A huge majority of scientists around the globe are unconditionally induced that the Earth’s climate is changing undeniably and failure to limit warming to below 2°C could make the changes in the climate system irreversible and characterized by disastrous consequences.

As the climate changes, the region will experience: rising sea levels; ocean acidification; changing rainfall patterns resulting in increased droughts and floods; and increased severity of disasters and extreme weather events. The impacts of climate change are likely to include: loss of lives; increased food insecurity; decreased ability to earn income and grow food; less arable land available; less access to clean water; and more disease and health problems, with overall negative impacts on economic and social development. People living in many Pacific island countries and territories (PICTS) are already experiencing some of these impacts.

These scientists are also confident that human activities are responsible for the production of greenhouse gases (GHG). Here is a graph which illustrates the configuration of GHG:

A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary GHG in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone. Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth’s surface would be about −18 °C, rather than the present average of 15 °C. In the Solar System, the atmospheres of Venus, Mars and Titan also contain gases that cause a greenhouse effect.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report, estimates that between 1880 and 2012 the global average temperature increased by 0.85°C. The consequences for humans and environments of the continued concentration of GHG and rising global average temperature are now well understood: warming, acidifying and deoxygenizing oceans; melting ice caps and rising sea levels; variable weather patterns and extreme weather events associated with floods, droughts and wildfires; changes in flora and fauna populations and regimes, and loss of habitats; and threats to agricultural production, food security, human settlements and human health, among others.

In many cases, actions to address climate change can have both mitigation and adaptation benefits, for example, protecting tropical forests reduces GHG emissions by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, while simultaneously protecting freshwater supplies and critical biodiversity.

Actions responding to climate change fall into the following two distinct but related groups (Lorena Aguilar and Others 2015):

  • Climate Change Mitigation Actions:
    Climate change mitigation actions are designed to reduce or eliminate GHG emissions (e.g. replacing coal power plants with solar power plants, planting more trees that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere). In other words, mitigation tries to stop or slow climate change; and
  • Climate change adaptation actions:
    Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, aims to deal with its effects. Adaptation actions are measures to limit or counteract the expected and already occurring effects brought on by climate change (e.g. building sea walls to protect against increased flooding, changing agricultural practices to contend with changes in regional temperatures or precipitation patterns).


It took a while for the world to realize that climate change is not gender-neutral. Consequently, climate policies articulated around the world were not focused on the different ways in which climate change affects men and women.

The fact of the matter is that women in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood. Women charged with securing water, food and fuel for cooking and heating face the greatest challenges. Women experience unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, with limited mobility in rural areas. It is thus important to identify gender-sensitive strategies that respond to these crises for women.

According to the Women’s Environmental Development Organization (WEDO), as of 2015, only 12 percent of federal environment ministries worldwide are headed by women. Women on average make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and around 50 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2010, only 15 percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is owned by women. Females are more likely to be killed by natural disasters and/or are systematically killed more often than males. In Malawi, gender inequalities in agriculture cost USD $100 million. At the current rate of increase, gender parity in negotiations will only be reached by 2040.

It’s no secret that women are already disproportionately feeling the impacts of climate change, and the large gender gap in employment and wages makes women less able to respond. However, since many women are the primary providers of energy, water and other resources for their families, women have a central role to play in climate action.

Here are some relevant facts – Studies have shown that:

  • Women tend to have a smaller carbon footprint than men and they significantly tend to prefer safe climate technologies and avoid high-risk solutions;
  • Women are still vastly under-represented in mitigation policies. Gender-blind mitigation action excludes long-term sustainable benefits for communities and can exacerbate existing gender inequalities;
  • Only 33 percent of all submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) explicitly integrate a gender dimension. This is only for adaptation plans in developing countries making their commitments conditional to funding; and
  • 70 percent of the world’s poorest are women.

Here are some major impacts of climate change:

  • Women and children are 14xs more likely to die during natural disasters. Studies show that after climate disasters, it is generally harder for poor women to recover their economic positions than poor men;
  • By 2050, the number of people fleeing the impacts of climate change could reach 150 million, 80 percent of which will be women and children; and
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 71 percent of the burden of collecting water for households falls on women and girls. Changing rainfall patterns could force women to travel even farther.

