Reflecting on COP21 and its Implications for RWA

Thandiwe Chidavarume reflecting on COP21 and its Implications for RWA rom Women and Land in Zimbabwe (WLZ) reflects on the COP21 talks and the implications this has for the Rural Women’s Assembly.

Q: Which sessions did you attend at COP21?

TC: The Rural Women’s Assembly and the Peoples Dialogue team arrived in Paris on the 6th and went on to attend two meetings. The first meeting I attended was on ‘towards an UN binding Treaty on TNCs and stopping the Trade Investment Regime and climate change. The aim of the meeting was to get a sense of what was happening in the communities and regions with a view to strengthening and build relations between the movements. This was building up to the dismantle cooperate power campaign and getting full understanding of the human being violations inflicted on people by corporates. There were some presenters who looked at the impact of the activities of TNCs in their own countries. From the analysis and discussion we noted that we had similar agendas and that the impact was similar where their main achievement is for profit making and they just want to extract wealth from poor countries at the expense of poor people and they talk of development. But if you look at the kind of development they bring it’s that kind of development that benefits their capitalistic agenda.

During the discussions from other meetings later attended and discussions from our own meetings it was very clear that as civil society organizations and as activists we need to build strong linkages and strengthen movements locally for us to be able to win the struggles. However, we managed to take this opportunity as a platform for learning, sharing, networking, and building linkages and in the process strengthened our movements.

Then the other meeting that I attended was the meeting for farmers that was organised by the La Via Campasina and the discussion was on the impact of climate change and the issue of indigenous seeds and the issue of natural farming.

Another session we attended was the CCFD-Terre Solidaire meeting, one of the partners which is a catholic organisation in Paris. We attended two meetings in that office and in the first meeting CCFD-Terre Solidaire briefed us on what the negotiators were coming at and what they were likely to agree upon. What we discovered from the presentations was: the first thing that we noted was that we were against the suggested solution. These solutions were not homemade solutions they are solutions that are prescribed to people who are facing and who are impacted by the effects of climate change – meaning that they have left out farmers, they have left out the people who are most affected by climate change. The corporations who presented at the COP meeting were more concerned on how they can make money out of the false solutions instead of focusing of carbon emission reduction. Like other COP meetings nothing legally binding was made towards commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 1.5 degree Celsius and in the setting aside of climate adaptation fund. In terms of reduction, the major question is how they are going to measure countries\’ reduction rates?

The other thing that they were talking of the 2 degree Celsius which they want the countries to maintain to keep the climatic conditions to where they are. But we were seeing from the discussions that there were no legal measures put in place to ensure that these are enforced or even to measure the countries to see whether they are meeting these targets. The other issue was the issue of climate change funding and there were also no mechanisms to enforce that.

Another issue with the solutions that were prescribed which I feel as a farmer myself coming from Africa, coming from a country whose economy is based on rain fed agriculture, the solutions are not supportive of our farming activities. I think the discussions should have been hinged on how we can remedy the situation that the farmers are in. For example in Zimbabwe we are experiencing a drought which is being caused by climate change. As such we need solutions to deal with such issues. We also discuss the issues of indigenous seeds, we want our indigenous seeds to be protected and promoted. We want promotion of our own seeds and that when they talk of food security they think of profit out of providing people with food. The kind of food they produce is not the kind of food that we want to have as Africans.

Q: What were your expectations of COP21 talks in Paris?

TC: When I left Zimbabwe I was convinced and looking forward to meet the negotiators and tell them to be serious and come up with good solutions to the climate change problem. I also felt the need to tell the negotiators that we were watching them and that whatever decision was to be taken it had to be legally binding and realistic. The agreement we were hoping to see was one with input from the affected peoples of this world which are realistic and are in harmony with nature.

What we wanted:

1. Transformative change: Moving away from fossil fuels and extractivist models of development and transitioning into a world that ensures the planet and humanity’s survival by keeping temperatures rise below 1.5°C.

2. World leaders to take urgent and decisive political action: A global, fair, binding, accountable and transformative agreement, one that thoroughly addresses the ecological debt owed to present and future generations. A long-term agreement that enhances the decarbonisation of our societies to secure a safe, fair and clean future for us and for our grandchildren; mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Something that places the respect of human rights above particular interests. Climate change is affecting peoples’ rights to food, rights to shelter [homes year in year out are washed away by cyclones] right to health [too high temperatures and too low temperatures causes health problems especially to women and children] and many other human rights. We want system change in order to prevent further climate change!


My assessment of the outcome of the Paris meeting;

On Long-term goal – rhetorical mention of 1.5 Celsius but without any process defining how to achieve that. The National plans that they asked countries present to come up with do not have any monitoring mechanism to see if they are implementing these plans. To me they are optional meaning not very important, need not to worry much about them. I also think reduction should be more emphasised to developed countries whose rate of emissions are so high and who are the culprit who put us in the current mess in which we are facing.

On Climate Finance – the terms used here does not show how this can be enforced and even to differentiate between obligations for developed and developing countries but only as options and there is great risk being lost, ignored and also there is no clarity on how finance will be provided in a predictable manner. No enforcement mechanisms to push the developed countries to pay were made.

Human Rights Approach to climate change issues – references too weak to safeguard people’s rights in all climate change-related actions. Not sure if they really understood the damage that climate change has on poor people’s lives.

