Osprey Orielle Lake: “There Is a Real Lack in Gender Reporting on the Climate Crisis”

04/11/2022     4 min read     By Ahlem Khattab

Osprey Orielle Lake, founder of WECAN International (© Erik McGregor)

The founder of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International has taken part in the last ten UN’s climate conferences. She shares her COP27 expectations and hopes, and a few resources to better tackle the gender angle when covering climate stories.

Ahead of COP27, things are quite busy for Osprey Orielle Lake. The founder and executive director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International will be at the summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, this November, and the preparations are in full swing.

Launched in 2013, WECAN connects and supports individuals and other organizations whose work centers around climate change and gender inequality. Over the years, taking part in the Conference of the Parties has become an opportunity for them to make the voices of so many women heard. But this year, it feels more urgent than ever.

During COP26, in Glasgow, men constituted 63% of the party delegations and spoke 71% of the time according to a UN report. In the news, across media coverage of the event, “only 2% of climate change stories contained a gender angle within them,” according to an analysis by AKAS, a London-based international agency specializing in audience strategy.

COP26 in 2021 was disappointing for many organizations and climate activists. It was notably criticized for the overrepresentation of men at the summit and in discussions. What do you really expect from this year’s conference, as a climate justice advocate who focuses on gender?

Osprey Orielle Lake — I think that we need to realize that the United Nations’ climate talks are a space that can only address certain aspects of the climate crisis. That is a fact. This is their 27th year, and even the UN Secretary General has made it clear that governments are not moving fast enough.

So what we can expect is some of the same dialogue that has been going on for over 20 years, heading towards 30 years. I think what’s important is that it’s a place to mobilize and make clear what are the demands from civil society, what are the solutions that are happening on the front lines, and what are the climate justice movements mobilizing around.

Many grassroots, front-line, indigenous women from all over the world are going to be gathering at COP27 to strategize and accelerate our collective efforts to halt the worst impacts of the climate crisis, to stop extractivism, to protect our land, our forests, our water, and our children’s future. And we don’t forget the voices of women and feminist leaders who are not there, that we also want to highlight.

One of the big topics that many movements are bringing to this particular COP is a discussion on a demand for loss and damage. There has to be a way to address the inequities between the global South and the global North. Historical harms have been caused by the countries who have emitted the most, and it’s not something to kick down the road. It’s something to deal with now. Countries are being harmed now. Hurricanes are happening now. Droughts are happening now. Floods are happening now. Fires are happening now. And the most affected countries need to have financing to deal with not just mitigation but also adaptation to current loss and damage.

“The time window is short, and we really need to center the voices and work of those who are actually making the most impact.”

With such an important discussion to be had, how can you try to make gender a part of it? Some people might think “oh, that’s just another problem to deal with, we already have a lot on our plates.”

I think that we are making some progress. There is a gender action plan which will be discussed at this COP, and there are many gender diverse leaders and feminists who are going to attend, and will be pushing forward to increase that agenda and ensure that the dialogue of gender is kept top of mind. Of course it’s very slow, but we will do everything we can. The Women and Gender Constituency is a really powerful constituency and does very effective advocacy.

But I think that, like a lot of these issues, we need to keep getting louder and making it really clear why and how women are central to climate solutions, and how, statistically, it is proven that you must have women in leadership roles. For example, studies show that just a one-unit increase in a country’s score on women’s political empowerment index was associated with an 11.51 decrease in the country’s carbon emissions. Whether it’s on the front lines of resistance to fossil fuels, protecting and replanting forests, creating food sovereignty networks, or advocating for bold and transformative climate policy at international forums.

Is having a Gender day at the COP a sign that things are somehow heading in the right direction? Or is it just… a formality to have that official space to discuss gender?

I think both. Gender day has been going on for a while, and it’s really important to have that because it does highlight that this is a key topic. However, it doesn’t guarantee that it’s not just to check off a box — that Gender day happened. So it’s important that it’s there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be any increased, significant activity.

How do you view media coverage of the climate crisis in relation to gender? There’s recurrent criticism that there needs to be more of it, especially in mainstream media outlets. What’s your opinion on the matter? What would you like to see more of?

Over the last decade, I do think there has been some improvement. We have seen some recognition in the press that covering gender and climate is an important nexus. That said, it is far from being adequate. There is a real lack in gender reporting on the climate crisis. Journalists can access the research. It’s there. It proves that women are central to climate solutions. And there’s a plethora of work that women are doing. On our website, we have something called Women Speak, an online database with thousands of stories showing all the different ways women are engaged in dealing with the climate crisis–from forest protection and biodiversity to climate policy. So I would offer that up as a resource.

I think that it would serve the world quite well if, in fact, this was a story told over and over again. The time window is short, and we really need to center the voices and work of those who are actually making the most impact. We’re talking about women in general, but I would also highlight indigenous, black and brown women who are on the front lines and are really focused on community and localized solutions.

Many times, we look for these big corporate solutions and miss the fact that when you add up all these “small” localized solutions, they are a solution. Even the United Nations has studies that show that localized solutions around farming are actually more beneficial than some of the big programs that governments and corporations are rolling out. So I think that  the gender angle is one of the biggest untold stories of the climate crisis.

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