Op-ed: Making Paris Climate Change Agreement deliver for women and girls – the Marrakech opportunity

By Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women


A truly transformational agenda on climate action and sustainable development with a historic gender equality compact was achieved in 2015. Parties to the Paris Agreement committed to take decisive action to arrest global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to respect, promote and consider their obligations on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls when addressing climate change. This could and must be a departure point for ensuring that the fight against climate change must not only be about saving the one planet we have for future generations but equally about making it a Planet 50/50 for women and girls here and now and into the future.

This commitment solidifies and supports the recognition that achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls (SGD5), will make a crucial contribution to progress across all SDGs, including SDG13 on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Evidence and reports including from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show the differential and disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and girls. It is now well established that climate change has significant linkages with disease and other health problems, food insecurity, displacement and loss of livelihood, and conflict. In conjunction with climate-related environmental calamities and natural disasters, incidences of sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking and sexual exploitation have spiked. Women facing multiple forms of discrimination, including indigenous women, women in urban slums and rural areas, women migrants and refugees, and women with disabilities, are even more affected by climate change.

When Hurricane Matthew struck in Haiti in October 2016 the most affected were women and girls, with bigger hurdles to rebuild their lives. Gender stereotypes, women’s limited decision-making power and mobility as well as unequal access to important resources—including basic services, finance, land, education, information and technology—worsens women’s vulnerability to climate change.
At the same time, women’s rights and needs are often disregarded in mitigation and adaptation responses and in the search for solutions and resilience-building both in the short and long term. Their contributions as climate change activists are often overlooked. This must change.

Women have consistently proven their mettle, their ingenuity, talent and entrepreneurship in their tactical brilliance and strategic vision as climate change activists. They have demonstrated how concerted, concrete, practical and innovative actions can make a difference.

From grassroots leaders, like Ursula Rakova, who helped facilitate the relocation and resettlement of islanders negatively impacted by a changing climate in Papua New Guinea, to the Solar Sister in Africa, a company that distributes clean energy technologies, in particular solar lights and clean cook stoves; women have offered mitigation and adaptation solutions and invested in projects that engage and benefit other women, but also protect the planet.

The Paris Agreement has sealed it - climate actions must be gender-responsive, promote human rights and empower women and girls. As governments meet in Marrakech for the first time as Parties to the Paris Agreement, they have seized this unmissable opportunity. Through an ambitious enhanced work programme on gender and climate change, Parties have sent a powerful signal that now is the moment to put words into action and step it up.

The work programme is far-reaching in two unique ways: it seeks to mainstream a gender equality perspective and proposes concrete actions to operationalize gender-responsive climate policy in ALL AREAS OF WORK - mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity-building, technology development and transfer, among others-, and mandates the development of a gender action plan to review and propose concrete activities to implement existing gender equality and women’s empowerment commitments in the various work areas of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It also puts in place measures to realize the goal of gender balance and enhance women’s participation and engagement in the climate change process and enhances accountability by requesting regular reporting including from financial mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on their gender equality-related work.

Yet, the successful implementation of these actions requires resources. The GCF has promoted a gender-sensitive approach from the outset. However, access to climate finance for programmes that are led by or have women as beneficiaries are still rare. The work programme on gender and climate change that has been adopted also needs significantly increased and dedicated resources to ensure its implementation.

The steady progress in addressing gender equality and women’s participation in the UNFCCC process has been very encouraging. Going forward, all stakeholders must ensure ambitious implementation of Parties’ commitments to gender-responsive climate action so that the crucial gains obtained in Paris translates into concrete programmes that touch and benefit women’s and girls’ lives and those of their families, their societies and our one and only planet.

This op-ed was originally produced and published on the Huffington Post as part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.’s 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Morocco (7-18 November). To view the entire series, visit here.