UN Climate Talks Have A ‘Toxic Background’ Of Sexual Harassment, Says Lawyer

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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United Nations climate talks have a “toxic” history of sexual harassment, according to a veteran environmental lawyer.

Lawyer Farhana Yamin wrote an essay on her experience with sexual harassment at UN climate summits, arguing “the trivialization of women continues.” UN delegates kicked off a major climate summit in Bonn, Germany on Monday.

Yamin said it’s impossible to know how rampant sexual harassment is at male-dominated UN climate talks because “apart from informal whisper networks that keep women safe, it largely goes unreported.”

Her warning to female attendees of the Bonn climate talks comes after reports that prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted numerous women.

“I’ve been privy to many unaired and hushed conversations over the last three decades of my life as a climate change lawyer and know for a fact that many incidents have been brushed under the carpet,” Yamin wrote for Climate Home News.

“I too have kept quiet about my share of painful experiences, especially as a young woman,” Yamin wrote. “These range from unwelcome comments on my appearance to being made to feel as though I had to choose between my dignity and my career. Such incidents left me in a jumble of nerves or seething, sometimes both.”

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which organized the summit, urged men and women to speak up about sexual harassment at the Bonn conference. UNFCCC executive secretary Patricia Espinosa said “we have zero tolerance for such acts in conferences and in our workplaces.”

Yamin said the UN climate talks have a “toxic background,” being largely attended by males. She also claimed women were denied advancement in the field of climate diplomacy.

“It is important to remember that during the early 1990s and 2000s the vast majority of delegates and almost all heads of delegation were (and are still) men,” Yamin wrote. “The resulting power imbalance within delegations makes it very intimidating for individual women to challenge sexism and abusive behaviour without risking their jobs.”

“This toxic background of harassment, discrimination and risk of reprisals for speaking up motivated the first climate-related gender decision taken by the seventh annual UN climate conference (Cop7) as part of the 2001 Marrakech Accords,” she wrote.

The former head of the UN’s climate science panel stepped down in 2015 after being accused of sexually harassing female employees. So far, three women have come forward to accuse Rajendra Pachauri of harassment and unwanted advances.

“In climate negotiations, there is an additional set of problems in that many instances of harassment are from men from other delegations or constituencies whose actions are not covered by any kind of workplace policy or legal process,” Yamin wrote.

“And allegations of sexual misconduct might lead to a diplomatic incident if the parties concerned are from different countries – adding another pressure on victims to keep quiet,” Yamin wrote.

“On a personal front, as a first step I am urging women who have experience of harassment and abuse to share their experiences and help each other speak up,” she wrote. “Men too must stop the culture of silence and trivialization which makes them complicit.”

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