On November 13, 2021, Minister Alok SHARMA of the UK gaveled the end of COP26 signaling hope and optimism that the world had agreed on a rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement (Glasgow Climate Pact), the goal of which is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to below pre-industrial levels. More than 40,000 delegates from 197 members states representing governments, private sector companies, and intergovernmental agencies had convened in Glasgow over a two-week period to iron out lingering/contentious issues relevant to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Amongst these delegates were five women who are members of the Central African Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA).
WICA is a program funded by the U.S. State Department and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service International Programs (USFS-IP). The objective of the program is to strengthen the capacities and involvement of Central African women in climate change processes, both nationally and internationally, and to increase ambition and action on climate change in Central Africa. Through a series of seminars, workshops, webinars, rigorous diploma program, and internship experiences, over 103 women from four Central African countries, Cameroon, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of the Congo, are strengthening their knowledge on national and global responses to climate change, mitigation, adaptation, GHG accounting, and climate change diplomacy. As part of the experiential internship component of the program, Ms. Anaick MODINGA (Gabon), Maggy BOURDETTES (Gabon), Hilary DASSI (Cameroon), Mclaura RINYU (Cameroon), and Irma PELLA (Republic of the Congo) took part for the first time in the negotiations of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Glasgow.
The objectives of their participation were multifold: first, to understand the functioning of climate diplomacy during the COP and its subsidiary bodies; second, to obtain an in-depth understanding of the climate negotiations and the stakes for Congo Basin countries; third, to assist in technical discussions/events on topics pertinent to the protection, conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests; and lastly, to liaise and establish networks with other climate actors around the globe.
As part of preparation for the COP, the WICA women were paired with mentors: Mr. Leonardo MASSAI of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), Mr. Timothée KAGONBE, UNFCCC Focal Point for Cameroon and Mrs. Sabrina BROUCHARD (UNFCCC Gender Focal Point for Gabon).
“Even though, I was involved at the beginning of the program, I was positively surprised by the knowledge the ladies had accrued in such a short period, and immediately understood that they will be very resourceful to the Cameroonian delegation at the COP.”Timothée KAGONBE (UNFCCC Focal Point, Cameroon)
The highlight of the first week was the Heads of State summit, which brought together over 120 Heads of State and Government. Speaking at the conference, Félix Antoine TSHISEKEDI, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) pledged to fight deforestation and forest degradation in the Congo Basin, considered the world’s second largest ecological lung after the Amazon. In his capacity as Chairman of the African Union, he recently launched the Green Recovery Plan aimed at strengthening measures for environmental sustainability and prosperity in Africa. In this regard, the Democratic Republic of Congo has resolved to increase its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to a 21% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030.
“What struck me was the sheer number (over 40 000) and diversity of participants/delegates ranging from Heads of States/governments, movie stars, politicians, billionaires, indigenous people and of course myself in the midst.”Anaick MODINGA (Gabon)
As part of their experience, the women participated in sessions of the COMIFAC group of negotiators, African Group of Negotiators, G77 and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) supporting their respective country delegations some of which chaired these sessions. This facilitated experience following negotiations, understanding the role of the chair, and briefing delegation colleagues. The women also had the opportunity to assist in sessions where discussions on topics related to the finalization of the rulebook of the Paris Agreement took place, a milestone outcome of COP 26.
“The caliber of the people you bump into or walk past in the corridors, you have a feeling you are at a G8 Summit, or the OSCAR or the World Economic Forum. From Bill Gates, John Kerry, Jeff Bezos, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc. You know you are at the hub of power and prominence; of influence and knowledge.”Mclaura RINYU (Cameroon)
The Glasgow conference had been dubbed by some as the COP of the “last chance”. The last chance for the international community to secure a deal that will ensure global net zero by midcentury and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. For the Congo Basin countries, the slogan was “a fair financial deal”. Despite being the second largest tropical forest basin, the Congo Basin has attracted comparatively less funding than other tropical basins. For Central Africa, most notable was the 1.5 billion USD pledged by a group of developed countries for the protection, conservation and sustainable management of Congo Basin forests. Whilst this remains inequitable compared to what has been pledged to the other forest basins it was welcomed by forest and environment ministers of Congo Basin countries as it the first time that such an amount has been pledged to the Congo Basin. The mechanism for the disbursement of the funds remains to be outlined.
Parallel to the negotiations and meetings of the different negotiation groups, the WICA women attended side events on topics relevant to Congo Basin countries. For the first time, there was a specific pavilion for peatlands. The confirmation of a large forest massif of peat extending between the two Congos has added a new twist to the management and protection of the Congo Basin forest. The pavilion provided a platform to exchange knowledge and experience of successful action on peatland policy, practice, research and innovation reflecting the value of peatlands and their role as major global stores of carbon, hotspots for biodiversity and cultural value but also in their damaged state, as large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. They also took part in side events on nature-based solutions; carbon trading mechanism; and the elaboration and presentation of Nationally Determined Contributions of several developing countries.
Despite the intense nature of the COP characterized by long sessions that commenced very early and finished very late and numerous interesting events taking place simultaneously it was overall an exhilarating two-week experience. The WICA women can be proud to have contributed to and witnessed the completion of the Paris Agreement Rulebook. With the agreement now operational and implementable, Parties are expected to deliver on their Nationally Determined Contributions, whilst continuously raising ambition to ensure that the global community achieves 1.5°C.
“I must say I was in awe of all of the young people, and in particular the dedicated, incredibly well-versed and confident young women I saw who took to the stage and spoke with vigor and determination. In this regard, I can only commend the USFS for setting up the WICA program in Central Africa and encourage the program coordinators to continue with the initiative.”Irma PELLA (ROC)
As the five women return to their respective countries they bring with them the rich experience gained through their attendance at COP 26 and expanded professional networks, which will help propel them into their next professional opportunity after completion of the WICA program.
WICA attendees from Cameroon and Gabon at COP 26. From Left to Right: Anaick MODINGA (Gabon), McLaura RINYU (Cameroon), Hilary DASSI (Cameroon), Maggy BOURDETTES (Gabon)
U.S. Forest Service International Programs Central Africa delegation at COP 26 attending an event at the Peatland Pavilion. From Left to Right: Maggy BOURDETTES (WICA Gabon), Rene SIWE, Central Africa Regional Technical Program Coordinator, Anaick MODINGA (WICA Gabon), Irma PELLA (WICA RoC), McLaura RINYU (WICA Cameroon), Hilary DASSI (WICA Cameroon), Nelly HOUSTA, Gabon Country Coordinator.
WICA Cameroon attendees McLaura RINYU and Hilary DASSI with mentors Timothée KAGONBE Cameroon UNFCCC Focal Point and Leonardo Massai, Coalition for Rainforest Nations.