REFLECTING ON CLIMATE AND GENDER AT COP27: HOW CAN COMPANIES TAKE ACTION IN 2023 AND BEYOND?
November has been a crucial month for climate change. It has also been a critical month for gender. On Gender Day at COP27 in Egypt, countries and non-state actors came together again to discuss how to put gender at the forefront of climate action. Leaders and activists discussed challenges and shared success stories from around the world concerning climate change’s disproportionate impact on women, women-led solutions, and gender-sensitive policies, strategies and actions.
With COP27 being heralded as the ‘COP of Action’, many discussions focused on the need for public and private sector actors to move beyond understanding the gendered dimensions of climate change, towards taking action at this crucial nexus.
The Women4ClimateAction (W4CA) Daring Circle too, is focused on moving to implementation. In this spirit, building on the research we have published and profiled in recent years, next week we will be launching an updated version of our 2021 Action Toolkit on Women Leading Climate Action with our knowledge partner, KPMG. This Toolkit details concrete actions for businesses to implement and measure progress across 5 aspects of a gender and climate approach: leadership, education, access to means of action, data and finance.
Here, we highlight just some of the notable developments at the nexus of climate and gender during and around COP27, in line with the Toolkit’s 5 pillars of implementation.
- Leadership: Women deserve representation and a chance to not only participate in, but make decisions at international climate negotiations. Despite this, one statistic dominated the headlines as decision makers gathered in Egypt at the start of COP27: of the 110 world leaders that attended this COP27 climate conference, only 7 were women. While some progress has been made in boosting women’s representation at international climate negotiations, this figure highlights that much is still to be done to remove barriers for women and achieve true procedural justice within global climate governance.
Wider female representation during COP26 last year was similarly low, with the official delegation being 37% female, and delegation leadership being an even smaller 26%. And the direction of travel is not good. This year, the proportion of female delegates fell to 34%.
As Kenyan Climate Activist, Elizabeth Wathuti said during her address to world leaders on Gender Day in Egypt, decisions that affect the entire population cannot be made by 50% of it. Indeed, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, and such inequalities demand that they are crucial players who can contribute uniquely to climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Plenty of research illustrates the positive relationship between women’s leadership and effective climate action. Women’s participation in global negotiations has for example, been shown to lead to more durable outcomes and greater ease in bridging cultural divides.
There is a great deal that organisations can do to increase women’s participation in climate decision making. Setting quotas, implementing mentorship programmes and including gender specific targets in sustainability goals are all important tools for accelerating the representation of women in sustainability leadership positions.
- Education: World leaders gathered as part of the official agenda on Gender Day to discuss how to ensure women can gain from the economic opportunities emerging from the green transition, including through enhanced access to education, information and skills, particularly in STEM disciplines. In one session held by the World Bank Group, Eskom’s Former General Manager of the Just Transition shared an example of success in the energy sector; an initiative to train local women in Komati, South Africa and give them the technical skills to support the transformation of coal power stations in the region into renewable energy plants.
Unless women are involved in sectors that will be vital for the green transition such as electricity, manufacturing, and construction, this transition will exacerbate existing gender imbalances in employment and earnings. Women’s participation in these fields currently sits at 7, 8 and 13% respectively, so it’s not surprising that global climate mitigation and adaptation strategies as designed today (which rely heavily on these male-dominated sectors) could delay the attainment of gender equity by 15-20 years. Educating women and girls is not only important for a just transition, but evidence shows that it also contributes towards direct emissions reduction, with many women in turn choosing to marry later, place more emphasis on their careers, and have fewer children.
Businesses should strongly commit to supporting women’s equal participation in STEM fields and sectors that will be crucial for the green transition. They can do so by setting gender-specific targets for their own upskilling and reskilling programmes, and investing in girls’ education in these subjects.
- Access to means of action: International institutions, climate scientists, and leading policy think tanks are increasingly recognising that efforts to address climate change can only be successful if we address inequality in tandem. Empowering women and ensuring they have equal access to education, economic and social rights, as well as power and assets is critical. Access to these means of action both enhances women’s ability to contribute to climate action and their resilience to the already destabilising effects that it is having.
The international initiative, Earth4All released a groundbreaking report in the build up to COP27, with this same message. The report illustrates two possible scenarios: ‘Too Little Too Late’ (i.e. Business as Usual) and the ‘Giant Leap’, a scenario in which societies thrive within planetary boundaries. Their findings point towards five extraordinary turnarounds, including full gender equity in agency, rights and resources as essential to achieving this ‘Giant Leap’ and full economic systems change. We cannot wait to address climate change before turning to issues like gender equality; Earth4All’s research illustrates how we can achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals in a single generation, and how this is our route to a sustainable and stable future.
