Exploring the scope of ecofeminism in the biodiversity-climate nexus

Credit: AROYBARMAN / iStock

The COP15 of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022, happened less than a month after the COP27 of the UN Climate Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Although some argue that the Biodiversity Conference received less attention than the latter, it was nonetheless historic, as the 188 governments that are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed on a new framework to halt species extinction and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, entitled the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). 

The Centre for International Sustainable Development Law organized a hybrid event in Montreal during the COP15—Biodiversity Law and Governance Day 2022—during which I spoke on the complementarity of human rights and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit- Sharing (ABS) in a panel discussion where the need for ecofeminism was raised. The increasing need to acknowledge the role of women, and to comprehend the scope of ecofeminism as “political activism as well as intellectual criticism” in reimagining efficient measures to curtail environmental emergencies, is now more crucial than ever. 


The Nagoya Protocol and human rights

The 2010 Nagoya Protocol on ABS (hereafter, the Protocol) is an international agreement under the CBD intended to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Although the Protocol does not make any textual reference to human rights, several of its provisions include elements that may be traced back to widely ratified human rights instruments. One example, “Prior Informed Consent,” overlaps with the procedural requirement of free, prior, informed consent in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In its preamble the Protocol  states that the parties need to recognize the important role that women play in the ABS context—affirming the need for women’s full participation at all levels of policy-making and implementation.  This suggests a positive complementarity, where gender and geography are bridged through information and inclusivity. Women play a key role in keeping and disseminating information, and while ecofeminists praise women’s traditional ecological knowledge, some scholars argued that “such knowledge has largely been acquired through the oppressive dictates of patriarchy.” Yet, the Protocol sets the stage for progressive inclusion, aiming for the emancipation of both nature and women.

The role of ecofeminism in such a political, legal, and intellectual dialogue furthers global solidarity for climate action. The Protocol mentions climate change twice. As human rights and environmental lawyer César Rodríguez-Garavito states, “climatizing” human rights keeps human rights relevant in the Anthropocene. I would add that so does “climatizing biodiversity” as a plausible strategy whereby the dynamics of mutual reinforcement in biodiversity-climate nexus is sustained.


Ecofeminism in the biodiversity-climate nexus

The Nagoya Protocol mentions the word “women” six times, creating a stronger emphasis on the role of women when compared to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which mentions “women” only once. The demand for women’s voices as active participants has been progressively recognized in various climate forums. However, the question remains as to how the Nagoya Protocol sets the stage beyond its textual references.

Looking at history, there was a notable inclusion of gender in the UN framework in 1985 at Nairobi, but it took seven years to introduce a gender perspective for the first time under Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit in 1992. Both the United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and CBD came to be as a result of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro that year. 

In preparation for this event, 1,500 women from 83 countries assembled in Miami in 1991 for the first World Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet, resulting in the Women's Action Agenda 21 (WAA21), a blueprint for incorporating a gender dimension into local, national, and international decision-making. With further efforts, ecofeminism gained momentum in the mid 1990s,  when special emphasis on “women and the environment” was included in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Articles 246 and 248 of chapter 4, section K in the Beijing Declaration vividly portray the role of women in sustainable development. Thus, women's role in sustainable development reemphasizes their role in the biodiversity-climate nexus.

The UNFCCC held in March 2022 stressed that the global community cannot comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius unless all of humanity is involved in responding to the climate crisis. On this note, Patricia Espinosa, the former executive secretary of the UNFCCC, when referring to the need to involve women,  further stated, “We cannot exclude the voices, knowledge, perspectives, and expertise of 50% of the population.” The way forward is to recognize that, in order to pave the way for sustainable development, the role of women and ecofeminism in addressing and curbing the planetary crisis must stem from their political activism and intellectual critique.


GBF—A brief feminist analysis

The aims of the CBD and GBF have “obvious overlaps and potential synergies” with both the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, as well as several other biodiversity-related conventions. This highlights the greater relevance of ecofeminism, as women’s advocacy for biodiversity reinforces climate action and vice versa. 

Targets 22 and 23 of the GBF reaffirm gender inclusivity and equality in “gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity” and “implementation of the framework through a gender-responsive approach.” The way the GBF has stressed the importance of women and girls in these two targets also widens the scope of ecofeminism in bolstering the biodiversity-climate nexus. 

Ecofeminism remains crucial in reimagining the biodiversity-climate nexus, and the progressive inclusion of women in local, national, and international efforts for sustainable development encompasses both targets to reverse biodiversity loss and enact urgent climate action, and beyond. This means that, beyond textual references, political activism and intellectual critique for the liberation of women and their progressive inclusion is key for the future of the planet.