African women won’t be heard at COP so we wrote our own climate plan
The Women’s Climate Assembly brought together movements from across Africa and came up with a powerful declaration.
The climate talks at COP28 in Dubai this November-December will once again be dominated by rich governments, multinational corporations, and elites pushing their greenwashing “solutions” and lobbying for their vested interests. The annual climate summit, presided over this year by an oil executive, has become a co-opted space by groups that continue to plunder communities’ minerals and natural resources for profit, forgoing their historical responsibility and wreaking climate havoc as the world around us burns. Literally. Communities from developing countries across the globe have no relief from this rampant extraction nor are their voices for real climate justice being heard.
2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record and nowhere is the outlook bleaker than in Africa, which is experiencing increasing climate disasters. From severe droughts in the Horn of Africa, sea level rises which have engulfed whole villages across West Africa, to cyclones in southern Africa, the signs of the growing climate crisis are here.
Our continent is on the frontlines of climate and ecological breakdown, with African women feeling the impacts most acutely given their ties to nature as peasant farmers and their “traditional” caregiving roles. When water sources are depleted or contaminated, it is women who spend up to eight hours per day fetching potable water to sustain their families, at great personal risk. When erratic weather and rain patterns disrupt planting seasons and worsen food insecurity, it is African women farmers, who make up at least 60% of the food producers on the continent, that feel it the most.
COP28 should be an opportunity to address these challenges, which have been caused by the Global North’s relentless thirst for minerals, timber, coal, oil, and gas. Africa has only contributed 4% of climate emissions. But unfortunately, developed countries have shown little willingness to confront these problems of their own making and their roots.
Instead, countries in the Global North continue their scramble for African resources – some of them now to power energy transitions – bringing with them a blight of human rights violations, corruption, conflict and wars, and environmental collapse. The massive fuel lobby continues to shape international commitments, for example in watering down the language on coal from “phasing out” to “phasing down” as gas extraction expands in Africa and across the Global South. And we see a major push to propose false solutions such as carbon markets, which transfer responsibility of containing and reducing emissions to the Global South rather than at source in the Global North or industrial powerhouses such as China and India.
The Women’s Climate Assembly
To provide an alternative forum and bring the voices of African women to the fore, the second Women’s Climate Assembly (WCA) was held from 24-28 September in Lagos, Nigeria. Led by a steering group of women’s movements, grassroots networks, and a few NGOs working in solidarity with women in resistance, it gathered 200 women from across West, Central, East, and Southern Africa. The delegates, representing 70 communities and organisations from 17 countries, are at the forefront of resistance against large development projects that extract and exploit Africa’s natural resource wealth at the expense of people and the planet.
The WCA was one of many Peoples’ Assemblies convened as part of the third African People’s Counter COP (APCC), a hybrid event hosted by the African Climate Justice Collective (ACJC), which advances a progressive flank of a continent-wide climate justice movement. At its heart, the APCC was a response to failed COP negotiations, the lack of political will by countries most responsible for the climate crisis, and the erasure of those most impacted by multiple ecological, geopolitical, and socioeconomic crises.
As WoMin Francophone Coordinator, Oumou Koulibaly said: “We are asking them to change the system. We cannot live in this climate…With the Counter COP, we will make COP28 into a space that serves us. A space where we can put our demands forward and ensure that the voices of communities are front and centre.”
Through a process of consultation within their home countries leading up to and during the WCA, the women participants clarified and consolidated their demands in the form of a powerful declaration. This collective document outlines many ills that the communities and organisations represented say a firm “NO” to. Among many other items, this includes the “exclusion of Africa women”, “false promises and lies”, “threats and the use of force”, and “green projects which lead to our forests being fenced, our land being taken, and our lives destroyed so that companies can go on polluting while we suffer more.”
At the same time, the declaration says “YES” to many solutions.
For instance, it calls for corporations to pay “for the damage they do to our environment, our health and well-being”, highlighting that “rich countries have long benefited from stolen land, labour, and knowledge”. At COP28, this principle will be tested in discussions around the Loss and Damage Fund, announced at COP27. This fund is meant to address the irreversible harm experienced by frontline communities due to climate breakdown, but many organisations are concerned at how it is being operationalised. IBON International has warned that framework that has arisen through the past year of negotiation ignores “historic responsibility [and] principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities”. The recommendation of the World Bank as interim host of the fund meanwhile has raised fears that the Loss and Damage Fund will be treated “as a bank rather than as a mechanism for justice” in the words of Trusha Reddy, Energy and Climate Justice Coordinator, WoMin. “We fear that this will be another weak and empty fund like the Green Climate Fund.”
The WCA declaration also outlines demands and propositions such as “respect for the principles of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) always, and the right of communities to say NO to projects which do not meet their needs”. The Right to Say NO is a growing campaign across the continent as communities rise to claim their consent rights against corporations.
The declaration also says YES to, “development which respects and protects all living beings, from the smallest ant to the elephant and all species in between. We know that humans cannot live without nature, and we demand that any development holds the same respect and care.”
For COP28 to deliver real climate justice to millions of people across the Global South, the voices of Africa and African women must be heard. Movement-centred platforms like the Women’s Climate Assembly are vital contributions to cultivating the radical, fair, and just climate action we need now.
Read the full declaration from the West and Central African Women’s Climate Assembly here.