VIDEO: People with disabilities raise voices at international climate talks

Last year, climate activists focused on disability rights scored a major victory at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP). They have obtained official status as a caucus recognized by the conference organizer, the United Nations Secretariat. They said it was the result of years of efforts to be formally incorporated into the proceedings. That’s what this week and beyond is all about.

COP27 meeting

Members of the caucus will have the opportunity to address participants on disability inclusion in the closing plenary session. People will have a formal meeting place. Caucus members will also have more opportunities to connect with conference organizers, making it easier to connect with other attendees, including country representatives, negotiators, disability rights organizations, and overall participation in the event.

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, an Aboriginal and disabled climate campaigner from New Zealand, said two changes were made this year to make venues more accessible to disabled people. Individuals with limited mobility or chronic pain can enter sessions through separate lines, so they don’t have to wait long, and there are more ramps to access buildings and certain stages.

Still, meeting organizers can do more to ensure that meetings are accessible to all, such as ensuring that attendees using wheelchairs or walkers can move freely around the venue, and ensuring sign language interpreters are used at all events, says Jason Boberg in all. , member of the Disability Caucus and founder of SustainedAbility, the disability climate action network.

The issue of paying for the damage caused by climate change (“loss and damage” in the jargon) is also on the agenda of people with disabilities. Activists want disability rights to be included in conference negotiations on the topic.

Boberg has been a key proponent of promoting the participation of the disability community in international climate action.

He said figuring out where the loss and damage funding came from and how to secure some of that funding for people with disabilities living in disaster-prone areas was a “top priority” for members of the disability caucus.

Next target

One of the next goals, Boberg said, is to formally elevate the new caucus to a “constituency” level within the COP.

Constituencies are umbrella groups for other organisations, such as Indigenous Alliances, Business and Industry Alliances, or Farmers and Agriculture Associations. Disability constituencies will have the power to convene meetings with government officials and recommend speakers and attendees for formal COP functions. They will have access to workshops and events that would otherwise be closed.

“We’re the most affected because we’re being left behind, we’re being left behind and our voices need to be there,” said Dee Woods, food justice policy coordinator for the Land Workers’ Union, the UK’s agricultural union, in Glasgow during last year’s conference. at the November 2021 event, but not related to the United Nations

Boberg also said that the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the United Nations Action for Climate Empowerment A short-term action plan will be developed in the next few days. This is the UN’s framework for enabling people, organisations and communities to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.Last year, the COP delegation adopted a 10 year plan Launch Climate Empowerment Actions.

“It’s important to include people with disabilities and organizations in these programs,” Boberg said, so they can get more resources from countries for climate action and prepare for climate emergencies. This could mean guaranteeing access to relief shelters. Or it could mean creating disability registers to help governments get extra assistance to the right places before extreme weather hits. It could also mean helping clean up the aftermath.

Activists are also pushing to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are included in international climate action plans, as more than 1 billion people in the world have disabilities, According to the World Health Organization.

come this far

The recognition of the Disability Caucus by the leadership of the UN Climate Conference last year was a milestone. Since the 2017 COP23 meeting in Bonn, Germany, people have been meeting and organizing meetings informally.

“That’s when[we would meet in hallways and cafes]and wherever we could find space,” Boberg said.

He was able to give the disability caucus first address People who attended the conference last year. In it, he said world leaders and society as a whole see people with disabilities as an “expected loss” from climate change. He implored world leaders to include human rights and the rights of indigenous people and persons with disabilities in Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement, which outlines how countries can achieve their commitments to reduce emissions and promote sustainable development.

“Until all parties recognize the leadership of persons with disabilities on climate issues and uphold our rights, this COP will be criticized as an exclusive event for the disappearance of persons with disabilities,” he said in a 2021 statement.

Just days before he spoke, Israeli energy minister and wheelchair user Karine Elharrar block access The conference event where she is scheduled to speak.

In an interview with The Associated Press a few days before leaving for COP27 this year, Boberg said on more than one occasion he had seen language recognizing disability rights in the negotiating draft text — such as funding disability rights groups for climate action work. But in the final agreement negotiated, the language was cut out.

Sherwood-O’Regan said it was “really disappointing” when that happened.

“You hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and I hope it’s not too high,” she said. “It sounds really cynical, but it makes it a little easier to get involved in the process.”


Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.


The Associated Press Health and Science Division was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Division of Science Education. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

Drew Costley and Teresa De Miguel, Associated Press

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