Women and men face different vulnerabilities to climate change and environmental degradation. When floods strike or droughts persist, women are among the first to feel the impacts on their livelihoods and daily lives.
As managers of household resources, they may struggle to secure water, fuel and food. As small-scale farmers—the vast majority in some areas of the world—they have far fewer resources than men to cope with crop failures or pursue methods of farming more adapted to climate shifts. As migrants and refugees pushed from areas of climatic stress, they confront greater risks of disease and violence. During disasters that follow natural hazards, they count higher among the dead.
While often overlooked in debates about managing climate change and environmental resources, women have significant contributions to make. In agriculture, services and industry, in households and political decision-making, and through science and traditional knowledge, women have ideas and experiences, and are poised to drive positive changes.
UN Women advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment as integral to mitigating and adapting to climate change, and achieving equitable and inclusive sustainable development.
The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – COP-18
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).
- “Say Yes to Women’s Participation in the UNFCCC” – ‘Outreach’
- “Women in Disaster Preparedness in Viet Nam” – ‘Outreach’
- Profile feature: Executive Director Ms. Michelle Bachelet – ‘Outreach’
- Profile feature: Deputy-Executive Director Ms. Lakshmi Puri – ‘Outreach’
- Podcast interview: Deputy-Executive Director Ms. Lakshmi Puri – ‘Outreach’
- Podcast interview: Country Representative for UN Women Vietnam Country Office, Ms. Suzette Mitchell – ‘Climate Change Studio’
- Women’s Participation in UN Climate Negotiations 2008-2012 (Women’s Environment and Development Organization)
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.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development: RIO+20
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, brought Heads of State and Government to Brazil on 20-22 June 2012. Rio+20 appraised implementation progress and gaps for agreements struck at the landmark 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio, and beyond. These included Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
A high-level political document as well as renewed commitment for sustainable development were the expected outcomes of the 2012 conference, which had two primary themes: a green economy in the context if sustainable development and poverty eradication, and an institutional framework for sustainable development. A series of global, regional and national meetings were held to prepare for the conference and inform negotiations.
The UN system of development agencies as a whole has emphasized gender equality and women’s empowerment as among the pressing priorities that warranted particular attention. Therefore, UN Women advocated at Rio+20 to:
- Assess progress in implementing international conventions and plans of action on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the context of sustainable development, and highlight lessons, gaps, challenges and good practices
- Call for the effective implementation of previous agreements, including the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, Chapter 24 of Agenda 21, Section K of the Beijing Platform for Action, and the conventions on biodiversity and climate change initiated in Rio in 1992
- Propose measures and actions for governments and other key stakeholders to mainstream gender equality into sustainable development at all levels
- Strengthen political commitment to sustainable development, and foster strategic partnerships for gender equality, encompassing support from relevant institutions, sufficient financing and the participation of women at all levels of decision-making