UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


Date: 07 December 2012

The Conference of Parties (COP-18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Doha, Qatar from 26 November to 7 December 2012. Governments concluded the work that had begun in Bali in 2007 on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention, and agreed on a firm timetable ensuring the adoption of a universal climate change agreement by 2015, to come into force in 2020. A second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol was also launched at COP-18, to continue as of 1 January 2013 for a period of 8 years.

As in the past, UN-Women followed the negotiations and maintained an active outreach to State Parties to ensure that decisions adopted at COP-18 incorporate references to gender equality, women’s rights and women’s contribution in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Important gains achieved at COP-18 include:

First, a landmark decision on ‘Promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established pursuant to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol’ was adopted. Hailed as the ‘Doha Miracle’, this decision constitutes an important step forward in advancing gender-sensitive climate policy by ensuring that women’s voices are represented in the negotiations, and adding the consideration of gender issues in the agenda of the COP.

UN-Women was commended on the instrumental role it played from the inception phase of the decision until its adoption at COP-18. During the drafting stage, the Entity provided substantive input drawing from established norms including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action and the Rio+20 outcome, and offered expert/technical advice to Parties, when requested, throughout the negotiations. In collaboration with the COP presidency and civil society partners the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice and the Masdar Institute, UN-Women also co-hosted a Ministerial Breakfast to garner support for the adoption of the decision. The Entity will continue to fully engage in this process and further collaborate with partners as we begin our work into firm implementation of the decision.

Second, gender considerations were mainstreamed in other decisions adopted at COP-18, including on loss and damage, national adaptation plans, the Climate Technology Centre and Network, and the Doha Work Programme on Article 6 of the Convention (Education, Training and Public Awareness), among other commitments. Previously agreed upon commitments pertaining to the gender dimensions of climate change were also reaffirmed and carried forward to decisions adopted at COP-18.

Third, the profile of women as key actors in the global fight against climate change was raised, through UN-Women’s contributions to and participation in various events on women and gender equality. These included, most notably, the launch of the new pillar on ‘Women for Results’ by the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change Initiative to showcase women as an essential part of the solution in addressing climate change. Assistant Secretary-General/Deputy Executive Director of UN-Women, Ms. Lakshmi Puri, participated in the high-level roundtable discussion  where she emphasized the importance of reflecting the human face of climate change and in particular, women’s agency in building the resilience of entire communities.

Key messages were also shared in events held on the occasion of the UNFCCC-designated ‘Gender Day’, side-events co-organized with UN-system partners, and written contributions and interviews published in multi-stakeholder magazine ‘Outreach’ and granted to the UNFCCC’s ‘Climate Change Studio’. In her interview with Outreach, UN-Women Executive Director Ms. Michelle Bachelet underscored the importance of recognizing women’s roles as active agents in the response to climate change and in shaping gender-sensitive climate policy.


Gender Day events:

  • Gender and Climate Innovation: Breakthrough changes for gender equality (organized by the Global Gender Climate Alliance);
  • Gender and Climate: Moving beyond the rhetoric (organized by UNFCCC)

 UN System side events:

  • Managing disaster risks and extreme events under a changing climate (co-organized by WFP, ISDR, UN-Women, UNCCD);
  • The role of the UN in achieving Climate-Smart Agriculture (co-organized by UNCCD, ECA, UNEP and UN-Women);
  • Building Sustainable Health Systems: Focus on Climate Resilience (co-organized by WHO, Norway, Qatar, in collaboration with WMO, UN-Women, UNDP, IFMSA).

Related Links/Documents


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in force since 1994, sets a global agenda for tackling climate change. With the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the Convention, State Parties committed to binding targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by 2008-2012. With the looming expiration of the protocol, efforts are ongoing to reach a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on a post-2012 framework.

