Climate Justice at COP28: Perspectives of Caribbean Feminist Activists

A cohort of Caribbean feminist groups are making sure that women’s role in climate action doesn’t go unacknowledged.

Kerryne James—Grenada’s minister for climate resilience, the environment and renewable energy—speaks during a COP28 session on Dec. 5, 2023. (Dominika Zarzycka / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Right now, political leaders, corporate representatives and climate activists are gathered in Dubai for the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP28—to discuss approaches to mitigating the climate crisis. Gender equality has been identified as a thematic priority within the COP28 agenda, and gender practitioners and activists alike are waiting expectantly to learn about how women and other marginalized groups will factor into decisions around just transition, climate finance, and loss and damage negotiations.

Calls for climate justice to underpin all COP decisions are especially loud among feminist activists, as they seek to build on insights that emerged during Women Deliver 2023.

We caught up with feminist climate activists in the Caribbean on what climate justice means to them and what their expectations are of COP28.

Feminist Organizing for Climate Justice in the Caribbean

In the Caribbean, women and girls are the face of climate action, and are at the forefront of transformative climate solutions. They have played a critical role in raising awareness about climate change, lobbying for more ambitious strategies by regional governments, and supporting coalitions that influenced changes in global policies.

Despite this, women remain underrepresented in environmental decision-making, underfunded in climate action initiatives, and are often portrayed as passive victims of climate change rather than holders of solutions.

But a cohort of Caribbean feminist groups are making sure that women’s role in climate action doesn’t go unacknowledged. They are working on a feminist approach to climate justice that aims to address the root causes of inequality; transform power relations; and promote the rights of women, girls and all historically marginalized people.

Yet, even among feminists, climate justice doesn’t mean only one thing—it can take on different meanings and interpretations based on the unique historical and socio-political experiences of their community.

For Marisa Hutchinson, a Black Caribbean feminist from Barbados who works with women in the Global South, climate justice means that “we are not only given a seat at the table to contribute to decision-making processes at all levels, but that our role in the fight against climate change be acknowledged and women and others marginalized by the crisis be seen as knowledge holders in their own rights.”

Climate Negotiations Must Center Women, Girls and Marginalized Communities

“This year, I’m seeing clearly my personal connection to COP,” said Christine Samwaroo, an intersectional feminist based in Guyana who works at the intersection of environmental justice and gender justice.

Samwaroo had planned to attend COP28 this year, but was unable to go due to an emergency. She acknowledged how structural barriers—such as visa requirements and travel costs—make it difficult for feminist activists to attend COP, especially those from the Global South.

Feminist actors are calling for COP to center the priorities and needs of communities most impacted by climate change, instead of those organizations that are most responsible for contributing to the problem. But this year’s COP negotiations are seeing the largest wave of corporate capture, causing some actors to refer to it as an “unhinged political farce.”

“Maybe COP stands for ‘Controversies of the Parties,’” Samwaroo said.

Still, she said, she’s deeply invested in feminist participation at COP. “I’ll be supporting my fellow climate advocates that are going and being in solidarity with them, because I know how stressful it is being in a different country with so many different rules for two weeks.”

Through the Caribbean Climate Justice Alliance, she is also co-coordinating a Caribbean-wide campaign called “Truth Be Told: A Caribbean Call to Action on Gender and Climate Justice,” through the Caribbean Climate Justice Alliance, which aims to work alongside the COP to mobilize awareness, visibility and policy advocacy on gender and climate justice.

But the negotiations taking place at COP28 are only the beginning. Next comes the hard work of pushing for accountability for the commitments made, Samwaroo said. “I’m really thinking about what happens after COP in the new year, when all of this gets put into action.”

At COP28, as it relates to the issue of loss and damage, Hutchinson’s expectations are that communities most affected and marginalized as a result of the climate crisis are ensured climate reparations for their suffering. Many actors see the provision of funds to women through the loss and damage funds as key to empowering women to address the impacts of climate at the household and community level.

As members of a community, when women lack access to equitable financial systems, this can impact their livelihoods and autonomy, purchasing power of climate technologies for their homes or businesses, and ability to pay for energy efficiency upgrades.

‘Don’t Continue to Fail Women’: Funding Loss and Damage and a Gender Just Transition

Feminist actors are advocating for a loss and damage fund that allows for direct financing to women to help catalyze transformational change and promotes feminist funding approaches.

Those severely impacted by climate change and environmental degradation—especially in the Global South—do not have another decade, or even five years, to wait for a gender-responsive, human rights approach to ensuring their rights and survival.

The Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) in its demands for feminist climate finance said it requires a systemic and structural transformation of our global economic systems and climate finance flows to reach communities and countries on the frontlines of climate impacts, as well as to fund a gender just transition. Until then, the work of feminist funders such as Global Fund for Women is critical to place money directly in the hands of women’s organizations working to promote climate resilience for all.

Hutchinson’s ask to parties in this year’s negotiations is to ensure that they don’t continue to fail women and those most marginalized. She reminded us that those severely impacted by climate change and environmental degradation—especially in the Global South—do not have another decade or even five years to wait for a gender-responsive, human rights approach to ensuring their rights and survival.

Feminist actors are calling out government and private sector actors for perpetuating marginalization, discrimination and violence against women human rights defenders and Indigenous land defenders, and of undermining their rights and needs in the COP process. They are demanding that girls, women and youth in all their diversity must be meaningfully included as co-creators and co-leaders in climate decision-making processes and spaces, at all levels—including in COP28 and its outcomes.

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Ayesha Constable is a feminist climate practitioner in the Caribbean. She is the technical director for climate justice at Global Fund for Women, where she supports cross-regional feminist climate movements in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.