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National climate commitments must include human rights and gender equality

by Amy Lee
Tuesday, 9 June 2015 08:00 GMT

Labourers carry bricks at a factory on the outskirts of Agartala, capital of India's northeastern state of Tripura, Jan. 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

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

Climate change is a hard enough issue for the world to tackle without alienating more than half of the global population

Three years on from the U.N. climate change conference in Doha, where governments specifically committed to promoting gender balance and improving women’s participation in climate change negotiations, women are still fighting for just consideration in dialogue and policy.

Post-Doha, a regular spot on the agenda of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been reserved for “gender and climate change”. Yet despite the agreement of countries to the Convention that gender equality and human rights are necessary factors in effective climate change action, international action remains nebulous.

In Lima, the Women and Gender Constituency called for gender equality to be a guiding principle in the new global climate agreement. As we lead up to the Paris conference at the end of this year (COP21), the urgency of this call for the conscientious inclusion of gender equality and human rights to an ambitious new climate agenda only increases.

The UNFCCC has invited countries to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) prior to COP21’s negotiation of a new climate agreement. INDCs will be a country’s primary means of communicating their planned post-2020 national climate actions.

They are significant as, unlike at the international level, climate action at national and sub-national levels is progressing at much swifter pace, with many groups considering it in their interest to better prepare for climate change impacts. With the majority of INDCs still to come, support for inclusiveness and fair consideration by countries still in the process of preparing INDCs is critical.

The Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that climate change impacts will differ according to gender because of the different capacities, opportunities, and vulnerabilities of men and women.

Women, who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, face greater challenges and are more vulnerable to climate variability as gender often restricts their rights, mobility, access to resources, political voice and decision-making abilities.

With family and community responsibilities, local knowledge and expertise, women also hold incredible potential as resources for mitigation and adaptation. Actions taken to build effective responses to climate change require an understanding of how gender affects all of these dynamics, and should ensure equal participation in climate action and decision-making.

Currently, most INDCs, such as those submitted by the USA, EU, and Russia, make no mention of gender or human rights. While the targets set in them are an important national standard for countries, they are not enough to secure meaningful impact, safeguard rights or guarantee just and sustainable investment.

Mexico, as the first developing country to submit an INDC, serves as a strong example of inclusiveness, making overt in its commitments the intent to implement a gender perspective and a human rights approach, as well as inclusive consultations.

Amid the technicalities of metrics and hydrofluorocarbons, Mexico maintains the importance of implementing measures that take into account women as vital collaborators and decision-makers, and ensuring that interventions do not exacerbate or have disproportionately adverse effects.

Morocco has since followed Mexico to become the second country to include gender and human rights considerations in its INDC.


Now is a pivotal time to act on climate change. The dismal pace of international negotiations, paralysis of dialogue, and failure to reach consensus on emission targets has effectively bottlenecked broad-scale climate action.

With both post-Millennium Development Goals and a new climate agreement to be negotiated this year, it is imperative to push governments to commit to their legal obligations on climate change, and ensure that actions planned or taken respect rights, are appropriate, socially and economically sustainable and do no harm.

Experience, particularly with the lack of effective action on gender and human rights policies in climate negotiation and financing despite high-level international conventions, demonstrates the need to make these commitments intentionality explicit.

Building on the momentum of Mexico and Morocco’s INDCs, climate dialogue, policy and action need to involve all vested interests, not simply those with the most power and influence. Failure to do so equates to disastrous implications for the future, particularly in the global south.

With so much at stake, countries currently completing their INDC submissions are strongly urged to consider the importance of a gender perspective and account for women in climate dialogue and action.

They are also urged to ensure the collaboration of civil society, and design mechanisms and policies with a human rights approach. These measures ensure ownership of the process by communities, civil society, and marginalised groups, increasing active participation and the potential of success for policies and interventions.

Without such measures, governments risk the estrangement and indifference of large groups within society who have no stake in climate work, and no incentive to successfully engage toward national targets which have potentially been set to their detriment.

Climate change is a difficult enough issue for the world to tackle without the alienation of more than half of the global population. The inclusion and consideration of women, human rights and civil society contributions can only help the process, not hinder it.

Amy Lee writes for the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), in partnership with the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency.


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