UN Women and its partners have stressed that any new climate agreement must be gender-sensitive. Women’s concerns must be heard and their participation ensured. The agreement’s measures should be consistent with the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); gender equity should be an integral part of implementation; and sex-disaggregated data should be used for policy design, monitoring and reporting.

The gender dimensions of climate change have been conspicuously absent in the UNFCCC process. Negotiations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in December 2009 resulted in the Copenhagen Accord, which set an unbinding target of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and pledged increased funding for developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This accord was only ‘noted’ by Parties and not adopted, however.

At the COP-16 negotiations in Cancun in December 2010, Governments adopted the Cancun Agreements, with key steps to reduce emissions and help developing nations protect themselves from climate impacts. This included establishing a new Green Climate Fund, a new Technology Mechanism, the Cancun Adaptation Framework, Fast Start Finance and Forest Management Reference Levels. The Agreements affirmed that climate change adaptation should “follow a country-driven, gender sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach” and that mitigation “responses to climate change should… take fully into account the consequences for vulnerable groups, in particular women and children.”

The COP-17 negotiations of December 2011 in Durban further advanced implementation of the Convention, along with the related Kyoto Protocol and Cancun Agreements, and resulted in the Durban Platform for Enhance Action. Importantly, the Durban Platform includes 11 explicit references to gender and women. In particular, the Governing Instrument for the new Green Climate Fund contains five provisions of particular significance for women, such as promotion of a gender sensitive approach in the objectives and guiding principles; and due consideration to gender balance on both the Board and Secretariat. The need for gender balance is also reflected in both the Standing Committee on Finance and the Enhanced Action on Adaptation; and gender considerations are integrated into the mission and guidelines for the new Climate Technology Centre and Network.

Climate Change: Putting Gender Equality at the Centre

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions threatens everyone, but women and men will experience it differently. Discriminatory gender norms mean that women have fewer social and economic resources than men, which reduces their resiliency to natural disasters and other fallout from climate change. They are the primary managers of household resources, such as water and fuel, which may be in increasingly short supply. And many have livelihoods highly vulnerable to climatic variations, including in agriculture.

Alongside these risks, there are also opportunities for women, especially in the increasing international and national attention to climate change. A deliberate focus on rectifying gender inequalities could interrupt patterns of discrimination and expand women’s options, while making climate mitigation and adaptation measures more far-reaching and effective. Women have enormous potential as agents of positive change, both as actors in development and stewards of the environment.

The Issue: Quick Facts and Figures

  • Women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, yet they have less access to productive resources and opportunities.[i] Rural women are responsible for water collection in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries.[ii] Reduced or variable rainfall can increase the time required to collect water and cut down agricultural production.
  • Globally, men’s landholdings average three times those of women.[iii] Women make up less than 5 percent of agricultural landholders in North Africa and Western Asia, and approximately 15 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.[iv]
  • Women account for two-thirds of 774 million adult illiterates in the world—a proportion unchanged over the past two decades.[v] Disparities in education limit women’s access to information and vocational options, constraining their ability to adapt to climate change and environmental degradation.
  • A recent study in 141 countries found that in highly gender inequitable societies, more women than men die when disasters strike.[vi]
  • Women are still underrepresented in fields such as energy, industry, construction and engineering, all of which are expected to generate green jobs. The share of female employees in the energy industry is estimated at only 20 percent, most working in nontechnical fields.[vii]
  • The number of women in environmental decision-making is limited, but where women are involved, better environmental management of community forestry resources and actions to improve access to education and clean water have been some of the results.

What Should We Do?

