People with disabilities have gained a voice in the global climate talks. Here’s what that means


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Last year, climate activists who focus on the rights of people with disabilities won a major victory at the United Nations climate change conference known as the COP . They have been granted official caucus status recognized by the UN Secretariat, the organizer of the conference. They say it was the culmination of years of effort to be officially included in the proceedings. Here’s what that means for this week and beyond.

COP27 Conference

A caucus member will have the chance to address conference participants during the closing plenary session on disability inclusion. People will have an official space to congregate. Caucus members will also have better access to the conference organizer, making it easier to connect with other participants, including country delegates, negotiators, disability rights organizations, as well as the general attendance at events.

This year, two changes have been made to make the venue more accessible to people with disabilities, according to Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, an indigenous and disabled climate activist from New Zealand. People with mobility issues or chronic pain can access the conference via a separate line, so they don’t have to wait as long, and there are more ramps in buildings and on some stages.

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Yet conference organizers can do much more to ensure that the proceedings are accessible to all, such as ensuring that participants who use wheelchairs or walkers can move freely around the venue and that interpreters Sign language is present at all events, said Jason Boberg. , member of the Disability Caucus and founder of the Disability Climate Action Network SustainedAbility.

The issue of payment for damage caused by climate change, known in the jargon as “loss and damage”, is also on the agenda for people with disabilities. Activists want to include the rights of people with disabilities in the conference negotiations on this topic.

Boberg has been a leading proponent of including communities with disabilities in climate action internationally.

He said figuring out where the funding for loss and damage would come from and how to secure some of it for people with disabilities living in disaster-prone areas is “a priority” for members of the disability caucus.

Next goals

Boberg said one of the next goals will be the formal elevation of the new caucus to the level of a “constituency” within the COP.

Constituencies are umbrella groups of other organizations such as Indigenous alliances, business and industry coalitions, or farmers and agricultural associations. A disability group would have the power to call meetings with government officials and suggest speakers and participants for official COP functions. They would have the right to participate in otherwise closed workshops and events.

“We are the most affected because we are left behind, we are left on the sidelines and our voices need to be there,” said Dee Woods, food justice policy co-ordinator for UK farm union The Landworkers’ Alliance, at a November 2021 event held in Glasgow during last year’s conference, but which was not affiliated with the UN

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Boberg also said it was important for people with disabilities to be included in what is being called the UN Climate Empowerment Short-Term Action Plan, which will be developed in the coming days. . It is the United Nations framework for engaging people, organizations and communities to reduce their emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. Last year, COP delegations adopted a 10-year plan to roll out Action for Climate Empowerment.

“It’s really crucial that people and organizations with disabilities are included” in these plans, Boberg said, so they can get more resources from countries for climate action and prepare for climate emergencies. This could mean ensuring that emergency shelters are accessible. Or it could mean creating disability registries, to help governments provide extra help in the right places in anticipation of extreme weather. It could also mean help with cleaning up afterwards.

Activists are also pushing for disability rights to be included in international climate action plans, as more than a billion people worldwide live with disabilities, according to the World Health Organization.

go so far

The recognition of the Disability Caucus by the leaders of the United Nations climate conference last year was an important step. People have been gathering and organizing about this informally at the conference since COP23 in 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

“Back then (we used to meet) in hallways and cafes and wherever we could get a space,” Boberg said.

He was able to deliver the first ever disability caucus address to conference attendees last year. In it, he said world leaders and society as a whole view people with disabilities as “expected losses” as a result of climate change. He implored world leaders to include human rights and the rights of indigenous and disabled peoples in Article 6 of the Paris climate accord, which outlines how countries can deliver on their pledges to reduce climate change. emissions and promoting sustainable development.

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“Until parties recognize the leadership of people with disabilities on climate and respect our rights, this COP will be criticized as an exclusionary event where people with disabilities miss out,” he said in this 2021 statement. .

Just days before he was due to speak, Israeli energy minister Karine Elharrar, a wheelchair user, was barred from a conference where she was to speak.

Boberg told The Associated Press in an interview a few days before he left for COP27 this year that more than once he had seen language recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities appear in the draft text of the negotiations – for example , fund disability rights organizations to do climate action work. But language was cut from final agreements during negotiations.

Sherwood-O’Regan said it was “really disappointing” when it happened.

“You hope for the best, but plan for the worst and I like to keep my expectations not too high,” she said. “It sounds really cynical, but it makes it a bit easier to engage in the process.”


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