Empowering Women to Lead the Way to a Low-Emission and High-Resilient Future

Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, at a side event organized by the UNFCCC, UN Global Compact and Rockefeller Foundation, New York, 19 September 2013.


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Ms. Christiana Figueres, Ms. Heather Grady, distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen. UN Women is privileged to partner with the UNFCCC, the UN Global Compact and the Rockefeller Foundation in this timely and most relevant discussion on the crucial role and leadership of the private sector in advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality in the response to climate change.

Climate change has differentiated impacts on women and men. For the majority of women in developing countries, persistent drought or sudden or recurrent floods have disproportionate impacts on the livelihoods and health of women and their children. But resilient as they are, women have not just been passive victims to the effects of climate change. They have been agents and contributors to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, including as subsistence farmers, solar engineers, natural resource managers, and entrepreneurs.

While the day-to-day operations of business and the private sector can have a detrimental impact on the environment and climate, private sector companies can also be key contributors in global efforts to build a healthier and more resilient world. They must become strong actors for climate change action.

In terms of mitigation, they can reduce their carbon footprint, help achieve our goals to prevent greenhouse gas concentrations from reaching dangerous levels, through sustainable production mechanisms, reduction of waste and adoption of responsible waste disposal and management practices, and energy efficiency, for example. 

With regard to adaptation, the private sector can be active in the area of research and development, technological innovation, distribution and transfer of technology, and investments in climate change-related action. They can engage in ‘green sector businesses’ such as renewable energies, recycling and ‘up-cycling’.

In all of these efforts, women must be included as beneficiaries and actors, including through interventions targeted directly at women in sectors such as food and agriculture, water and sanitation, energy, and livelihoods and education, and in ensuring that women are fully involved in decision-making processes at all levels. 

I would highlight that private-sector investments in the areas of water and energy especially have the potential to be the ‘game changers’ for promoting both gender equality and climate change action, as improving access and quality of these services significantly enhances women’s empowerment and their health, education, livelihood and opportunities, and reduces their time poverty.

The private sector is already playing an increasingly prominent role in driving concrete action on gender equality and women’s empowerment including through the uptake and implementation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business.  I am even more encouraged that many private sector leaders who have adopted these principles, including some present today, have also demonstrated a commitment to addressing climate change, as the need to bring these two areas together is of utmost importance and urgency.

Investing in women, we love to assert, is smart economics. So is contributing to mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to climate change. But the greatest dividends would come from twinning these two – engaging women as beneficiaries and contributors to climate change responses.  

There are good examples from Coca-Cola Company’s Brazil plant supporting women recyclers, artisans and community leaders through leadership-skills development and business-skills training to the Rockefeller Foundation’s efforts at enhancing rural women’s food security by improving their access to resources, markets, finance and technology.

There is no doubt that climate change and sustainable development are critical areas of concern for our common future. Let me leave you with a challenge and a call for creating opportunities: Engage in the development of clean and efficient technology, think about innovative distribution and pricing of environment and climate-friendly technology, especially in the areas of water, energy, agriculture and education. Involve women in decisions on the design and use of such technologies. 

We at UN Women stand ready to engage in new partnerships and collaborate with the private sector, and champion a transformative agenda which addresses the interlinkages between climate change and gender equality.

I look forward to a rich discussion.