Saturday, November 22, 2008

The United Nations, Women and Climate Change

Yesterday I went in to talk with Phil Thorhill of Campaign Against Climate Change to discuss the existing gender imbalance witnessed at Campaign Against Climate Change meetings and the forthcoming speaker line-up for the Climate Change March to be held here in London on the 6th December.

It is an issue that numerous Wise Women have brought repeatedly to my attention and want addressed. Time and again I am receiving emails decrying the lack of women at the front face of the environmental movement. Many tell me they only go to hear the women now as they no longer want to hear the same old male bods banging on bleakly about doom and gloom, but that they want to hear women speak, and about solutions and progress as to how we can move forward, as well as addressing the larger implications of gender imbalance and climate change for women in developing nations.

Whether or not it is a valid complaint, it is one that should not be dismissed out of hand. The very fact that we now have three active women organisations, Wise Women, Climate Rush and WeCAN, growing daily here in the UK as well as globally is testimony to the fact that women are wanting to address this perceived discrimination. It is an issue that we here in the UK are now seeking to rectify.

The United Nations recognise this gender imbalance as well. For the last two days they held a conference in New York, organised by the Global Climate Change Gender Alliance to discuss this very issue. One of the issues The Alliance is focused on is capacity-building to ensure integration of gender into climate talks. My Wise Women at the conference have assured me that support is building fast to ensure the integration of gender issues within the national and international climate change negotiations.

We here in the UK are also capacity-building. If you are interested in being part of a growing women's coalition working together to engender great balance within the environmental field here in the UK, come and join us. The next Wise Woman Speaker Event is addressing this very issue: Women and Climate Change, on the 9th December 2008.
UN press conference on Gender Imbalance and Climate Change
Wise Women
Climate Rush

About the GGCA: the IUCN, UNDP, UNEP and the Women's Environment Development Organization (WEDO) have come together to create the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA). The goal of the GGCA is to ensure that climate change policies, decision-making, initiatives at the global, regional and national levels are gender responsive.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wise Women victories in the London courts

It's been a fantastic week for Wise Women environmental campaigners in the London courts. Georgina Downs, founder of UK Pesticides Campaign, scored gold with her landmark victory against the government in her long-running legal battle over the use of pesticides and Tamsin Ormond, founder of Climate Rush, received a conditional discharge for scaling the roof of Parliament (charge: criminal trespass of a protected site).

Both important rulings and both examples of the tide of change towards recognition of the importance of fighting against pollution. For Georgina it is her fight against the use of pesticides and crop spraying, for Tamsin her fight against airport expansion and escalation of aviation emissions. Whilst Georgina took the government to court, Tamsin was taken to court - but the net result was the same: both had taken direct action to prevent environmental injustice.
The high court ruled on Friday that Georgina Downs had produced "solid evidence" that people exposed to chemicals used to spray crops had suffered harm. Defra's (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) argument that the use and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful" was rejected. The court said the government had failed to comply with a European directive designed to protect rural communities from exposure to the toxins. It said Defra must reassess its policy and investigate the risks to people who are exposed.

For Georgina, who this is the culmination of a 7 year campaign. Living on the edge of farmland near Chichester, West Sussex, Georgina was first exposed to pesticide spraying at the age of 11, as a result suffering extensive and long-term injury to her health. Mr Justice Collins upheld her evidence as compelling.

Georgina successfully argued that the government had failed to address the concerns of people living in the countryside "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades". People are not given prior notification about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens (and yet those who are spraying must wear protective clothes and masks).

In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins highlighted that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations states that beekeepers must be given 48 hours notice if pesticides harmful to bees are to be used. The judge said: "It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position."

Georgina called for more recognition of what she rightly terms as "one of the biggest public health scandals of our time". She called on Gordon Brown to block any Defra appeal. "The government "should now just admit that it got it wrong, apologise and actually get on with protecting the health and citizens of this country".

