WECC at Rio+20 Earth Summit

The Rio+20 Earth Summit was the largest conference in the history of the United Nations with over 50,000 participants. Yet, the size of the gathering did nothing to transform the great loss of opportunity for governments to generate agreements and action plans that would truly usher in a sustainable future. Governments primarily met at Rio to protect their narrow interests instead of setting forth bold actions and ambitious goals required for a world living on the brink of dangerous ecological tipping points. Fortunately, the weak results from the negotiations are only one part of the story coming out of Rio.

In the midst of the failure of governments to respond to what scientists are telling us we need to do to protect our earth and care for future generations, Rio held many opportunities of inspiration and promise for the thousands of activists, clean energy entrepreneurs, mayors and civil society organizations, who went there to meet, strategize and mobilize for building a future we really want.

At the Rio+20 Earth Summit the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (WECC) was honored to host a powerful UN Side Event, entitled “Women Leading the Way: Mobilizing for an Equitable, Resilient and Thriving Future”. The event highlighted women worldwide as innovators and agents of change in mitigating and adapting to climate change and environmental degradation, while also demonstrating a way forward with cross-sector and cross-cultural solutions from the grassroots up. Speakers included Vandana Shiva, Marina Silva, Sheyla Jurana, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Sylvia Earle and Ted Turner. The event focused on how we can empower a rights-based approach to sustainability and climate change solutions in order to respect Women’s rights, Indigenous rights and Nature’s rights.

Our co-hosts were Instituto Democracia e Sustentabilidade (IDS), Pathways to Peace and eraGlobal Alliance and we are deeply grateful for their support, energy and commitment to Mother Earth, women’s leadership and future generations.

Women Leading the Way served as the official launch of the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative (IWECI).

The event received great responses including from the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison saying: Women Leading the Way “was the best event we had…”

We also received mention from Kosha Joubert who blogs for The Findhorn Foundation “ The high point of all the events I’ve visited so far: Women Leading the Way with a panel of Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and founder of Navdanya, a women’s movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity; Marina Silva, who at the age of 36 became the youngest senator in the history of Brazil and Environmental Minister during President Lula’s administration; Sheyla Juruna, indigenous leader from the Xingu Basin of the Brazilian Amazon….Vandana Shiva’s comment: “I am not depressed with the text because I did not come here for another text. I came here for solidarity. No text can capture the force of life.” Sheyla Juruna said: “Sustainability cannot grow out of a destructive approach.” The women agree that we are facing a crisis of civilization.”

WECC President Osprey Orielle Lake’s opening remarks at the UN Side Event:


Welcome everyone to our event, Women Leading the Way: Mobilizing for an Equitable, Resilient and Thriving Future.

My name is Osprey Orielle Lake and I am President of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus. Thank you all so much for coming and I want to extend my special appreciation to our distinguished presenters. I also want to thank the entire staff of IDS and Pathways To Peace for all their tremendous efforts in organizing this event with us.

One of the most important things we can do while in Rio is to remember why we are here beyond all of our well-planned agendas. For this reason our program today will begin by directly honoring women and our earth and specifically the land of Brazil where we now stand. Please help me welcome two of the thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, Maria Alice Freire from Brazil and Mona Polacca from Turtle Island, the indigenous name for the US.

We are acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit here in Rio, and because of this, I want to recall the wisdom of many women leaders from that historic gathering in 1992. Women from around the world composed a document called, “The Women’s Action Agenda for a Healthy Planet.”

It starts with a common vision on the interaction between the life-giving capacity of the Earth and women’s shared concerns. It begins: “We, women of many nations, cultures and creeds, of different colors and classes, have come together to voice our concern for the health of our living planet and all its interdependent life forms. As long as Nature and women are abused by a so-called “free market” ideology and wrong concepts of “economic growth,” there can be no environmental security”.

Twenty years after the first Rio Summit, unfortunately, we still urgently need to heed these same words–Yet, we know the agreements now being negotiated here are, in fact, weak and do not live up to the urgency of the current economic, environmental and climate crises.

We also know that there have been efforts to delete hard won references to rights and equity in the text, including previously agreed human rights language. As women’s organizations stated in an intervention leading up to the Rio Earth Summit — “Governments should not waste time bracketing our rights! INSTEAD, they should be spending time IMPLEMENTING them!”

We hope that all of our efforts here, from the many sectors and from the parallel People’s Summit, will shake up the process. Of course, while we offer our hope, sadly we are not holding our breath for an ambitious outcome document.

The Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, along with our many civil society and social movement allies, are not waiting. We can’t afford to wait.

I believe we are not in a crisis because we can’t find solutions. We are in a crisis because we are not implementing solutions already here (from solar, wind and geothermal technologies to eco-cities, agro-ecology, permaculture and new cultural and economic indicators): and this is precisely where women can make all the difference.

Women are key to solutions:
Women are responsible for half of the world’s food production and produce between 60-80% of the food in most developing countries. Women provide 65% of household food production in Asia; 70-80% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Women standing together with our male allies are envisioning a world where women , especially those growing our food, no longer own less then 1% of land and wealth.

When women farmers are empowered, we will see food security. And we fully support La Via Campesina and Navadnya in their tremendous efforts.

Women in North America determine 80% of all consumer purchases. Imagine with us how that market power can be mobilized to significantly reduce carbon emissions through the application of purchasing choices and demands on the market. We are also demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Empowering women is essential: Studies show that whether we look to the developed or developing world, when you empower women thru jobs and education some very important things happen: economies improve, populations stabilize and health improves—all of these are key to the foundation of sustainability solutions.

Companies do business better and nations govern better, when women comprise 30 per cent of the leadership. Can you imagine if we raise that to 50 per cent? And, women’s decision-making has important implications for climate change. A study of 130 countries found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties.

