Ms. magazine  -- more than a magazine a movement



Copenhagen: A Feminist Response

By Holly Tomlinson

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, a fractious two-week meeting of 193 countries trying to create a legally binding international treaty to curb climate change, ended Friday with a whimper. What emerged was the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding treaty which, while making reference to the need to cut emissions, had no long-term reduction targets.

Also in Copenhagen, but not an official participant in the conference, was Dr. Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned ecofeminist activist. She heads the organization Navdanya, which seeks to create a new paradigm for a sustainable model of agriculture and development that puts women’s empowerment at its center. Speaking passionately to tens of thousands of climate activists at the alternative “people’s summit” held outside the official conference, she stressed the urgent need for a legally binding treaty.

Ms. asked Dr. Shiva to reflect on the conference as it was ending.

Vandana ShivaMs.: What’s your reaction to the outcome of the Copenhagen talks?

Vandana Shiva: When you have a problem as serious as climate chaos—I don’t call it climate change—what you need is a deepening of commitments to reduce emissions. You need very concrete measures.

What you don’t need is just political declarations with no legally binding content. What we have from Copenhagen is a non-legally binding treaty signed by a handful of countries. The majority of countries who are victims of climate change and were driving this process are not going to sign—they’re very disappointed, as are the citizens of the world.

Ms.: Did you feel that this was a likely, or even inevitable, result, given the way that the talks were proceeding?

VS: No, it wasn’t an inevitable result. When the heads of state came [at the end of the conference], there was a text. It wasn’t a perfect text, but it was about legally binding emissions targets and it respected the urgency of the issue. But that was put aside, and that’s when things started to fall apart. And then finally President Obama and China and India—the big three countries—basically got together and hustled together a text.

Ms:      What do you think caused that turnaround?

VS:      When it comes to key matters that affect the environment and ordinary people, the U.S. is totally captive in the hands of big business. And it is the big business that causes the pollution—the automobile industry, the oil industry, the agrichemical industry. Short-term profit-drive at the cost of the planet’s future: That is the only way corporations think. Democracy was supposed to be by the people, of the people, for the people; it’s been reduced to by the corporations, of the corporations, for the corporations. So when this mutation takes place and states become corporate states, then the outcome of Copenhagen becomes an inevitability.

[This is difficult to recognize because] the apparent contest is between rich countries and poor countries. [But] while poor countries have no corporations, or very few, they have all the damage of climate change such as floods and drought. So behind the rich countries are big corporations, and the poor countries are in fact representing people and nature.

Ms.:      Do you believe that the outcome of Copenhagen would have been different if women’s voices were better heard within the negotiations, and if gender-specific issues of climate change, such as the disproportionate effect that it has on women, had been better addressed?

VS:      Definitely. Women are losing their water. Today women in the [Indian region of the] Himalayas have to wait for eight hours for a tiny pot of water from a dying stream. So we are talking of women’s burden being very, very high. If that burden was being heard in those corridors of power, there would have been a very different outcome. Because then, women’s voices would have joined with the voices of the countries like the Maldives and the G77 [a coalition of developing countries], and we’d have had one wonderful chorus to say, “The planet is in crisis, and the planetary crisis is creating a burden for women. Stop the burden!”

Ms.:What would be your message to Ms. readers about what we should be advocating with regards to climate change?

VS:      Do not let your president get away with an empty promise of 3 percent emissions reductions. Push your government to be part of an international community, with a legally binding instrument, brought back on track by the time we get to Mexico [for the 2010 climate negotiations.]

And finally, you yourselves can be a solution. We have to make sure that the international treaty process carries on, but at home join the organic movement. If Michelle Obama can have an organic farm, why can’t the rest of the world?

Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.

For more hard-hitting feminist news and commentary, join the Ms. community and have Ms. delivered to your door!

Bookmark and Share