Climate change and gender inequality are two of the most significant and long-standing global challenges that we face today. And experts and policymakers in each area recognize that these issues are inextricably linked with one another.
It follows that successful climate solutions must take into account, and seek to address, the gender-differentiated effects of climate change.
In recent years, climate finance has begun to do just that.
Climate Change and Gender
Women are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In many countries, the traditional division of labor between men and women place women in charge of activities such as producing food and gathering water and fuel sources. Extreme weather events, including droughts and floods, make this daily work increasingly difficult and dangerous. As climate change forces women to travel farther and farther from home to collect water and firewood, for example, women become more and more vulnerable to instances of gender-based violence.
In addition, in many places, women lack access to financial resources, land and property rights, and political decision-making power, hampering their ability to combat the climate issues that directly affect them. For example, though women in many regions of the world play an important role in the agricultural sector, they are less likely than men to have access to credit to buy drought-resistant crops.
The full participation of women in political and economic life would yield many benefits for the climate movement.
First, despite obstacles, women already actively contribute to climate solutions based on their expertise in agricultural and forestry spheres. Incorporating their perspectives into high-level decision-making and planning would open the door for increasingly effective climate action.
Second, the economic engagement of women, about half of the world’s population, would be an enormous boon to global GDP. Some estimates suggest a global GDP increase of US$28 trillion per year by 2025. This economic growth could help drive the type of investment needed to successfully combat climate change.
Even as we consider these advantages, it’s also important to acknowledge that the impacts of climate change on women are human rights and security issues too. The climate movement should address the gender dimension of climate change not only as a means to an end, but also as an end in and of itself.
Increasing global commitments to climate finance present an opportunity to empower women and promote gender equality while supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate finance as funding that supports projects aimed at mitigating or adapting to climate change. Climate finance exists at the local, national, and international levels, and through both private and public sources, such as multilateral development banks (MDBs). Institutions and organizations engaged in climate finance utilize a variety of financial instruments, including investment loans, grants, and bonds.
Countries vary greatly in both their contribution to climate change and their capacity to mitigate and respond to its consequences. Acknowledging this reality, the UNFCCC, as well as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, call for developed countries to provide financial support to those countries that are more vulnerable to climate change but have fewer resources to fight it.
Much of the global climate finance discussion, therefore, focuses on financing in developing nations. In 2019, seven of the world’s largest MDBs, including the World Bank Group and regionally-focused banks, committed US$61.6 billion to climate finance, approximately 67 percent of which went to low- and middle-income economies.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, announced this month that it had approved over US$1 billion in funding to support developing countries in building low-emission, resilient economies.
According to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, in these less economically developed areas, along with areas affected by violent conflict, women tend to experience more severe political and economic limitations and more pronounced gender-differentiated climate impacts.
Thus, there is a lot of room for overlap in the gender equality and climate finance agendas. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2018 report identifies five key areas of investment for successfully transitioning to a low-carbon and resilient global economy. Among them are sustainable forms of agriculture and forest protection, as well as management of safe water supplies.
The report emphasizes that addressing these issues will be essential for economic growth and food and water security in the developing world. Because women play a significant role in these sectors in particular, investment in sustainable solutions can also directly improve the lives of women. But this outcome depends on taking a gender-sensitive approach to climate finance.
Gender Mainstreaming in Climate Finance
How can we ensure that climate finance is gender sensitive? The answer is through gender mainstreaming.
Gender mainstreaming is a strategy that entails considering how any planned policy or action would affect both men and women. It calls for integrating this gender perspective into all phases of the policy process, including design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Gender mainstreaming seeks to prevent policies from exacerbating existing gender inequalities and to actively promote gender equality.
Climate finance mechanisms are already taking steps to mainstream gender into their operations. The GCF, for example, has set out a gender policy that ensures that projects are designed with gender considerations in mind from the outset.
The GCF provides guidance to countries to ensure that women’s groups are represented among the stakeholders consulted on project design. It also trains women’s groups on climate finance topics, and potential implementing partners on gender-sensitive climate finance.
The GCF also requires that all funding proposals include an initial assessment of gender issues in the location where the project is to take place, as well as gender issues that are relevant to the proposed project itself and opportunities to improve the lives of both men and women.
Once the GCF has approved a funding proposal and the project enters the preparation stage, project planners must submit a more detailed gender action plan, which should include any planned activities that respond to gender concerns; indicators and sex-disaggregated targets by which the success of the gender component will be measured; and budgets and timelines for completing these activities. During the implementation phase, data should be collected in relation to these indicators and targets, and then evaluated with a gender-responsive lens.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In order to stem the tide of climate change and keep global warming at well below 2 degrees Celsius, private companies, MDBs, international funds, and other financial mechanisms will have to continue to increase their commitment to climate finance.
It is imperative that all public and private sources of funding follow the lead of the GCF in taking a gender-sensitive approach to all climate projects. In this way, the global community can improve the lives of women, while also benefitting from the unparalleled knowledge that women possess about key sectors such as agroforestry.
The world urgently needs both climate solutions and gender equality. Neither can exist without the other.
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