The case centred on the way the government assesses the risk posed by pesticides. The current method is based on occasional, short-term exposure to a "bystander" and assumes that individuals would be exposed to an individual pesticide during a single pass.

Mr Justice Collins agreed with Georgina's long-standing charge that "this bystander model does not and cannot address residents who are repeatedly exposed". The model does not account for rural residents exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals "throughout every year and, in many cases like my own, for decades".

As Georgina pointed out on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice, "The fact that there has never been any assessment of the risk to health for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide-sprayed fields is an absolute scandal, considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for over 50 years."

Menawhile, just 24 hours earlier Tamsin had walked away from court with the nominal sentence of a conditional discharge for her part in scaling the rooftops of the Palace of Westminster to fight against the building a third runway. Their defence: they had protested in order to prevent a greater crime.

With nitrogen oxides near the two existing runways already exceeding those permitted under the rules, documentary evidence established BAA's efforts to evade liability by suggesting the receptors measuring pollution be moved away from the source - "which is tantamount to removing the thermometer from the patient and declaring them well". Whilst Tamsin and the others were not acquitted, her sentence (which carried a maximum of 6 months imprisonment) of a conditional discharge is a very clear indication that, where good reason exists, direct action to protect the planet is likely to be well received in the hallowed halls of the judiciary.

Well done girls - a collective cheer has been raised by all Wise Women. Wise law indeed.

UK Pesticides Campaign
Climate Rush

Monday, November 10, 2008

My call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights

On the 6th November in Belfast at the United Nations (UK and Northern Ireland) Climate Change Conference, I called upon the United Nations to implement a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights.

Our planet is in crisis, and the United Nations are uniquely placed to implement the necessary foundations to create a new world where prevention and protection stand hand in hand.


This planet we call Earth is no longer a place of honour. For too many years we have abused and despoiled it, taken wilfully without regard to the consequences. We have depleted fossil fuel reserves, we have created escalating emissions, we have polluted, poisoned, damaged, destroyed and caused the extinction of numerous species.

We now know that it is because of human activity that we have a planet out of balance. The evidence is conclusive: Climate Change, with it’s escalating greenhouse gases, is a symptom of our greedy consumption of planet Earth. It threatens the very life of all remaining species, plant forms, oceans and waterways as well as human life. James Hansen of NASA has called for us to reduce our emissions to 350 ppm - that is an amount that is now less than current levels (which stand at 385ppm). It is not merely a matter of reducing our emissions by 50%, 80%, 100% as soon as possible, but to evolve and encourage a benign world where we no longer cause damage, pollution and loss.

Climate Change is a symptom of the damage we, humans, have caused by our excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. We now know that such actions carry destructive consequences – indeed all actions carry consequences - some far more damaging than others. Equipped with the knowledge that the planet’s imbalance is caused by humankind’s actions, comes the duty to act now.


Our planet is however not beyond rescue. What is required is a seismic shift in our consciousness, not a mere reduction of our emissions. The seismic shift should give full recognition that we now owe a duty of care to our beautiful planet. No other planet in our solar system has such variety of species, species that we are losing at an unprecedented rate. Now it is time to provide protection to our planet.

Just as the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War gave birth to the swift implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years ago in 1948, so now we have a planetary crisis that needs to be addressed with equal urgency. Now is the time to call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights.

This is my call to the United Nations to protect our world. My plea is for co-operation, not confrontation. It is your support that will provide the voice to make this happen. Please help us in our call to protect our one beautiful and fragile planet.


This is the beginning of a the campaign for global recognition that Trees Have Rights Too.

I shall give my speech again in London on the 18th November 2008 at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, WC1, 6.30pm - 8.30pm.

The event is free, but RSVP is required: please email
For further details of the event, see: Events

The power for action lies in all our hands. If you support the call to the United Nations to act, please help spread the word and forward this to all you think may want to support it - and even those whom you think may not!

Trees Have Rights Too

5 Green Obama Dreams