Speech: Focus on gender equality as central to climate action with concrete solutions

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous at the Twenty-seventh session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27), Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 14 November 2022.

[As delivered.]

فخامة الرئيس عبد الفتاح السيسي، رئيس جمهورية مصر العربية
صاحبات وأصحاب المعالي و السعادة
السيدات والسادة،

شكراً جزيلا لمصر علي الاستضافة الكريمة للدورة الـ27 لمؤتمر الأطراف الخاص باتفاقية الأمم المتحدة الإطارية حول تغير المناخ ، وعلي تخصيص مساحة قيمة من الوقت لمناقشة قضية المرأة والمناخ ودور المرأة المحوري في العمل المناخي.

فخامة الرئيس، أود أن أشيد وأشكركم على التزامكم الشخصي بتعزيز المساواة بين الجنسين وتمكين المرأة.

Your Excellency, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi,
Excellencies, Colleagues and Partners,

My thanks to The Arab Republic of Egypt, the COP Presidency, and to His Excellency President El-Sisi for his high-level commitment towards advancing gender equality and in providing a space to showcase the leadership of women and girls in climate action.

I also acknowledge the leadership of Her Excellency, my good friend, Dr. Maya Morsy, head of the National Council for Women as well as Minister Fouad and all of the female ministers of Egypt we have with us today. Bravo Egypt.

I note also the presence, representation, and diversity of women and youth leaders and civil society here today. Your voices are crucial to the global movement on gender justice and climate action.

Climate change and gender inequality are interwoven challenges. We will not meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, or any other goal, without gender equality and the full contribution of women and girls.

Earlier this year, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) considered for the first time questions of gender equality and climate change. It recognized the need not only for global solidarity, but also for concrete, transformative climate action, with women’s and girls’ leadership and agency at its heart.

When faced with an existential threat like climate change, women and girls offer the solution.

This basic truth is demonstrated time and again. Countries with more women in leadership, in the labour force, in peacemaking and more, do better. The full participation of women brings better management of conflicts, humanitarian responses, pandemics, economic matters, climate solutions, and much more. Women’s leadership is needed to put us back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5.

Our inability to afford women equal rights is not just a loss for women. It is a missed opportunity for communities, nations, and globally, at a time when we need the power of their contribution the most.

I will not dwell on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, though these impacts are very real on female-headed households, rural women with no land ownership, women without access to finance, girls pushed out of school and into early marriage. Eighty per cent of all people displaced by climate emergencies are women and girls. The impacts of the climate crisis have a distinctly female face.

Instead, I want to focus on solutions.

Where climate crisis brings conflict and disaster, women offer a solution. Peace agreements are more easily achieved and sustained when women are at the decision-making table. Women’s perspectives and engagement lead to better risk-reduction policies and mechanisms in the face of climate-driven disaster. Economically empowered women lift their families and communities after droughts, floods, and hurricanes to stability once more. Where crises converge, as we have seen in areas such as the Lake Chad Basin, women step up. They are the face of resilience.

Where climate crisis brings hunger and food insecurity, women offer a solution. Women farmers and entrepreneurs are driving innovation from large-scale agrobusiness to small-scale farms.

UN Women’s flagship programme on climate resilience agriculture value chains in West and Central Africa with a focus on climate-impacted countries in the Sahel, provides economic opportunity for over half a million women.

It facilitates women’s leadership, access to finance, land rights, and technology-enabled solutions within the agricultural sector. Women are seizing opportunities to adapt, mitigate, build, and strengthen. As a result, their whole communities benefit.

Last month, I met with rural women in Tanzania working on smart climate-resilient agriculture. Their expertise, leadership and deep commitment to transformative change was inspiring. It is one example of many.

And where the climate crisis brings poverty, women offer a solution.

They are leading efforts in sustainable energy and, where barriers are removed, playing a crucial role in STEM and the blue and green economies. Here in Egypt, UN Women and the Government’s Tahweesha programme on women’s digital financial inclusion is supporting some 200,000 rural women in climate-impacted and economically challenged communities to have greater financial autonomy and local leadership, thereby strengthening their families’ and their community’s resilience.

UN Women is here at COP27 to challenge the world to focus on gender-equality as central to climate action and to offer concrete solutions.

I want to share three of these solutions today as a call to action to those who have the privilege and responsibility of power, if promises made at the UN CSW and elsewhere are to be kept.

First, let us immediately make the necessary investment to close the massive gaps in women’s and girls’ access to and control of key resources that are crucial for the future of our planet.

Everyone has a role to play, including the private sector, and their responsibility to create just blue and green transitions and innovative solutions for the provision of clean energy for all.

I think in particular of finance, technology, and land, their involvement in STEM subjects that drive our ideas, and the development of blue and green economies. And as part of this solution, let us do much more to measure both the impact of climate change on women and girls, and their invaluable contributions towards a sustainable planet.

Second, let us make sure women, in their diversity, have an equal say in decisions around climate policy. They must be at the heart of climate action. In Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), but there is much more. Unfortunately, women continue to be under-represented across the board in leadership positions. We must all strive to change this. Representation matters.

Third, let us always be deliberate and consistent in ensuring space for young women and girls who have been leading global and national climate movements. These powerful leaders have my admiration always.

It is their voices that have fundamentally shifted the climate discourse. Generations like mine owe them a debt of gratitude, which must extend beyond platitudes. We must ensure that their movement is supported, resourced, valued, and recognized. Because ultimately, they are the greatest hope we have.

It is from their perspective that I applaud Egypt as COP27 Presidency for launching the African Women’s Climate Adaptive Priorities (AWCAP) Initiative. I commend the commitment of the African Member States who have joined and hope to see more do so soon.

The Initiative will drive change by increasing decent work and leadership for women in green sectors, increasing women’s representation in STEM fields, and leveraging increased national investments for women-led green businesses.

This builds on the gender equality commitments made by Parties under the UNFCCC. I have no doubt that through this enhanced regional cooperation and strengthened partnership it will be a crucial accelerator to realizing national climate actions. It is particularly gratifying to see an African initiative such as this one showcasing African leadership in realizing the gender dividend in climate action.

I am honoured to announce UN Women as a global partner of this Initiative and look forward to partnering with the UN System in its implementation. I am thankful to see so many UN Agencies here today committing to support this initiative.

Surely no one here doubts that we are in unprecedented crisis. No one believes we are on track. No one can be sanguine in the face of the incessant alarm bells. The UN Secretary-General, a man not given to hyperbole, told us that we are accelerating down “a highway to climate hell”.

Many of you here are young enough to be scared that you will be personally living to see such predictions made reality. Those of us who are older worry for them and for their children.

The human family now numbers 8 billion- actually tomorrow it will number 8 billion. The challenges of protecting, feeding, caring, and offering opportunity to all that family are insurmountable, especially if we neglect half of it.

It is imprudent to waste the contribution of women and girls. It is literally a fatal mistake. It is prudent to have women participate fully and centrally, as their participation matters.

We are here because we know the value of women’s contribution. We share a determination to see it brought to our global response. Let us together make today, this year, this COP a milestone in climate action. Let us collaborate to ensure that, going forward, our collective efforts as a global community take the fullest advantage of what women and girls can, must and I believe will, bring to saving a world that desperately needs them.

I thank you.