By Isabella Lövin and Howard Bamsey | Green Climate Fund
Women have fewer opportunities to make decisions on how to deal with global warming - we must change this.
Gender often remains the untold story behind climate change. After the television snapshots of devastation wrought by climate-induced disasters, our thoughts often remain with the local people forced to deal with the wreckage.
The destructive forces of nature, warped by rising global temperatures, manifest in cyclones, floods and other extreme weather conditions, which can act as negative force multipliers in societies already riven by inequality. The onset of droughts, accompanied by heightened food and water insecurity, also have a disproportionate effect on those least able to deal with the resulting increased social strains.
While climate change is a global phenomenon, its impact is not spread across a level playing field. Its effects are felt locally, and poor people suffer the most. Among the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, the majority are women.
During the past few decades, considerable achievements have been made in narrowing the gender gap in many countries. Nevertheless, across the global spectrum, women tend to be marginalized from economic and political power, and have limited access to financial and material resources. This increases their vulnerability to climate change and limits their potential to adapt.
Studies show that after climate disasters, it is generally harder for poor women to recover their economic positions than poor men. Women’s mortality from climate-related disasters is also higher than that of men.
Women are also often less represented in the corridors of power; have fewer legal rights, including access to land; and occupy fewer leadership roles in the workplace. This means while they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, they also have fewer opportunities to make decisions on how to deal with it. We must change this. Women have the right to - and need to be - at the forefront of efforts to deal with climate change.
The shift to low-carbon development and climate change adaptation is a major transformative endeavour requiring the participation of all countries, communities and genders. While gender equality is often solely associated with female empowerment, it is also important to note that transformative change requires the participation of all members of society. Women, girls, men and boys all need to be part of the solution.
In a more positive sense, the climate agenda can also help advance gender equality. There are numerous examples where renewable energy investments also contribute to increased employment opportunities for women that foster female entrepreneurship.
An innovative climate action project supported by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in East Africa provides a good example of how women can be at the forefront of moves to leapfrog fossil fuels to use solar energy. The $110 million KawiSafi project has dedicated funds to train women to become solar technicians, while also supporting women-led micro-finance groups to generate demand for solar energy in Rwanda and Kenya. From its inception, gender equity has been central to this project, implemented by US-based Acumen Fund Inc.
The majority of these countries’ populations, 70 percent in Rwanda and 80 percent in Kenya, are not connected to main power grids. Subsequently, many use oil or kerosene for domestic power generation. These fossil fuels are often expensive as they are imported, while noxious fumes pose a serious health risk – especially to women and girls, who generally spend more time performing household work. The move to solar can then reduce emissions and domestic budgets, while also improving women’s and girls’ health. This is a clear gender co-benefit of climate action.
In another GCF-funded project in Mongolia, over half of the loans provided in this $60 million private sector initiative, implemented by Mongolia’s XacBank, are going to women-led enterprises starting up renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses.
Gender equality is a core principle of all GCF operations, and is mainstreamed in all decision-making and projects supported by the Fund. To aid this process, GCF is releasing a manual, “Mainstreaming Gender in Green Climate Fund Projects”.
Devising ways to consider gender in climate action will not always be easy or obvious. Societies are made up of complex relationships, sometimes based on differing structures of kin, power and financial resources. But continuing efforts to place gender consideration at the center of climate finance are necessary.
Climate change is a challenge that affects us all. So all members of society must rally together to deal with it effectively and inclusively.
Published on the Thomson Reuters Foundation's website on August 29, 2017.
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.