Meet our members | Isabel Caño Aguilar: her involvement in climate action and commitment to gender equality

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Isabel CAÑO AGUILAR, vice-president of the Sustainable Development Observatory of the EESC

Isabel CAÑO AGUILAR is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Workers' Group representing the General Union of Workers (UGT). A member of the NAT section since 2010, she is currently the vice-president of the Sustainable Development Observatory of the EESC and is particularly committed to equality, decent work and more specifically the gender approach in climate action.

What motivates you to be an active and committed member of the EESC and the NAT Section? And how do you connect with your work in your country? 

I am convinced that Europe is its civil society, and as a trade unionist I see the EESC as the voice of our organisations.

I have been a member of the NAT section since 2010, and I have to say that beyond agriculture, the CAP, issues such as fisheries and livestock farming, I have discovered that this is one of the sections where we can have the greatest impact on the daily lives of Europeans.

The great progress we have made in the area of food health, progress in the rural world, the fundamental issue of climate action -- we have spoken out on key issues such as environmental protection, organic farming and the circular economy.

From a more personal point of view, as a woman and a trade unionist, I think that in our section, we can have an impact on issues that go beyond those, for example the situation of women in the rural world, ranging from the lack of training to their scarce presence as owners of farms and the lack of social protection that results from that. Inequality very often has a woman's face, including in the rural world, and I believe that our work in the NAT Section can help to raise awareness of these issues and to advance solutions.

One of the main themes of the EESC is that of sustainable development. You are the vice-president of the Sustainable Development Observatory (SDO) whose main mission is to promote sustainability within the European Union. What challenges await us soon?

I have been involved in sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals for a long time, and as a woman and a trade unionist there are some goals where I have a stronger commitment, equality or decent work, or more specifically the gender approach in climate action, for example.

As Vice-President responsible for Communication at the EESC, I also wanted to put these issues at the heart of the Communication actions. In 2019, I proposed "More women in society and the economy in Europe" as the theme of the Civil Society Prize, and I also proposed a Youth COP as the theme of our youth event, Your Europe you Say. And you can still see on the entrance screens of the JDE building our awareness raising and information campaign on the 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

In December 2019, after the speech of the then new President of the European Commission, and her college of Commissioners built with gender parity it seemed that a new expectation was opening up. In the same way she announced a Green Deal, which would be the priority and the major objective of her mandate.

Very quickly, in the first months of 2020, another unknown and ungovernable reality appeared on the scene -- the COVID19 pandemic meant that these issues were put on the back burner or at least overshadowed by what was happening in the world.

And if, today in October 2021, I had to name just one challenge, I would say that we must reclaim and bring to the forefront the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Europe must not forget its commitments, and the urgency must not hide issues that are fundamental to the future of our planet and the lives of its inhabitants.

The Sustainable Development Observatory, of which I am a member, is working in this direction, together with the EESC's other two Observatories, the Labour Market Observatory and the Observatory on the Digital Transition and the Single Market. On the 22nd October we have reflected together on the energy transition, the transformation in the automotive sector or the contribution of the digital transition to the welfare economy. In short, civil society around a table to talk about sustainable recovery.

You are part of the EESC delegation for COP26 in Glasgow. What expectations do you have for the participation of the EESC?

I have been part of other EESC delegations to COPs, each of which has been different. But I would highlight the EESC's participation in and contribution to the COP, which I believe was decisive, in Paris in 2015. The Paris Agreement was signed by 196 parties.

This agreement already clearly included the concept of a fair reconversion of the workforce and the need to create decent work and quality jobs. This issue and the strong mobilisation of civil society to have its role in climate action recognised were, in my view, key issues.

The EESC has worked hard to get the great potential of civil society for climate protection recognised, and for me this was one of our major contributions in the post-Paris process. In an opinion for which I was co-rapporteur with Lutz Ribbe as rapporteur, the EESC proposed "to establish a coalition between policy makers, administration and civil society. The coalition's task should be to minimise the obstacles to climate protection for civil society".  What we said in 2016 is still valid and necessary today.

I was rapporteur for the EESC's first opinion on climate adaptation in 2013, and on re-reading it I am struck by the fact that even then we said that "it should be borne in mind that the rise in temperature in Europe and the possibility of accelerated extreme events may result in the damage to people, the economy and the environment possibly being greater than initially expected".

In the light of the extreme weather events that have occurred this summer, as I have watched one of the most beautiful Spanish mountain ranges, the Sierra Bermeja in Malaga, burn, I think of the many years of almost total inaction on the part of everyone -- and in particular the public authorities.

And if I have to give a straightforward answer about my expectations regarding the COP in Glasgow, I would say that we have talked about taking action on other occasions, but that today we have to say very clearly that we have no margin left, that we do not have much time and that we have to act NOW.