2017’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) was a milestone for feminist policies: the first Gender Action Plan in COP’s history was adopted on 14th November in Bonn, Germany. Two months before the conference, the Chief Negotiator for the COP23 Presidency for the Government of Fiji, Nazhat Shameem Khan, had already emphasised the necessity of gender-responsive strategies to fight climate change (Khan, 2017). This statement was a clear signal to the Global North that politicians from the Global South are well aware of the need to consider gender in climate action policy.
Why does gender matter for climate action ?
As inequalities still exist between men and women, including access to time, money and education, the consequences of climate change are often not experienced equally (WomenWatch, 2009). For example, the Women and Gender Constituency states that 80% of victims of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh were women and girls (Women Engage for a Common Future, 2017).
In the past, gender dimensions have not been sufficiently taken into account in climate action policy and gender-blind policies concerning environmental issues are still dominant. In reforesting programmes for example, land rights play a significant role. Female farmers can struggle to cultivate their own land, because patriarchal structures of family heritage have not been considered in the programme. Political failures such as these can have significant consequences for the needs and knowledge of 50% of the global population.
For these reasons, amongst others, representatives from civil society like the GenderCC have published a list of demands. One such demand is that “all, but in particular industrial countries, finally mainstream gender into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as gender justice is not only relevant for developing countries“ (GenderCC Demands for the COP23, 2017).
If the intersection of climate change, migration and economy had been acknowledged more in the past, gender-responsive solutions in the fight against climate change could have been developed earlier. For example, when it comes to the agricultural sector, women are often in charge of natural resources management. On one hand, they are responsible for food production, which makes them a potential agent of change concerning sustainable farming. On the other hand, women suffer under the double burden of care work. According to FAO, 90% of care service in the Global South is carried out by women (FAO, 2011).
Moreover, natural disasters have an impact on female migration (Abebe, 2014). But what does the impact look like? 70% of the world’s poorest are women (UNEP Global Gender and Environment Outlook, 2016). If this vulnerable group is affected by gender-blind disaster management, they can be forced to flee into another region or country to build a new life (UN Women, 2016). Under these circumstances, women and girls are at a higher risk of sexual and/or economical exploitation. In Mozambique for instance, drought has led to an increased work burden and earlier marriages (UN Women, 2017). This can lead to marginalisation and inhuman living conditions. To avoid the displacement and exploitation of female migrants, gender-responsive climate finance and capacity-building are indispensable. Despite that fact, 60% of the OECD-CAD bilateral climate funding does not include any gender dimension (OECD-DAC Secretariat, 2017).
Where is the European Union?
“Make Our Planet Great Again.” With this slogan from June 2017, the French President Emmanuel Macron put climate policy on the top of France’s to-do list. He continued to emphasise this during COP23. In contrast, Germany took a pro-coal position during 2017’s climate conference. The German government defended its decision by highlighting the high risk of job losses in coal regions. As in many other decision-making processes, the EU has difficulties finding common ground.
Instead of concentrating on the numerous differences between how each member state is affected, the process could be accelerated by concentrating on similarities. One example given by civil society criticises the EU’s lack of solidarity with the Global South: “In order to take responsibility for their historical emissions, industrial countries in Europe must take particular efforts in cutting emissions and providing financial and non-financial support to countries having fewer capacities“ (GenderCC Demands for the COP23, 2017). This strong criticism is rooted in the fact that one side effect of industrialisation has been been environmental pollution. For instance, building bigger factories to maximise production has an impact on biodiversity and people’s health in the affected region. Consequently, the permanent intention of both catching up and staying competitive puts further pressure on our environment.
However, for some countries it is not just about catching up with Europe. Non-European actors like China or Morocco are not only catching up with new innovations, but they are also building their own strong green energy sector. If the European Union wants to remain a global player and set standards in gender-responsive climate policy, it has to realise its political agenda and stand in solidarity with countries that have fewer capacities.
Beyond the Gender Action Plan
Besides gender inequality, feminist advocates at 2017’s COP highlighted again that both the Global North and Global South need to work on a balanced partnership of equals (Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, 2017). A strong network of feminists from all over the world is needed to create gender-responsive strategies and achieve the common goal: climate justice. Furthermore, the UN Climate Change Conferences need to be a space for open dialogue and future mechanisms must be transparent for observer organisations. All things considered, the Gender Action Plan is a mechanism for gender justice. With its implementation, the path towards an intersectional approach in global climate politics has been built and global standards now have the chance to be transformed into local reality.
Miriam Mona, 26, is from Germany. Her focus is on the intersection of Gender and Political Economy. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Applied Language Science (English and Mandarin) at the Paris-Sorbonne University, she is now enrolled in the master’s program of Politics, Administration and International Relations at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany. At the moment, she is an intern at the UN Women National Committee for Germany and working for Médecins Sans Frontières in Bonn. Moreover, she is a founding member of the task force for Gender Equality of United Nations Association of Germany as well as part of the WECF Youth Group.
- Abebe, M. A. (2014). Climate Change, Gender Inequality and Migration in East Africa, in: Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, pp. 104-140.
- FAO (2011). The state of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011. Women in Agriculture. Retrived from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e00.htm (12/01/2018).
- GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice e.V. (2017). GenderCC’s demands for COP23. Retrived from:http://gendercc.net/fileadmin/inhalte/dokumente/6_UNFCCC/COPs/Flugblatt_COP23_Forderungen.pdf. (22/12/2017).
- Khan, N.S. (2017). SD Talks Special Series on Climate Action, Session #4I COP23 in Bonn:Setting the Rules of the Climate Game; Making Cooperation Stick. (27/09/2017).
- OECD-DAC Secretariat (2017). AID in support of Gender Equality and Women’s empowerment. Retrived from: http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/aidinsupportofgenderequalityandwomensempowerment.htm (22/12/2017).
- UNEP (2016). Global Gender and Environment Outlook. UN Environment, Nairobi, Kenya.
- UN WomenWatch (2009). Factsheet Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change. Retrived from: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/climate_change (18/12/2017).
- UN Women (2016). Factsheet Addressing the Gender Inequality of Risk in a Changing Climate. Retrived from: https://www.unwomen.de/fileadmin/user_upload/schwerpunktthemen/Klima/ADDRESSING_THE_GENDER_INEQUALITY_CLIMATE_CHANGE.pdf. (06/2016).
- UN Women (2017). Rural women tackle drought-affected Mozambique’s rise in child marriage. Retrived from: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/11/feature-mozambique-rural-women-tackle-drought-related-rise-in-child-marriage (08/11/2017).
- Women Engage for a Common Future (2017). Gender Just Climate Solutions. Retrived from http://womengenderclimate.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/WGC-Solutions-Publication-COP23-ENG-Final-.pdf (15/01/2018).
- Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (2017). Press Conference of Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change. Retrived from: https://unfccc.cloud.streamworld.de/webcast/women-for-climate-justice-leading-solutions-on-the (15/11/2017).