Here are some barriers:

  • When gender inequality is high, forest depletion, air pollution, and other measures of environmental degradation are also high;
  • Gender inequality costs Sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion (or 6 percent of GDP) per year, on average; and
  • In South Asia, only 37 percent of women have a bank account compared to 55 percent of men. That means women are less able to make decisions on how to respond to climate change impacts, or take advantage of solutions.


Finally, the adoption of the first ever Gender Action Plan (GAP) under the UNFCCC was done on November 15, 2017. The overall goal of the GAP is to support and enhance the implementation of the gender-related decisions and mandates adopted in the UNFCCC process through a set of specific activities to be conducted within the next two years.

Here is some background:

  • The UNFCCC first addressed gender concerns in 2001 at COP7 in Marrakech, Morocco, when it was mandated that national adaptation programmes of action should be guided by gender equality;
  • Subsequently, COP18 in Doha, Qatar, in 2012 adopted a decision to promote the goal of gender balance in bodies of (and delegations to) the UNFCCC, and to include gender and climate change as a standing item on the COP agenda; and
  • At COP20 in Lima, Peru, in 2014 the UNFCCC called for an action plan to develop a two-year programme on gender (the Lima Work Programme on Gender).

The potential synergies were recognized between gender equality and climate action across the following four key climate change sectors:

  • Energy:
    Approximately 2.7 billion people (Almost 2 billion in the Asia Pacific Region), 40 percent of the world’s population, depends on wood, charcoal or animal waste for basic energy needs such as cooking and heating. Because poor and marginalized people tend to rely on locally sourced biomass for their daily energy needs, any stress on their surrounding ecosystems, climatic or otherwise, is likely to render them increasingly vulnerable to biomass—and hence energy—scarcities. Such scarcities take a significant toll on poor women, especially rural women. Rural women and girls are the primary energy producers for the household. In India women gathering firewood, crop waste and cattle dung fulfil 92 percent of rural domestic energy needs. They gather 85 percent of their cooking fuel from forests, village commons and fields.

Energy is essential to life in the 21st century. Modern energy services play a key role in facilitating access to fundamental necessities such as clean water, sanitation and health care and advance development through the provision of reliable and efficient lighting; heating; cooking; mechanical power; transport; and telecommunication services. Because women and girls are primarily responsible for the bulk of household work, access to clean and affordable energy directly benefits their health and well-being. Though access to modern energy alternatives is not sufficient to guarantee gender equality, it is necessary in order to relieve women of drudgery and to provide them more time to care for themselves and engage in activities that are more productive to them, thereby leading to empowerment and greater gender equality.

  • Agriculture:
    The lack of women’s access to essential agriculture development resources does not only increase hardships for women, it places an extra burden on the entire agriculture sector, the broader economy and society as a whole. This is evident from current experiences of extreme climatic events such as droughts and floods. Men and women have different coping and adaptive capacities that translate to gender-differentiated vulnerabilities to the impacts of a changing climate. Gender-based inequalities in access to assets and gendered social roles are mainly responsible for this difference in adaptive capacities to respond to the effects of climate change. Legal and sociocultural barriers also inhibit women from effectively responding to climatic risk.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) recently calculated the economic impact of closing the gender gap in labour markets in 95 countries (covering 93 percent of the world’s female population and 97 percent of its GDP) and concluded that the national GDPs of each country would increase by at least 9 percent and global GDP by as much as $28 trillion or 26 percent.

Agriculture-specific data similarly shows strong correlation between women’s empowerment and agricultural productivity. Thus, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if women farmers were given the same access to resources (such as land and credit) as men, national agricultural production could rise by 2.5 to 4 percent and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent.

