“Ms Burkhardt, what did you think was missing at this COP?”
I have been asked this question multiple times since I returned from COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. As a climate politician, I have a lot to say about the lack of progress, binding targets and global commitment.
But when answering this question, and giving interviews more generally on COP27, I look around and realise I am often the only woman speaking. When I reflect on my time in Egypt, this was by no means an isolated incident. So, the question became a kind of revelation: “I missed other women!”
I may sound like a broken record, but unfortunately, some things simply do not change. I am tired of seeing and commenting on it, but there has been and still is a glaring absence of women in climate politics, and COP27 was no exception.
One of my staff members started a game when the “COP family picture” came out, asking us to guess the number of women in the picture. I bet that I could count them on two hands. Unfortunately, I was right: of the 110 country leaders present, only seven were women.
According to the BBC, women made up less than 34 per cent of the parties’ negotiation teams on average.
Especially alarming is the fact that the number of women is decreasing. Since the parties pledged to increase women’s participation in 2011, COP reached a high in 2018, with an average of 40 per cent.
In Egypt in 2022, some teams were over 90 per cent male.
I was part of the European Parliament’s official delegation. Sure, given the low bar, we were better than some other teams. However, a split of 11 men and four women is nothing to be proud of either.
Why does this matter?
My observations should not only bother me, but everyone invested in solving the climate crisis. It is a common error to regard women simply as victims of the crisis and the natural disasters linked to it. Yes, climate change disproportionately affects girls and women. However, they also possess unique knowledge and should be regarded as resourceful agents of change.
It is a common error to regard women simply as victims of the crisis and the natural disasters linked to it
Moreover, we can’t solve the biggest crisis in the history of humanity if we’re actively overlooking half of the earth’s population.
I am a strong proponent for a feminist European Green Deal, but of course, this demand is not limited to Europe. Climate politics must be feminist to tackle the root causes of the climate crisis, while also effectively addressing its manifold impacts.
Fortunately, I have seen women taking leadership. Concerning climate reparations, one of the most pressing issues at COP27, Chilean Minister of the Environment Maisa Rojas, together with allies such as the German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan, managed not only to get the topic on the agenda for the first time, but to achieve great progress in this regard. Another example is German Development Minister Svenja Schulze, who came forward with the proposal of a Global Shield insurance initiative.
As I and many others have experienced, when women from all over the world are in a room together, fantastic ideas are born that are not only effective, but also inclusive and more sustainable. We have the solutions and the people who can implement them – we just need to listen to them and empower them!