by Virginia Raffaeli
Climate change is known to impact people differently across the world . In fact, it is a stress multiplier and, as such, exacerbates pre-existing inequalities .
Women are one of the groups most affected by the climate crisis, with 80% of the people displaced by climate change being women and girls . Moreover, since they are often the primary food and water providers, a decrease in the availability of these resources and the longer routes necessary to find them mean that women and girls are also more likely to be deprived of essential education as a result of climate impacts than their male counterparts . Nevertheless, women are seriously under-represented in climate policy, climate decision-making at the local, national, and international level, as well as in climate finance [4, 5, 6].
For this reason, in the build-up to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) civil society and entities such as United Nations (UN) Women as well as the Women in Finance Climate Action Group called for urgent action to address gender inequality in the context of climate change .
COP26, like previous COPs, designated a specific day of the programme to gender (Tuesday 9 November 2021). Discussions and talks during this specific day, as well as throughout the two weeks of COP26, focused on areas of increasing women’s participation in climate decision-making processes, education and training, and climate finance.
Inclusivity at COP26
Despite the introduction of Gender Day at COP17, in 2012, little progress had been made towards the inclusion of women in climate policy and climate decision-making processes, which led to the adoption of a new and enhanced “Gender Action Plan” (GAP) during COP25 [7, 8]. Although this new and action-oriented supporting documentversion of the enhanced Lima work programme called for women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in the UN climate processes in the short term, no visible improvements can be seen in this regard. Indeed, women represented only 33% of the lead negotiators at COP26 .
The lack of real inclusion of women in climate processes has serious consequences. As stated by Helen Pankhurst (Care International), COP26 focused primarily on “big-ticket” items, such as net-zero pledges, ignoring the so-called “invisible issues”, such as sanitation, where the gendered impact of the climate crisis is most visible .
Nonetheless, the systemic nature of the lack of inclusion of women in climate policy was acknowledged in specific COP26 documentation such as the “Gender and climate change draft conclusions proposed by the Chair: Recommendations of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation”. This document not only called upon the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to increase their work on gender inclusivity, but also explicitly stated that the Parties’ actions thus far have been insufficient with regard to gender inclusivity .
Despite these systemic issues and no visible progress regarding the implementation of the GAP, significant pledges were made at COP26 regarding the inclusion of women and gender in climate policy.
The most important of these is the “Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change”, which recognises that women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change and commits to further strengthening efforts to support women and girls . Jointly sponsored by the Scottish Government and UN Women, and signed by 14 different countries on the first day, the statement will remain open for signatures until the 66th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2022 [13, 14].
As stated above, prior to COP26, climate finance rarely focused on gender inequality-focused projects or assigned significant sums of money to projects led by women . According to UN Women, only 3% of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) presently focuses on the gendered impact of the climate crisis . In the light of these challenges, prior to COP26 the Women in Finance Climate Action Group reaffirmed the need for urgent action to improve gender equality when designing, delivering, and accessing private climate finance as well as to increase financial inclusion for women .
Some important steps to prioritise gender in climate finance were fortunately taken made at COP26. The UK, in particular, pledged £165 million towards tackling the climate crisis while addressing the systemic inequalities that make women and girls more vulnerable to climate impacts and also empowering them to take climate action . According to the UK Government, £45 million will be dedicated to the empowering of local communities in Asia and the Pacific, whereas the remaining £120 million will help build resilience, protect biodiversity, prevent pollution, strengthen renewable energy, and improve waste management e at the same time as supporting women’s leadership, access to finance, education, and skills in Bangladesh .
Although the UK’s announcement is certainly very welcome, as stated by WaterAid “sadly it is just a drop in the ocean of funding needed” . All we can hope is that other governments “follow suit and truly equip women and girls to be leaders in the fight against climate change, rather than victims, and to put gender equality at the heart of climate action” .
The Role of Education
A central theme that emerged during Gender Day at COP26, in fact, was the importance of empowering women to become leaders rather than victims in tackling the climate crisis, and the essential role of education. State leaders, such as Nicola Sturgeon, gave statements stressing the importance of ensuring equal access to education for women and girls since, as stated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai herself:
“We cannot hope to build resilience for the decades ahead unless we educate all children. This especially is true for girls… Education prepares women to develop climate solutions, secure green jobs and address issues at the heart of this crisis” [20, 21].
However, despite the importance given to education for women and girls during the Gender Day panels, this issue was left outside of formal COP26 declarations, as well as the vast majority of newly submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) . According to an assessment carried out by Education International, although 15 of the most recent NDCs mention girls, only Cambodia and the UK include girls’ education as part of their climate strategies . This reality starkly contrasts with what was said about the importance of prioritising women and girls during Gender Day.
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