I could go on, the point is, there is an enormous opportunity to engage women worldwide in solutions.

This is our time, women can’t afford to wait, and the world can’t afford to wait to empower women.

Let’s remember the power of the Chip-ko movement where women save entire forests, the Suffrage movement, the Rural Women’s movement and the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement. There is a profound way women create an unstoppable force when we are united together.

Women around the world are calling for system change. And for that we need a rights-based approach to solutions: Women’s rights, Indigenous rights and Nature’s rights.

Today the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, with our partner eraGlobal Alliance, is launching the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative –IWECI– and we welcome you to join us in this exciting work.

We are mobilizing a powerful global network of women stakeholders in climate change– to support actions from the grassroots to the halls of decision-making. Next year, we are organizing a cross-sector and cross-cultural world gathering of 100 women leaders with an outreach to thousands of women, men and allied organizations who are already engaged in climate solutions.

As our friend, Bill McKibben of 350.org recently said “We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions everyone has known about for two decades—unless we build the movement first.”
We are launching our initiative now because of the great urgency of climate change! Global warming trends are causing extreme havoc on our planet and the door to closing a rise of 2 degrees Celsius is quickly coming upon us. In 2010, scientists estimated that upwards of 300,000 people died worldwide because of extreme weather events like flooding and droughts, with over 200 million people directly affected or displaced, and more than $100 billion in damages. If climate change continues unchecked, this translates into tens of millions of climate displaced people; food shortages due to flooding, drought, and fires; and rising sea levels just to name a few of the nightmares we are facing.

No, we cannot afford to wait for governments or any other institutions.

We also cannot ignore the historical and interrelated destructive treatment of both women and nature in our current dominator model of societies. In our organization, we are asking: how do we re-orient the dominant, industrialized societies so that they pursue human-well-being in a manner that contributes to the health of our Mother Earth instead of undermining it?

We women are calling for new economic indicators not based on GDP or endless material growth, such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.

We are calling for laws to protect our earth and all species– and because of this –the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus is strongly advocating for earth laws: Rights of Nature, Rights of Mother Earth and the eradication of ecocide. Rights of Nature laws provide a foundation and framework for the deep systemic change we know is necessary.

Earth laws recognize the inherent meaning, sacredness and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce. Indigenous communities have been demonstrating this worldview for thousands of years, and, to this end, in order to truly protect our Earth, we must stop the commodification and financialization of nature.

We must stop treating our rivers, forests and mountains as property.

And now, more than ever, as we face climate change, it is time to raise our ambitions to the level that science and the natural world demands. We are exceeding 3 of 9 planetary boundaries –climate change; bio-diversity loss; changes to the nitrogen cycle. Our economy is dangerously disconnected from our ecosystems upon which our lives depend and it must be said that we reject a false green economy.

Lastly, we need to look not only to the historic events here at Rio +20 but to the immediate critical years ahead. Friends and colleagues, we know we are in a small window of opportunity to arrest the worst affects of climate change and environmental demise.

In this great era of potential peril or promise depending on the choices we make now, it is time to listen to the voices of women and nature.

It is time to respect and protect the astonishing beauty and diversity of life on our Earth Mother and to realize we are in fact inseparable from nature…we are nature.”
~ Osprey Orielle Lake, June 19, 2012


In addition to the Women Leading the Way event, WECC was very engaged with the United Nations Women’s Major Group as one of the Steering Committee Members, involved in following the text and providing interventions.

WECC was deeply honored to be working side by side with so many dedicated and brilliant women leaders. The Women’s Major Group (WMG), representing 200 civil society women’s organizations from all around the world, was a strong force for bold action in every sphere of the negotiations. The WMG worked ceaselessly for the needs of women and held a demonstration at RioCentro, the main conference center. We believe that the governments of the world have failed both women and future generations. Bur, our work will continue long after Rio. Please see our final statement on the outcomes of Rio+20 — Rio+20: From the Future We Want to the Future We Need – here.

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) is facilitated by three Organizing Partners – Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), Voices of African Mothers (VAM), and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN). It is supported by core members including, the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA), Global Forest Coalition, and Women’s Environment Development Organization (WEDO).


WECC was also honored to attend a high-level session with women Heads of State at Rio+20. A Call to Action was issued by women Heads of State and Government, including concrete policy recommendations on integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sustainable development frameworks.
Please see this link for the Call to Action.


Our allies at Global Exchange presented a Rights of Nature report at Rio +20 thanks to the good work of Shannon Biggs. Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus is a contributing author to the report, which was presented at a UN Side-Event hosted by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.

Additionally, Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus and leaders from the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature held a side event at the People’s Summit. Between the 15th and the 23rd of June the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice was held in Rio +20 at Flamengo Park, in Rio de Janeiro. The global civil society, organizations, collectives and social movements proposed a new way of living on the planet, in solidarity against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons. Details here.

It is important to note that there was some good news in the final UN Outcome Document for Earth Laws. Paragraph 39 included the wording “the rights of nature”:

“We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.”

That said, sadly, a call to end subsidies for fossil fuels was removed from the final text and there were no commitments to address climate change.


Over five hundred Indigenous Peoples from Brazil and from around the world gathered at Kari-Oca II, a gathering near the UN negotiations, to sign a declaration demanding respect for Indigenous Peoples’ role in maintaining a truly sustainable future in harmony with Mother Earth. Their strength and beauty rippled out from their base -of -the-mountain encampment. WECC stands in solidarity with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Please see their story and declaration here:

WECC was deeply touched by words of wisdom from 11 year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney from the Sliammon First Nation , Canada at our Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus event in Rio +20. Here she is (video thanks to Shannon Biggs).

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