Eight Key Actions

1. Adapt for gender equality:The capacity to adapt to climate change largely depends on resources, education, technology and basic services. Since women have less access to all of these, national and local adaptation strategies will need to recognize and address these gaps. At the same time, women have existing stores of knowledge on adaptation that should be tapped. For example, rural indigenous women from the Bolivian altiplano shared knowledge with a local yapuchiris farmers network on effective storage of seeds in cold weather with the wider community. This resulted in smaller food losses from climate-related temperature shifts.[viii]

2. Make women part of disaster risk reduction:The average number of extreme weather events—droughts, storms and floods—more than doubled over the last two decades.[ix] Disaster risk reduction lessens the vulnerability of people and property, including through advance preparedness and wise management of land and the environment.[x] Since women face greater risks of injury and death, they must have a central role in disaster risk management, whether that involves early warning systems, climate-proofing infrastructure or other measures. For instance, women living in earthquake-prone areas near Lima, Peru learned to produce earthquake-resistant building components. They then negotiated with the local government for safe housing policies that have benefited 55,000 families.[xi]

3. Expand access to services:Public services are critical in helping women overcome discrimination that hinders adaptation to climate change, such as through education and health care. Services that fully respond to women’s needs require women’s participation in decisions that shape them, sex-disaggregated data to pinpoint gaps,[xii] and gender-responsive budgeting to ensure financing backs equitable delivery. Services are especially important for women in their roles as housekeepers and caregivers. Worldwide, around 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity,[xiii] for example. This is bad for the climate and for health—indoor smoke from burning fuels like wood and charcoal kills 2 million people a year, mostly women and children in rural areas.[xiv] And for many women, impacts of climate change mean walking longer distances each day to gather fuelwood and other energy sources. In South Africa, electrification raises the likelihood that women will get jobs by 13 percent, due to labour saving in the home.[xv]

4. Ensure technology delivers for all:Investments in fuel-efficient and labour-saving technologies  could achieve multiple ends: such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving health, creating jobs for both women and men, and promoting women’s empowerment.[xvi] But technology remains mostly the domain of men,[xvii] for reasons ranging from affordability to stereotypes around male and female roles. One consequence is lost productivity—giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources, including technology, could increase production on women’s farms in developing countries by as much as 20 to 30 percent, for example.[xviii] Technology could also reduce women’s time burdens and advance adaptation, such as through climate-appropriate crops and patterns of cultivation. In all cases, women, especially end-users, need to be consulted in the development of new technologies to ensure they are appropriate and sustainable. Poorly designed biogas stoves, for instance, may cut emissions, but increase, rather than decrease, women’s workloads.

5. Share the benefits of a green economy: The shift to green economies must equitably benefit both women and men, including through new jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. The energy and electricity sectors, for example, will likely generate a large share of green jobs as renewable energy takes off. Fewer women than men pursue the kind of training in science and technology that provides necessary skills for these jobs, however. This means that women provide an untapped resource for green growth. While women account for more than half of university graduates in several countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, they receive only 30 percent of tertiary degrees granted in science and engineering fields.[xix] More efforts are needed to ensure that women have equal opportunities in education and employment, and in access to credit and assets they can use for setting up green businesses.

6. Increase women’s access to climate change finance:Gender analysis of all budgets and financial instruments for climate change will help guide gender-sensitive investments in adaptation, emissions mitigation and technology transfer.[xx] But gender considerations are currently not systematically addressed in climate finance.[xxi] This means losing out on two fronts: both in terms of women’s rights, such as to access jobs and services, and women’s potential as agents of change. The possibilities are there but need to be put in practice—emissions reduction credits under the Clean Development Mechanism could be used to expand energy access for women in poor areas, for example.

7. Uphold women’s land rights:Environmental sustainability in rural areas depends on strong legal rights to land ownership. But women have been left out—they comprise just 10 to 20 percent of landholders in developing countries.[xxii] This diminishes incentives to make long-term investments in soil rehabilitation and conservation,[xxiii] and hinders women from accessing credit and other resources. Directed efforts can change this stark imbalance. For instance, as a result of advocacy efforts by UN Women and the Women Policy Network, the land distribution scheme for survivors of the December 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia allowed Acehnese women to register themselves as individual or joint owners in title deeds. Without this, ownership would have gone only to the head of the family unit, usually men.[xxiv]

