A champion for the most vulnerable

News, 23 November 2015
Ahead of next week's UN climate talks in Paris (COP21), IIED principal researcher Dr Achala Abeysinghe has been named as one of the top 15 female climate champions in the world.

An expert on legal issues in international climate change negotiations, IIED's Achala Abeysinghe has been named one of the world's top 15 female climate champions (Photo: Mike Goldwater/IIED)

The list was compiled by Professor Maria Ivanova, director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, and was featured by The Conversation, an independent news website sourced from the global academic and research community.‎

An expert on legal issues in international climate change negotiations, Abeysinghe leads the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi), and is the legal and technical adviser to the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

She was commended for her role in supporting the voices of the most vulnerable countries to be heard.

"Most of the least developed, or poorest, countries have been empowered to negotiate by Achala Abeysinghe, the legal and technical adviser to the chair of the least developed countries in the UN," wrote Professor Ivanova.

"She has made it her mission to augment the capacity of national delegations to understand the issues, stand up, and defend their rights. She leads the European Capacity Building Initiative, which trains UNFCCC negotiators from vulnerable developing countries in legal matters, helps coordinate their negotiating positions, bolsters communication among them, and brings implementation evidence to the negotiations. 

"Since 2005, the program has convened 76 events and engaged 1,626 negotiators, policymakers and policy implementers."

Dr Benito Müller, chair of ecbi's executive committee, said: "We are extremely pleased to be able to congratulate Dr Achala Abeysinghe for having been listed with Christiana Figueres and Mary Robinson as one of the top 15 female climate champions in the world.

"We fully embrace Professor Ivanova's call for more women to be engaged in the UN climate change negotiations and will continue to strive to achieve this, not least though the training and support activities headed by Achala."

"I am honoured to be listed as one of the top climate champions in the article," said Achala. "Most importantly, I share this honour and recognition with all the other women – many unsung heroes – who work equally (or more) tirelessly, with so much perseverance and courage, including my own team within IIED and the LDC Group. I am more honoured to be able to work with them.

"The key message of Prof. Ivanova's article is that we need more women to be at the decision-making table at all levels. Women suffer the most from climate impacts, but they are also the heroes of climate actions on the ground. More women participating in decision making can make a huge difference – they bring positive change and hope to this process."

Abeysinge, who recently sent a message to US Secretary of State John Kerry that the Paris Agreement had to be legally binding, has already travelled to the French capital ahead of COP21.

The Paris climate summit will begin on Monday, 30 November, just 17 days after the terrorist attacks. IIED director Andrew Norton last week wrote that, in the wake of the tragedy, "there would be no greater act of international solidarity than for the world's leaders to agree the ambitious, effective deal that the French government has worked so hard to secure."

Achala added: "I am already in Paris with mixed feelings: with a heavy heart at the silent grief in the city; pleased with all the hard work that's gone into this process over last five years and the results we and the LDCs have achieved so far; anxious about how the 196 countries will pull it together within the next three weeks; and restless about getting the most equitable outcomes for LDCs.

"Most of all I'm determined to stay optimistic to push until the last minute for the most ambitious, equitable and dynamic international agreement for LDCs and for all."

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