Organisations can ensure women have equitable access to climate opportunities in many ways, including through adopting the UN Women Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). The WEPs have been signed by over 3,000 private sector companies and provide a set of principles that businesses can adopt to promote equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and in communities. In their own supply chains and communities, companies can also ensure their sustainability programs are gender-responsive, ensuring equal participation and benefits for women.
- Data: One critical barrier to gender-responsive climate action is a continued lack of high quality sex disaggregated data. Data 2X’s new policy brief, produced in partnership with the IISD and WEDO underlines the centrality of gender data in effective climate adaptation and resilience. Released in the run up to COP27, the brief concludes that without gender data, effective climate policy making and implementation is impossible; such data is vital for uncovering the gendered dimensions of climate change, including how women disproportionately suffer from climate-related disasters and the ways in which mitigation and adaptation activities must account for their experiences and needs. Gendered data is also critical to the delivery and monitoring of several existing agreements on gender and climate, including the midpoint review of the Enhanced Lima Work Programme (LMW) and the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP).
One notable tool that pushes for organisations to collect gender disaggregated climate data is the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD)’s Gender Equality and Climate Action Accelerator (GECA), which was released on Gender Day at COP27. This tool helps public and private sector companies analyse how gender-sensitive their sustainability strategies are, by screening key documents and pointing out areas that are gender blind. The tool assesses whether companies collect gender disaggregated data and recommends actions for those not already doing so. It looks at the preparation, monitoring, and reporting of their sustainability strategies, Non-Financial Disclosure documents, as well as ESG assessments.
The current lack of investment in and use of gender data to inform climate-related decision making is a cause for concern; data that acknowledges the lived experience of people of all genders is vital for effective and long-lasting climate resilience. Businesses can support such efforts through investing in gender data systems and making gender-disaggregation standard practice in their own data collection.
- Finance: Though the importance of Gender Responsive Climate Finance (GRCF) continued to feature during discussions on Gender Day at COP27, the biggest contention when it came to finance-focused conversations was that of loss and damage. The debate on loss and damage focuses on international injustice and concerns who bears financial responsibility for climate-related losses of income, culture, biodiversity and lives. In recent years, many vulnerable countries that have contributed the least to rising emissions have called for funds from the world’s wealthiest economies to compensate for such damages, so far without success. The last-minute agreement of a new loss and damages funding mechanism is a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming COP.
While the debate on loss and damage finance has gained prominence, the gendered impacts of both loss and damage events and the current lack of funds in countries on the frontlines of climate change has been largely overlooked. The human rights charity ActionAid has sought to address this gap through their new report, published on Gender Day at COP27. Their research revealed the devastating and long-term effects of loss and damage on women across Africa, showing how a lack of adequate funds, particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters, can cause governments to cut critical services such as education, healthcare, and public sector jobs, with disproportionate impacts on women. These cuts also result in women and girls carrying out more unpaid work to make up for gaps in care provision, impacting their education and incomes.
To support the resilience of the groups most vulnerable to climate change, global actors need to apply a gender lens to loss and damage finance and take a climate justice, feminist and systemic approach to this topic. If loss and damage finance is itself not gender responsive, it risks exacerbating existing inequalities and negatively affecting women’s rights and capacity to lead in climate action. Businesses providing support to adaptation and resilience efforts must also ensure they establish gender-based criteria in fund allocation and other projects throughout every stage of their activities, from initial project preparation through implementation.
As this article is written, the dust is still settling on the outcomes of COP27. Regardless of its failures or successes, it is already certain that the speed and scale of action required to maintain prosperity for people and the planet is immense. What is also clear is that we cannot solve great environmental challenges like climate change without also addressing the social and economic ills that we currently face, which include but are not limited to gender inequality.
It’s hard to keep up with all of the incredible thought leaders, activists and organisations delivering this message each day. Sometimes, it seems difficult to know where to focus. But even this small selection of conversations and research from this year’s COP illustrate the myriad ways that gender and climate intersect, and the potential for action at this nexus in all parts of our economies and societies.
The Women’s Forum and the Women4ClimateAction Daring Circle will continue to play our part in highlighting the imperatives of a gender and climate approach and, crucially, encouraging ambition and action from all sectors to achieve a sustainable and equal future. For businesses that want to learn more about how they can adopt a gender-responsive approach to climate action, our Action Toolkit can help you get started.
 ‘Gender diversity is essential for meaningful decisions at COP27.’ Fast Company Middle East. (2022). Here.