Climate Change and Democracy in Cancun?


I will be joining governments and civil society organisations (CSO) from all around the world in December 2010, Cancun Mexico, to attend United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Indigenous women and men of India who I previously worked with, and many ‘others’ from global south will not be there however.

My journey before Cancun lay with two NGOs, Anthra and Yakshi in the East Godvari region of Andhra Pradesh. Here we attentively listened to women and men about their experience of cultivating biofuels, a climate mitigation strategy. Through this process we found that biofuels companies were targeting men to convert the land from growing food to biofuels, deliberately excluding women from the decision making process. Many of the men had consented to growing biofuels as they were led to believe that they would make lots of money through the sales. The women we worked with told us that, as the food crops were replaced with biofuels, their families suffered food shortages, and that the knowledge systems and control of the land passed from the hands of women to the hands of men, overturning local tradition and disempowering women.

As we gathered women in the village, told me ‘we want to grow food’. This simple yet powerful expression,  ‘we want to grow food’ – served as a way out of the biofuels impasse and a way to regain the power that was taken away from them. Over the last year most of the women have returned to their lands, uprooted the biofuels, and started to grow their own food crops, reclaiming their land and power.

In Cancun I will find myself in the polar situation. Instead of being with indigenous women I will find myself with powerful elites in governments. But it is the Indigenous women of the south who are facing developed worlds outsourced global carbon mitigation efforts and who are most likely to be affected by climate change, yet they are indirectly excluded, like many women of the south, from the seats of power in Cancun. These unheard experiences of indigenous women from the south are vital components in developing sustainable and socially robust climate change solutions. Could the UNFCCC do more in building more effective platforms for such unheard voices and CSO to be heard, and thereby enhance it democratic potential? I hope it does as more democracy both western and non-western forms, are part and parcel of the climate change solution.

For me I will walk into Cancun with this serious question in mind: if women in the global south and indigenous people are not heard in the UNFCCC process can their interests be met? We will have to wait and see and I will indeed report back on this. I do know that the spirit and voice of the global south will not be expressed though national governments alone. Governments rarely reflect the rich diversity of a nation nor are they always an expression of the people. Addressing climate change cannot be left to our heads of state alone, it is a common problem that affects us all. CAFOD will seek to redress this through working with its partners in developing countries and pressuring the UNFCCC to hear such voices.

The experience of indigenous women in India who suffered at the hands of mitigation strategies should awaken us to the democratic vision, of being inclusive. A vision, built around experience where women from the south, indigenous people, are equally represented, actively participating side-by-side at the UNFCCC decision making table.  In effect, building a new culture within the UNFCCC, and new way in finding solutions to a common cause – climate change. I fear if our imaginations fail us and we fall short of transformational vision the voice of rural women of the south and indigenous people will remain remote, distant from the UNFCCC process.

Yet, I remain hopeful, spurred by the eloquent words of Arundhati Roy: ‘Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe’. I did hear her breath in the villages of India, with the women who reclaimed their lands and power. It is these voices that the UNFCCC needs to hear.  It is the quiet breathing.

By Jasber Singh

2 Responses to “Climate Change and Democracy in Cancun?”

  1. Agnes Kithikii Says:

    I keen read the reflections of Jasper Singh ahead of the UNFCCC meeting in Cancun this December. I read this reflection after coming from a climate change hearing in Malindi in Kenya where women and men at the grassroots level and living near the Malindi Beach narrated their own stories on how the climate has changed and adversely they have been affected by these changes. I concur with Jasper, it is these great men and women who are bearing the direct impact of climate change that should be seated in narrating these stories to inform the Cancun process.

    This reflection is indeed great and appealing to the people living in East Africa where recurrent droughts, floods and environmental degradation are threatening the lives of millions of people.


  2. Anna Says:

    According to ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, 1.3 billion people in Asia could be affected by the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. This is the trailer of a documentary on climate change and the Sherpa people, in Nepal:

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