A climate conference with a difference in Bali

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:31 GMT

A Guatemalan woman walks amidst teargas fired by police evicting local people to end their two-year-old protest against the Tambor mining project in La Puya, San Jose del Golfo. Picture May 23 2014, REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

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What the summit lacked in terms of power and money, it made up in brains and heart

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Earlier this month, I was in Bali, Indonesia, to cover a conference on women and climate change. There are so many climate meetings these days but this four-day conference stood out. 

First, the venue was impressive. Instead of the usual four- or five-star hotel, the first “Summit on Women and Climate” was hosted at Green Camp, an eco-friendly learning space set in lush, spacious surroundings. 

Meals were prepared mainly with ingredients from onsite organic gardens. They were served in an open area, buffet-style, but we cleared the plates ourselves -  woven baskets with banana leaves on top. There was even a counter selling delicious ice lollies and cakes, all freshly made.

The open conference room had a soaring bamboo roof. The 80 or so participants sat on soft cushions or chairs in simple white covers. People dressed for comfort; it was refreshing to see not a single person in a suit. 

What made this conference really memorable was the participants. 

Co-organised by Global Greengrants Fund and the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF), it was the first such meeting to focus on grassroots women leaders who are making a real difference on the ground, whether in fighting deforestation, defending land rights or initiating climate adaptation programmes. In the process, they have put their own lives at risk

Most of them have had to fund their activism themselves. Many have had no support beyond a few thousand dollars in small grants – at a time when an estimated $359 billion in climate funding was available at the last count. 

Against all odds, these women leaders have managed to bring the management of forests back to local communities, forced deep-pocketed and politically connected mining companies, farmers and ranchers to get off their land, and led the relocation of Pacific islanders to a place less affected by climate change. 

They have little financial reward for all their work – just the knowledge that their communities can now live dignified, sustainable lives as a result.


The Bali Summit was a chance for them to share experiences and ideas and come up with a plan to get their voices heard more widely. Small grant donors were there too. The atmosphere was friendly, positive and supportive. 

It was in stark contrast to the big United Nations-led climate meetings I’ve covered, where inspiration can be in short supply and countries group together based on wealth and/or geography.  

These events are usually held in big, swanky venues and attended by men in grey suits. Women made up only about a third of national delegations between 2008 and 2012. 

These conferences are also tedious and often bad-tempered. At one meeting in Bangkok a few years ago, the negotiators - holding the future of our planet in their hands - spent two whole days bickering over the agenda. 

Don’t just take my word for it. 

David Fogarty, who used to be Reuters’ climate change correspondent, has similar memories, and he’s covered dozens of rounds of climate negotiations, called Conference of the Parties (COP). 

“The thing that always got me was the lack of progress at COPs, despite the intense debates and back-room dealing,” he said.

“Everything was so caught up in procedural manoeuvring by blocs of nations, the long and bitter arguments over the wording of draft texts, the shameful watering down of ambition time after time, the endless bickering over who should cut emissions the most because of historical responsibilities,” he added.

Of course, the COP is not directly comparable with a grassroots summit - one is focused on the big picture and involves hundreds of people, while the other is all about the reality on the ground. But surely the disconnect should not be this wide when they share the same goal of managing climate change? 

The Bali meeting may have lacked power and money, but it was full of heart and brains - intelligence, commitment and a “get on with it” attitude. And it gave this conference-jaded reporter a much-needed dose of optimism.

(Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com)

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