Ulrika Modéer is UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, and Anita Bhatia is UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships.
Research shows that we need to put all our efforts over the coming decade to limit warming to 1.5°C and mitigate the catastrophic risks posed by increased droughts, floods, and extreme weather events.
But our actions will not be effective if they do not include measures to ensure social justice, equality and a gender perspective. So, how do we integrate gender equality in climate change actions?
The impact of climate change affects women and girls disproportionately due to existing gender inequalities. It also threatens to undermine socio-economic gains made over previous decades.
With limited or no access to land and other resources including finance, technology and information, women and girls suffer more in the aftermath of natural disasters and bear increased burdens in domestic and care work.
Women and girls have also seen their water collection time increased and firewood and fodder collection efforts thwarted in the face of droughts, floods and deforestation, occupying a significant portion of their time that could have been used for their education or leisure.
This is not only theory. For example, women and children accounted for more than 96 per cent of those impacted by the flash floods in Solomon Islands in 2014 and in Myanmar, women accounted for 61 percent of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Women and girls also remain marginalized in decision-making spheres — from the community level to parliaments to international climate negotiations. Global climate finance for mitigation and adaptation programmes remain out of reach for women and girls because of their lack of knowledge and capacity to tap into these resources.
Despite these challenges, women and girls play a critical role in key climate related sectors and have developed adaptation and resilience-building strategies and mitigation techniques, such as driving the demand for renewable energy at the household and community levels for lighting, cooking and productive use solutions that the international community must now support.
Women are holders of traditional farming methods, first responders in crises situations, founders of cooperatives, entrepreneurs of green energy, scientists and inventors, and decision-makers with respect to the use of natural resources.
Women comprise an average of 43 percent of the agricultural work force in developing countries1 and manage 90% of all household water and fuel-wood needs in Africa. Some studies have shown that if women were afforded equal access to productive resources as men, their agricultural outputs would exceed men’s by 7 to 23 percent. It is therefore imperative to embrace and scale-up the initiatives of the 51 per cent of the world’s population.
In recent times, women and girls have used their knowledge and experience to lead in mitigation efforts. From developing apps to track and reduce the carbon emitted as a result of individual consumption, to reducing food by connecting neighbors, cafes, and local shops to share leftover and unsold food 2.
Young women scientists, like South-African teenager Kiara Nirghin, are making a difference in the fight against climate change. They are building on the legacies of women and girls such as Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who empowered communities to manage their natural resources in a sustainable way.
At the same time, UNDP and UN Women have been collaborating to advance gender equality and women’s leadership on climate change. For example, in Ecuador, the two UN agencies have teamed up with the government to support the inclusion of gender in the country’s climate action plans.
UNDP and UN Women have also collaborated globally to ensure that gender remains a key factor when world leaders make critical decisions on climate change.
If policies and projects take into account women’s particular roles, needs and contributions to climate action and support women’s empowerment, there will be a greater possibility to limit warming to 1.5°C in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We must continue to engage women and women’s organizations, learning from their experiences on the ground to build the evidence for good practices and help replicate more inclusive climate actions.
The UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, 2019 is a unique opportunity to elevate at the highest level the need for substantive participation of women and girls in efforts against climate change.
At the Summit, there will be several initiatives put forth to address climate change, including one focusing on gender equality. The initiative recognizes the differential impact of climate change on women and girls, and seeks support for their leadership as a way to make climate actions more effective.
It calls for the rights, differentiated needs and contributions of women and girls to be integrated into all actions, including those related to climate finance, energy, industry and infrastructure. It promotes support for women and girls in developing innovative tools and participating in mitigation and adaptation efforts and calls for accountability by tracking and reporting progress towards achieving these goals.
For climate action to get more traction and be effective, we need a critical mass of Governments and other stakeholders to sign on to the Climate Action Summit’s gender-specific initiative. The world cannot afford to keep limiting the potential of women and girls in shaping climate actions, as all evidence points towards the benefits of their involvement.
There is already interest by United Nations Member States, as shown in the increased integration of gender considerations in their national climate plans, but a broader movement is needed. We need multi-stakeholder partnerships and engage a critical mass of supporters – governments, UN entities, financial mechanisms, and civil society organizations to support the gender-specific initiative of the SG’s Climate Action Summit.
The time for gender-responsive climate action is now.
1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The State of Food and Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development (Rome: FAO, 2011a).
2 Olio, a food-sharing app was founded by women from Sweden, the UK and USA. For more info: https://unfccc.int/climate-action/momentum-for-change/women-for-results/women-leading-a-food-sharing-revolution; One Million Women was founded by a woman in Australia to get one million women to change their lifestyles to mitigate climate change. The group has an app that provides the tools to cut carbon pollution in home energy savings and clean energy options, minimising food waste, reducing over-consumption, investing and divesting (your money) wisely, sustainable fashion, low-impact travel, etc. For more info: https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/