Why gender matters in the fight against climate change
14 November 2022
On Gender Day at COP27, Camco’s Laura Lahti explores the critical role women have in dealing with all aspects of climate change and considers whether gender equality commitments made at earlier COPs are achieving their intended results.
Any effective solution to mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts must recognise that different genders experience climate change differently. Whether we are male or female or if we identify with a different gender, our gender contributes to how climate change affects our livelihoods, the way we live and the roles we play within families and society.
At the same time, the role of women in dealing with all aspects of the climate crisis and sustainable development more generally is central and crucial. In response to this, the Paris Agreement acknowledges the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment in tackling climate change and calls for action to be responsive to the needs of women and girls.
At COP 25, Parties to UNFCCC adopted the five-year Enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender, which aims to achieve “gender-responsive” climate policy and action by encouraging Parties to advance gender balance and always consider gender in their work in implementing the Paris Agreement.
But how successful has this been? In April, UN Women’s big data analysis of 367 speeches made by countries, regional bodies and international organisations at the three most recent COPs before COP27 found that just 26 countries and regional bodies made reference to gender.
More encouragingly, the UNFCCC’s synthesis report, published in the run up to COP27, revealed a growing trend towards including gender in latest nationally determined contributions (NDCs), national adaptation plans (NAPs) and national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs), as well as national communications and long-term low-emission development strategies. Although it should be noted that most Parties referred to gender as biological sex, omitting other gender identities.
The synthesis report also showed that almost all updated NDCs provided information related to gender integration and affirmed each Party’s commitment to implementing gender-sensitive, or in some cases gender-responsive, climate policies. Most NDCs also identified women as “vulnerable” and some as “agents of change”. However, only some referred to the need for gender-responsive climate finance.
While most NAPs and NAPAs referred to the need for gender-sensitive and participatory approaches to addressing adaptation, few mentioned gender- or women-specific projects and strategies.
COP26 saw some bold commitments from countries to put gender equality at the forefront of climate action, from promoting women’s leadership and decision-making to committing climate finance towards gender equality outcomes.
We are yet to see how and whether these commitments are realised; however, a 2021 study by the Climate Policy Initiative found overall climate finance had slowed in recent years after a decade of steady increases – and that investment flows were “nowhere near” what was needed.
Women as agents of change
In its landmark report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the IPCC’s Working Group II noted that gender and intersectionality compound a person’s vulnerability to climate change. Women and other marginalised groups in developing countries also find it harder to build resilience to the impacts of climate change due in large part to economic inequality resulting from pay gaps and limited access to land and productive assets.
The situation is made worse by women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid domestic work, limited access to energy, education and health care and restricted decision-making opportunities, all of which impact their opportunities for economic and personal development and well-being, which in turn limit their ability to adapt to worsening environmental and climate hazards.
In the vast majority of households in Africa women manage energy consumption, finding or buying fuel for cooking and lighting. Women are very often also responsible for growing and harvesting or buying food for their family.
As such, it is vital to ensure women are included in all efforts to transition to a low-carbon and resilient future, whether that be in the form of them switching from using charcoal to modern clean energy, improving the efficiency and resilience of the agricultural practices they employ or making any other change that shifts their behaviour onto a more sustainable trajectory.
At the corporate and governmental levels, women have the capacity to catalyse transformational change and are well placed to recognise the solutions to the barriers other women face. Indeed, there are countless examples where female entrepreneurs are already delivering climate solutions through innovative business models, from a company providing solar-powered electric tricycles to help farmers gain access to local markets in Zimbabwe, to a mobile app that provides emerging farmers with access to educational agricultural content in their ethnic languages in South Africa and a ground-breaking solar mini-grids business providing first-time electricity access to rural areas in Sierra Leone.
But the right conditions are needed to make more women key decision makers, financiers and actors in sustainable development. Africa has the highest share of female entrepreneurs globally, demonstrating the very active and important role women play in the continent’s commercial sector. Yet only 16-20 % of women in West, Central, East and Southern Africa have access to long-term financing from financial institutions, with an estimated female funding gap of $42 billion across the business value chain. Women might have the potential to deliver the change we seek, but more often than not they don’t have the financial means.
Gender discussions at COP27
Climate action offers vast opportunities to reduce social inequalities. It will be interesting to see if and how today’s Gender Day at COP27 moves the dial forward on these issues. The things I will be looking for as clear signs of progress are:
Scaling up of public and private finance to support gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as being pro-poor and prioritising all of those who are most vulnerable to climate change.
Promoting economic opportunities for women in renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture and technology through education, skills development, employment and social protection.
Identifying ways to abolish existing barriers – whether cultural, legal or financial – facing women and other marginalised groups in access to finance.
Providing support to and learning from indigenous women who hold ancestral knowledge and practices to build resilience in a changing climate.
Given the urgency of the climate situation and my strong belief that women hold the key to a brighter future, anything short of the above will make COP27 a failure.
This article first appeared on ESI Africa.
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