Parkite in Paris for climate talks
Park City native Annie Agle took what might seem like a circuitous route to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris last month, but that is only until you hear her explain it. Agle’s background is not in climate change but in women’s rights.
"After college I served as deputy director of a nonprofit organization working on women’s rights issues in the Islamic world," she said. "I did that for several years, handling cases of largely honor murders, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and human trafficking. So, some of the more emotionally taxing cases to deal with.
"But it was a really rewarding growing experience for me and I love the international development sector. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really gutsy, awesome women."
Fast forward to 2012, and Hurricane Sandy. Agle said she watched as this enormous climate disaster not only tore apart the city, but left a wide open hole for crimes against women to go unnoticed.
"For example, the various [organized crime] groups throughout the city used the stretched-thin law enforcement to increase human trafficking," she said. "It increased tremendously in and out and it was largely preventable. The city had been warned.
"Also, the warehouse that stores the vast majority of rape kits in New York was right on the river and none of the evidence was evacuated. So it was all inadmissible."
That was not the extent of it, either, and New York City was not the only place affected.
"There were no domestic violence or rape shelters that were not over capacity from about Maine to Tallahassee, so there was nothing to even do with the women as they were rescued," she said. "Girls had to be turned away."
Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath was an eye-opening experience for Agle. The ways in which women are affected by climate disasters specifically and climate change more broadly were not being advocated for effectively.
"Situations like that made me realize that in order to address the specific ways in which climate was going to affect women you really had to get more women in leadership who had been working on these issues on the ground," she said.
So with that goal in mind, Agle took part in the climate conference. There representing her company, Development Three, Agle was asked to help advocate for women in the agreement as it was being drafted and to participate in a panel focused on bringing more youth into advocacy leadership roles.
"Unfortunately, the language on women’s rights was stricken," she said. "Which is a shame. That being said, it was a good thing to be a part of. It was quite meaningful to see over 190 nations come together and basically try to get on the same page.
"I don’t know that the actual metrics or standards of accountability will come to mean something tremendous, but I think generally speaking it seems that the world is in consensus that this is a problem that we need to contend with. And that was a very moving takeaway from the conference, even if what I was presenting on didn’t really work out."
The panel, which also featured UN Youth Representative Saket Mani, was focused on gender equality and getting women and youth more involved and invested in addressing climate change.
"It’s not fair to make decisions with regard to the future without involving future generations as full partners and full stakeholders," she said. "Women tend to be seen as victims first and people second. And in a lot of ways because of their experience they are uniquely capable of addressing those issues. But they need to be elevated to levels of leadership and not seen so one-dimensionally just as victims."
Agle said the panel went very well and she is hopeful it will result in tangible progress, whether that be diverted funds or, as she said, more women and youth in leadership roles.
As for the conference overall, Agle said she is optimistic, though she added she also preaches a pragmatic approach when it comes to climate change.
"These conferences are benchmarks, and I think they can be launching points, but it’s not like change is just going to happen because everyone signed a treaty," she said. "That makes governments look good but I wholeheartedly believe that change, especially on this issue, is going to come at the local community and city level."
Agle pointed to her own hometown as a great example of what she means.
"I’m quite proud of Park City and its 2032 renewable plan. It’s great," she said. "We’re not at the point globally where we can just turn off our old [power sources] and switch on solar. But at the Park City level? There’s so much we can do."
Agle said if more communities take it upon themselves to address climate change, the benefits will be clear and they will add up.
"Ground water. Maintaining clean ground water is huge for us here," she said. "Air quality is obviously a huge issue for Salt Lake. Maintaining our snowpack to the best of our ability. There are so many things we can do at the local level that will see very local results. But sometimes all of those local results, taken globally, do amount to something."
Agle is organizing a follow-up conference in the spring and she said she hopes that is just the beginning.
"I have tremendous faith in the mobile generation," she said. "Hopefully I got through to them in some way about their future and their leadership roles and the ways they will need to address how women are affected by climate disasters and climate change more generally."
Reflecting on her week in Paris, Agle said she was inspired to keep working hard and she hopes other people were, too.
"I left the conference feeling pretty positive," she said. "I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that the treaty will mean something. I think it will take two to five years to know what the effects of this conference will be. I think we want a quick win, but implementing the agreement is more than that. And if we can do it, it will be the humanitarian achievement of the century for sure.
"I have faith. We’ll rally. We just have to believe we can do it."
To read more about the United Nations Conference on Climate Change visit COP21Paris.org
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The people at the second part of the Park City Future Summit were nearly unanimous in indicating they have some level of concern.