented progress they also questioned the effectiveness of the mechanism to mainstream gender throughout the targets and activities under the UNFCCC. Without gender disaggregated data or meaningful stakeholder participation, this could be another box to tick. I refer to the LCIPP because the other important contribution that your report makes is in connecting colonialism and climate policy. There is a historical legacy that needs to be named if climate policy is going to address common but differentiated responsibilities with any authenticity.

The paper signposts areas where more work is needed. Climate change poses a global existential threat. It, therefore, requires multi-lateral responses at a time when international cooperation is presented either as an instrument of neo-liberalism or a constraint on sovereignty. Multilateralism has a bad name and is a tough sell.

Diplomacy needs to be re-imagined so that it is able to avoid these traps and develop solutions to global problems. Governments alone will not solve the problem. A new kind of climate diplomacy must incorporate dialogue with civil society and makes use of soft power. This includes fostering alliances between social movements, civil society, businesses and others with government. For example, the paper highlights the role of cities in contributing to carbon pollution – as well as their role in addressing it. City Mayors are some of the most convincing advocates – as seen in the C40 Network – they need to feature as part of the multi-lateral diplomatic mix. Climate diplomacy needs to enable and deploy alliances and coalitions of national governments and other stakeholders that bring diverse skills and insights to the table.

For practitioners the key messages from the paper are clear. FFP can help make the achievement of commonly agreed climate goals and it requires:

  • Committing to multilateralism – while improving the accountability of those institutions

  • Re-imagining diplomacy – while bringing previously excluded voices to the table

  • Forging new alliances – while understanding the importance of intersectionality

It’s not too late to protect what we love and a Feminist Foreign Policy approach can help us make progress where we’ve previously stalled.

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