  • Urban Development:
    While urbanization offers many benefits, the ugly face of urbanization is urban poverty, which often has the most severe impact on women and girls. The world’s 828 million slum dwellers suffer in varying degrees from poor sanitation, inadequate access to clean water, crime, unemployment, threats of evictions, overcrowding and poor quality housing. Women in cities often suffer disproportionately, not only because they are, on average, poorer than men (three-fifths of the world’s one billion poorest people are women and girls), but often also because they experience greater difficulty in accessing resources and services tailored to their needs, and decision-making opportunities.

Today, just over half the world’s people live in urban areas. Ninety-five per cent of urban growth takes place in the developing world. At the same time, gender inequalities in cities are substantial barriers to development in many, if not most, developing countries. The proportion of urban dwellers is expected to rise to 70 per cent by 2050, and if governments fail to make effective interventions, the number of slum dwellers will continue to rise rapidly.

The global challenge in an increasingly urban world is to ensure that towns and cities provide healthy and safe living environments, productive economies and social benefits to diverse groups, and for generations to come. Success depends on good governance and the engagement of men and women as equal partners and agents for change.

  • Natural Disasters:
    The differentiated impact of disasters on men and women is primarily caused by the existing gender inequalities manifested. As a 2007 study conducted by London School of Economic shows, taken a sample of up to 141 countries over the period 1981 to 2002, natural disasters and their subsequent impact, on average, kill more women than men or kill women at an earlier age than men related to women’s lower socio-economic status.

Indeed, it is recognized worldwide that people’s vulnerability to risks depends to a large extent on the assets they have available. In general, women tend to have more limited access to assets — physical, financial, human, social, and natural capital such as land, credit, decision-making bodies, agricultural inputs, technology, extension and training services which would all enhance their capacity to adapt.

While women’s vulnerability to disasters is often highlighted, their actual and potential roles in disaster risk reduction have often been overlooked. Few existing disaster risk reduction policies and projects recognized the skills and capacities women which could significantly contribute to disaster risk reduction policies and building resilience.


However, women’s roles as agents of change to both drive and benefit from climate investment have so far been modest. Here is another reality that Women’s participation is marginalized when they are categorized solely as a “vulnerable group”. This categorization only emphasizes their needs, while their participation and leadership in accelerating the adoption of renewable energy technologies and climate-smart agricultural practices, promoting sustainable transport and urban development, and acting to reduce and respond to climate-related disaster risks are overlooked: unmeasured, unnoticed and unsupported.

The Lima Work Programme on Gender included mapping of decisions and conclusions on gender and climate change adopted, in order to identify areas of progress, potential gaps, and areas where further support and greater collaboration are needed. As a result of this preparatory work, the UNFCCC Paris Agreement in 2015 formally recognized the intersection of climate change and gender equality, empowerment of women, and realization of their rights:

  • “Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”.

The Paris Agreement also mandates gender responsive adaptation actions and capacity-building activities. In article 7.5:

  • “Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach … with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions”.

The Paris Agreement requires all parties to prepare and communicate INDCs as a means of reporting regularly on emissions and on mitigation efforts. An analysis of the 162 submitted INDCs shows that only 65 (40 per cent) explicitly mention “gender” or “women” in the context of their national priorities and ambitions for reducing emissions. The total emissions of the 65 parties that mention gender or women account for only 19 per cent of GHG emissions as per the 2012 baseline.

Moreover, 33 of the 65 INDCs that mention “gender” and/or “women” identify gender as a cross-cutting policy priority or commit to integrating or mainstreaming gender into all climate change actions, strategies and policies rather than as a set of discrete interventions to scale up action and sustainable development.

Nevertheless, this political commitment remains to be translated into action.

1. Why is climate change a gender issue?
2. A Greenhouse Gas;
3. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC);
4. Overview of linkages between gender and climate change (Un Women);
5. WE DO – “All issues are women’s issues”;
6. The New Climate Economy, The global Commission on the Economy and Climate Facts Sheet;
7. Gender Just Climate solutions;
8. Leveraging co-benefits between Gender Equality and Climate Action for Sustainable Development;
9. GGCA – UN DP – Gender and Energy;
10. GGCA – UN DP – Gender, Climate Change, and Food Security;
11. Gender Equality and Sustainable Urbanization; and
12. How Natural Disasters Affect Women.