Food Security – extremely concerned by the inappropriate reference to food production and distribution. The issue of food and livelihood security not an issue to the negotiators.
Land Usage- worst scenario possible. References to land use have been removed from the entire text and replaced by agreed terms in the 1992 Convention: sinks and reservoirs. There is no link to adaptation and food security.

State obligations – All INDCs [country plans] that have been submitted have to be revised and ideally improved before the new agreement comes into force. While it is important there seems to be an agreement among the parties to review the INDCs every five years, it’s not acceptable to have no detail on what will be accounted for.

Q: In your observations during the sessions you attended was there anything significant for rural women that stood out for you?

TC: One thing that I liked is that everyone is agreeing that human activities are causing climate change and that the real reasons that they are starting to think how each country or member state can start to reduce emissions. I think to me that was very positive and also to hear that climate change is affecting the small holder farmers and the bulk of the small holder farmers are women and that was very positive to me.

What came out clearly from the civil society groups and movements that were present in the Civil Society space that despite their false solutions and fake agreements we shall continue to save the planet by practicing agro-ecology. Five major solutions suggested to cool down the planet whilst living in harmony with nature and feeding people are as follows:

Taking care of the soil-this is done to reduce the massive loss of organic materials. Natural farming – non use of chemicals in farming to control weeds and chemicals. Cutting on food miles and corporations and focus on fresh food.

Giving back land to the farmers and stop mega plantations and projects [no to PIDA]. Forget the false solutions to climate change and focus on what works. The people have the solutions. They should talk to us.

The other thing that was also positive is that our attendance as RWA created some linkages between the other movements that are in the South North linkages. We were hoping that they would strengthen our campaigns and support each other even when we are doing our lobbying and advocacy. We can then be more powerful when the campaigns are sustained from Africa and Europe and everywhere.

Q: What are some of the key demands that RWA took to COP21?

TC: We were saying no to fossil fuels and extractivism. We need the land for farming and extractivism and mining is destructive and it destroys the soil. As rural women we are farmers by nature that rely on agriculture for our livelihoods. Mining activities or extractivism is destroying the land we need and is contaminating the water that we need for our cattle, goats and small gardens.

We are saying no to land grabs. We were also saying that we don’t want imposed solutions to climate change we want our own home grown solutions.

We want the promotion of traditional seeds and not to continue to support the Monsantos seed houses that are making profit out of our own work. The seeds they are prescribing are not doing very well. They are not good for the current climatic conditions that we are experiencing in our countries in Africa.

We want sustainable use of our natural resources especially the soil. We are saying no to the use of chemicals and no to the use of fertilizers. We want to grow our food organically.

We should respect human rights when we are dealing with climate change issues, a greater recognition of climate change and the impact of mining activities on women’s livelihoods.

Q: In light of COP21 talks, does RWA offer any alternatives and what do they look like?

TC: RWA prescribes to the following alternatives: the sustainable use of natural resources we need to be respecting nature. We need to take care of the soil. We need to engage into a kind of farming that is in harmony with nature.

We want the promotion for our traditional seeds we don’t want the policy that AU and that other SADEC countries are imposing on us. The seed policies should support our traditional seeds: the production of these seeds, the multiplication of these seeds and even allowing sharing of seeds.

We are continuing to demand our participation in their discussions. We want our presence we want our representation. Nothing for us without us! They should know that.

Q: In light of the COP21 talks in what ways can RWA strengthen women’s collective action in the region?

TC: RWA needs to strengthen our local advocacy and campaigns. We should start working at national level and start pushing negotiators at national level.

We also need to have a very heavy presence at the AU and SADEC meetings and push the chairperson of AU in SADEC to hear us. We want them to listen to women and give us an opportunity to input into the recommendations that they want to take to UN level.

The North South linkages or networking can also strengthen us. Those who are in Europe and Asia can also push their countries to listen to what the communities or small holder women farmers are prescribing.

Q: What do you think are the strategies that RWA should be advocating for in the broader climate justice movement?

TC: The work that the Rural Women’s Assembly is doing is important and we need come up with strategies of how we continue to be heard and be listened to.

We should avoid making noise, noise which is not heard which is not listened to. So we should come up with strategies of how we can influence. I attended COP17 and I attended COP 11 as RWA and we started attending COP17 in Durban. Yes they realise there is a group of people and that there is a movement of women farmers. They are saying something. They should listen to us and they should engage us and we should find a reason for how to make them listen to us and influence their thinking. We are thinking that we should start at national level. We need to have very strong WA movements at national level. It is very critical. So that when the government of Zimbabwe goes to these negotiating tables and at the back of their mind they have the issues which the WA women raised with them and when the government of South Africa goes to the negotiating table at their back of their mind they would have the issues that WA south Africa would have raised with them.

Q: In closing, what are some of the positive outcomes of COP21 and the sessions RWA attended that you would like to share?

We were happy that everyone now is agreeing that human activities are contributing immensely to climate change and that there is urgent need for nations to reduce the rate at which they are producing greenhouse gases.

We are also happy that some countries are beginning to understand that the impact of climate change is mostly affecting the small holder farmers who are the least polluters. The CSO calls the COP 21 deal an ambitious deal however to me it is a way of telling the world that they are accepting their gaffe.

The process further strengthened our movements and also gave us as RWA an opportunity to link up with like-minded movements in the north.

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