Without a focus on gender how effective can the climate agreement be?

Climate change is finally being recognised as one of the most serious threats of the 21st Century. At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It includes measures to reduce global carbon emissions and to support people in developing countries, who have been affected by climate change. However the agreement falls down in its lack of attention to gender equality.

As we argue in the BRIDGE Gender and Climate Change Cutting Edge Pack, initiatives designed without a clear understanding of the realities of people’s lives, including the social and cultural structures that can exclude and marginalise women and girls, are unlikely to achieve their intended objectives. Women and girls are experiencing the most severe impacts of climate change. Only by devoting time and resources to understanding why they are more at risk can these impacts be mitigated.

There is also a serious risk that by failing to take into account the needs of women and girls the very policies that aim to address the issue of climate change may not only be less effective, but could inadvertently do harm by increasing gender inequalities. For example, a programme that targets household heads, land tenure or bank account holders may inadvertently target men, while excluding and further marginalising many women.

Inclusive climate policies and programmes can also deliver social and economic development co-benefits, including social transformation, which can support wider processes of sustainable development. For example renewable energy strategies that ensure equal access to training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for women and men can support women’s economic empowerment, which is proven to enhance economic growth and support the transformation of gender relations.

One clear barrier to more gender sensitive climate change is the continued low representation of women in climate change decision making. Measures have been introduced to try and address this gender gap. For example, a report is published every year which tracks the gender composition of UNFCCC discussions and processes and a ‘Gender day’ is held during each COP. However the increase in the number of women delegates at the COP has been negligible, rising from 30 per cent in 2010 to 36 per cent in 2014 (see UNFCCC 2015); while at COP 21 in 2015 only 26 per cent of heads of delegations were female. Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, noted “If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about people?”

Find out more about gender and climate change here.