Here’s how to boost gender equality and climate action together

A delegate walks at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 11, 2023

A delegate walks at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

COP28 can help advance a just transition for women by improving data, unlocking finance and creating equal work opportunities

Razan Al Mubarak is a U.N. Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28. 

The more women and girls are included in efforts to tackle climate change and advance sustainable development, the faster we move towards a healthier, safer and more equitable society for all.

Women, as the main users and producers of household energy, are more likely to be energy-efficient and adopt environmentally friendly behaviours, the OECD has found.

As primary stewards of their land and traditions in many communities, they tend to have a stronger understanding of how their natural resources are affected by climate change, and how they can adapt, according to UN Women.

And when women make up at least a third of a company’s board, that business tends to have stronger climate governance and innovation, according to BloombergNEF and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

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Yet, despite the significant value of their knowledge and expertise, women are still widely sidelined and excluded from decision-making. There is a lack of data to understand gender differences, a lack of climate finance available to women, and a lack of decent work for women. As a result, women and girls suffer some of the worst consequences of climate change.

When food is scarce, mothers and daughters often eat last. When families are poor, daughters are married off earlier. When extreme heat and storms hit, illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus spread faster and increase the chances of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, anaemia and birth defects. When clean energy is inaccessible, women and girls spend hours collecting wood for cooking, and suffer more health problems from smoke inhalation.

The more climate change intensifies, the wider this gender gap grows.

Just transition for women

The United Nations COP28 climate conference in Dubai this month helped to elevate the voices of women in international climate action and sustainable development work more than ever before, with nearly 70 countries signing a pledge to drive a gender-responsive just transition. Events over the conference’s two weeks focused on advancing three fundamental steps: improving data, unlocking finance, and creating decent work opportunities.

In my role as U.N. Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28, I will continue to work with businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society to prioritise these three steps in their climate action strategies and policies – and encourage governments to do more too.

Improved data will strengthen our understanding of how climate change affects women and how to tackle those impacts - and help track progress.

The lack of gender-disaggregated data is an economy-wide problem. Women deal daily with products such as mobile phones, medicines, and car seat belts that were designed for men’s bodies, and they live in a global economy that has failed to value the time they spend caring for families and maintaining households, according to Invisible Women.

Finance is needed to put solutions into action. Only 0.01% of global funding supports projects that address both climate change and women’s rights, according to the UN Development Programme.

Missing data is one reason for this – and, if provided, would demonstrate that gender-responsive finance is smart and sustainable finance. For example, achieving universal access to energy with renewables would save women an average of one hour per day collecting firewood, and free up the equivalent of a workforce of 80 million people, according to UN Women.

New initiatives are already mobilizing climate finance for women. Among those, the UN Climate Finance Innovation Fund for Women is helping 10,000 women-led businesses in Asia-Pacific build adaptation and resilience by identifying investable solutions and providing grants as first-loss capital.

Data, finance and jobs

Work opportunities, finally, will elevate the perspectives of women across the public and private sectors. Women do more of the lowest-paid and informal work, and in developing countries rely more heavily on agriculture and the garment industry. Women also account for more unpaid household work. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, they spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water – up to nine hours per week in Malawi, compared to one hour for men, according to UN Women.

The fairer our low-carbon transition is, the more we can generate green jobs and improve gender equality across the workforce, according to the International Labour Organization. A circular economy that prioritizes reuse, recycling, remanufacturing and repairs, for example, could create 12 million new jobs for women and men by 2030.

COP28 is advancing work across these three steps – data, finance and work – with governments launching a partnership for gender-responsive just transitions and climate action. This calls for equal opportunities in emerging job markets, more effective finance flows and better-quality gender-disaggregated data across sectors.

But the work must continue beyond these two weeks in Dubai – with all national and local governments, businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society finally acknowledging the transformative benefits that gender equality will bring to climate action and sustainable development, and placing it at the heart of their own work.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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