Why Climate Action Needs Women
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the critical role women play in responding to climate change, and to reflect on the challenges that remain.
The international community cannot reach the central goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius unless all of humanity is involved in addressing climate change. And that means we need more women and girls to be empowered and involved.
“We cannot exclude the voices, knowledge, perspectives, and expertise of 50% of the population,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change. “We must have women, in all their diversity, involved at all levels – from climate negotiations to boardrooms to forests and fields, especially in sectors and regions hit hard by the ravages of climate change.”
The latest assessment report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week reminds us that while climate change affects everyone, it does not affect everyone equally. Vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income and other social and economic factors.
“This is a challenge and something that we must urgently deal with,” said Fleur Newman, Gender Team Lead at UN Climate Change. “It’s also an opportunity to address or redress imbalances and injustice and inequalities.”
For example, women in many societies are responsible for household energy, food, water and care for the young and elderly. Particularly in developing countries, the consequences of climate change can increase the burden for women and girls, for example, causing them to travel further to obtain daily supplies, leaving less time for paid work and potentially exposing them to greater risk to their personal safety.
At the same time, women may be less likely to participate in key political and administrative decision-making processes to respond to climate change; and, in many parts of the world, have less capacity to recover from natural disasters because of restricted access and rights to land ownership and financial resources.
So how can we work together to break down these barriers?
The good news is that women and girls are becoming increasingly empowered to make invaluable contributions to, and benefit from, climate action.
We have seen this within the UN Climate Change process. Many countries have shared how they are integrating gender across different priority sectors within their national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and National Adaptation Plans.
The Gender Action Plan agreed by governments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calls for women's full, equal, and meaningful participation in the international climate process and to ensure a prominent role for women in decision-making and in climate action.
Governments meeting under the UNFCCC adopted a goal of gender balance in national delegations and in national climate policy and action in 2012. Since then, the UN Climate Change secretariat has reported annually on the gender composition of national delegations and policy and decision-making bodies under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. The reports show that governments have some way to go achieve balance, even at the international level.
What is needed now is for countries to be deliberate in how they seek to achieve gender parity in local, national and international climate policy and decision-making roles. And we can look to best practices in other sectors, countries or businesses where women’s and girls’ empowerment has advanced and concrete measures have been put in place.
The solutions recognized by the UN Global Climate Action Awards are a good place to start. The winners of the Women for Results category demonstrate leadership on climate change by women across the globe.
They range from the first all-women solar team in Lebanon to a woman architect whose work is making Bangkok more resilient to climate change to an organization that reverses deforestation by meeting the health and economic needs of local communities through women-led innovation.