8. Close gender gaps in decision-making: Sufficient numbers of women are not yet at the tables where major decisions about climate change and the environment are made. In negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change over the past decade, women accounted for only 30 percent of registered country delegates and 10 percent of heads of delegations.[xxv] Worldwide, they occupy a miniscule portion of ministerial posts related to the environment, natural resources and energy.[xxvi] Affirmative action quotas are among the most proven strategies for rapidly increasing women’s participation in elected and appointed offices. This would be good for women and the climate. A study of 130 countries found that those with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties.[xxvii] At the community level, evidence from India and Nepal suggests that women’s involvement in decision-making is associated with better local environmental management.[xxviii]

[i] FAO 2010 The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011 Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap.

[ii] WHO and UNICEF, 2010.  Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water, 2010 Update.  http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/1278061137-JMP_report_2010_en.pdf. Accessed: 2 November 2011.

[iii] World Bank, 2009. Agriculture and Rural Development: Gender in Agriculture Source Book. P15.

[iv] FAO 2010 The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011 Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap. P37.

[v] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs “The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics” (2010) page viii http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full%20report_color.pdf

[vi] Neumayer and Plümper, 2007. The gendered nature of natural disasters: the impact of catastrophic events on the gender gap in life expectancy, 1981–2002. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97 (3). pp. 551-566.

[vii] ILO 2007. Global Employment Trends for Women, 2007.

[viii] UNISDR “Gender Perspective: Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction into Climate Change Adaptation” (2008) pages 1-3 http://www.unisdr.org/files/3391_GenderPerspectivesIntegratingDRRCCGood20Practices.pdf

[ix] UNDP 2011. Human Development Report 2011, Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All.  New York. (UNDP HDR 2011)

[xi] UNISDR 2007. Gender Perspective: Working Together for Disaster Risk Reduction. Pp 40-42 http://www.unisdr.org/files/547_gendergoodpractices.pdf

[xii] Corner and Repucci 2009.  A User’s Guide to Measuring Gender-sensitive Basic Service Delivery.  UNDP and UNIFEM, Oslo.

[xiii] Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century, 2010, Renewables 2010 Global Status Report. Paris.

[xiv] UNDP HDR 2011; and WHO 2011 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/

[xv] Dinkelman, 2008. The Effects of Rural Electrification on Employment: New Evidence from South Africa.  Working paper 1255. Princeton University.

[xvi] World Bank 2010, World Development Report, Development and Climate Change

[xvii] World Bank, 2009. Agriculture and Rural Development: Gender in Agriculture Source Book, page 426.

[xviii] FAO, 7 March 2011: Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture.

[xix] OCED Women in Science Careers: Unleash the Potentials http://www.oecd.org/document/13/0,3746,en_2649_34269_37682893_1_1_1_1,00.html Accessed: 10 Nov 2011.

[xx] UN Women Watch 2009. Fact Sheet: Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/climate_change/

[xxi] Arend and Lowman 2011.  Governing Climate Funds, What Will Work for Women? Gender Action, WEDO, Oxfam.

[xxii] FAO 2010 The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011. Page 37.

[xxiii] World Bank, 2009. Agriculture and Rural Development: Gender in Agriculture Source Book, page 455

[xxiv] UNISDR. 2007. Gender Perspective: Working Together for Disaster Risk Reduction, pages 20-22 http://www.unisdr.org/files/547_gendergoodpractices.pdf

[xxvi] UN Women, 2010. Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, page 14 http://www.ungei.org/resources/files/MDGBrief-English.pdf  

[xxvii] Norgaard and York, 2005, Gender Equality and State Environmentalism.  Gender and Society.

[xxviii] Agarwal, 2010. Gender and Green Governance: the Political Economy of Women’s Presence within and beyond Community Forestry; and Buckingham, 2010, Call in the Women. Nature 468:502; and, Agarwal 2009. Does Women’s Proportional Strength Affect their Participation? Governing Local Forests in South Asia. World Development 38(1).