Global Resources

On the road to sustainable development: promoting gender equality and addressing climate change

Publisher: United Nations Development Programme
Publication Date: Apr 2015

As far back as Plato, over 2000 years ago, philosophers have communicated humanity’s dependence on the environment, and the need for sustainable resource usage. This concept has generally been neglected for much of the intervening period, leading to professionals today, in a multitude of fields, once again promoting the importance of the relationship between the biosphere and the sociosphere. Only recently has this concept been explored in a nuanced way that sought to understand the relationship in finer detail, such as how environmental factors involve and impact men and women differently. The extent to which this discourse has reached, and its importance to sustainable development, is the topic of the issue brief.


The brief begins by outlining the history of the discourse, up to and through the various seminal international conferences (e.g. the 1992 Rio conference, Women’s Action Agenda 21, and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women) that helped advance efforts to build gender and justice into environmental and climate negotiations. The authors then describe the growing understanding of the nexus between gender and climate change, and the important role women play in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Finally, the brief asks whether ‘green growth’ is the way forward, or whether a more significant paradigm change needs to occur to address systemic issues such as inequality.


The main message behind the brief is that, since climate change impacts will mirror and exacerbate underlying gender inequalities, it is essential that policymakers, planners and scientists take gender differentiations into account in their climate change, energy and land-use planning, decisions and activities. While recent efforts at the Rio+20 conference are commended for for referencing sustainable development and poverty eradication in the context of green economies; fears remain regarding whether this is simply ‘green-washing’, and the risk of reverting to a business-as-usual approach.