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The 5 Women Who Could Make or Break a Climate Deal in the Next 24 Hours

It’s crunch time at COP21. Will these women save us?

Through the Global Call for Climate Action’s “Adopt a Negotiator” initiative, we keep tabs on the most powerful players in the climate game. Over the last week and a half of climate talks in Paris, we’ve kicked into high gear, profiling the decisions and positions of attendees at the most urgent meetings, conferences, and events taking place. Now that a draft of a deal between 190 nations has been released—to be finalized over the next day—five women have emerged as crucial influencers of the final agreement.

One may choose to debate whether climate change is literally a “man-made” phenomenon (as it has been mainly men who’ve overseen the corporations and governments that have generated our off-the-charts carbon dioxide emissions since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution). But it’s undeniable that these very powerful and important women have the power to steer us away from the brink of climate disaster.

Andrea Guerrero, Colombia

Andrea Guerrero, Colombia, co-facilitator for the adaptation and loss and damage spin-off groups. Photo: IISD Reporting Services

Andrea is the lead co-facilitator for COP21’s discussions on the crucial and divisive issues of loss and damage and adaptation—the set of actions and policies that help communities prepare for and respond to the changes in the climate that can no longer be avoided. Funding for adaptation has started flowing in from the world’s richest countries, but no real progress has been made on securing actual money for loss and damage. In the past, Guerrero has expressed concern over the unwillingness of developed countries to even acknowledge loss and damage. Andrea should take the lead on L&D (as insiders call it around the talks), just as she has done on adaptation. If negotiators leave Le Bourget without clear guidelines for how loss and damage would be funded, it would be a disaster for the many countries who simply cannot adapt to all of the catastrophic events of climate change.

Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa

Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China. Photo: IISD Reporting Services

Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko is leading the biggest group of countries in the climate talks, the G77, and China. She is known for her sharp words and strong demeanor, once describing a draft agreement in terms of apartheid: “It is just like apartheid, we find ourselves in a position where in essence we are disenfranchised.” Under her leadership at COP21, the G77/China group is still internally deliberating over the feasibility of keeping the world temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, when many of the countries in the group have come out strongly for it. How the powerful negotiating bloc resolves this internal conflict will prove crucial in crafting a deal.

Barbara Hendricks, Germany

Barbara Hendricks, Environment Minister, Germany. Photo: IISD Reporting Services

Barbara Hendricks is the Environment Minister of Germany, a country that’s considered one of the most progressive nations on climate action. Earlier this year, Hendricks proposed a new draft law that imposes an outright ban on fracking for shale gas. She has referred to action on climate change as our “moral duty,” and has called on the international community to step up its efforts. Germany has already announced $50 million for the Adaptation Fund. Given the popularity that Germany enjoys within the EU, Hendricks has the mandate to convince other rich EU countries to commit more toward climate change for developing and least developed countries.

Laurence Tubiana, France

Ambassador Laurence Tubiana of France, and for COP 21/CMP 11. Photo: IISD Reporting Services

Laurence Tubiana is the French ambassador for international climate talks and currently for COP21. Her job involves mobilizing all of the stakeholders and getting the backroom work done to actually produce a text for an agreement that reflects fairness and balance. She is directly responsible for making sure that the negotiations don't fail—and that parties don't walk out, as occurred at COP19 in Warsaw. Last week, Tubiana said that “nothing has been decided and nothing will be left behind.” During an open meeting on Wednesday, various countries voiced a number of concerns and differences, and over the next 24 hours, Tubiana has to make sure these divisions don’t break down the talks.

Siti Nurbaya Bakar

Siti Nurbaya Bakar. Photo: Wikicommons Media

Siti Nurbaya Bakar serves as the Minister of Environment and Forestry for Indonesia. With over 240 million people spread out across 10,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The nation leads the world in emissions from agriculture, particularly visible over the past year as widespread fires broke out across Sumatra and Kalimantan. Bakar has a chance to truly transform Indonesia's climate policies—just last year the Indonesian president combined the previously separate Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Environment. The goal was to more effectively promote sustainable policies across the country, and to address forests as an environmental and climate issue. As negotiations proceed, we need Indonesia to recognize the harm done by deforestation and agree to positions that would protect its carbon-rich forests. It will fall upon Bakar to hold that position in the late hours of COP21.

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