OPINION: COVID-19 recovery - A missed opportunity to fight climate change and gender inequality?

by Sven Harmeling | CARE International
Wednesday, 7 October 2020 10:35 GMT

Employees charge lithium ion batteries for a Hamba electric motorcycle at a solar-powered recharging station in Wedza, Zimbabwe, May 22, 2020. REUTERS/MacDonald Dzirutwe

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

There is a real risk that women will not be able to take advantage of new green jobs as countries overlook gender in pandemic stimulus

COVID-19 recovery plans present a historic opportunity for a green transition. But as of July, few countries seem to have seized upon it.

Only the EU, France, Germany and the UK – of 17 countries analysed in a new CARE Report, Building Forward - had included funding to enhance nature or tackle climate change in their pandemic recovery plans.

Even worse: plans in five countries – China, India, Indonesia, Russia and the United States – lacked a clear green response to the crisis and could even have negative implications for climate change.

Annual fossil fuel subsidies continue at a scale equivalent to 20 to 30 times the estimated cost of climate change adaptation in developing countries for 2030. So clearly, while the evidence is there, real commitment is missing.

In each of the last five years, more people have been internally displaced due to extreme weather events than as a result of armed conflicts and war, says a recent report by Oxfam. And if we don’t put a quick brake on emissions, and especially stop burning fossil fuels and other natural resources, these extreme weather events will not only increase but also become even more severe.

Climate injustice is the reality we live in, especially for low-resource and income countries, which cause just a small fragment of rising emissions, but are the ones suffering the most. The average U.S. citizen, for example, produces as many emissions as 35 people in Bangladesh.

Now COVID-19 is putting even more pressure on people in poorer nations, forcing them to hide in crowded cyclone shelters, unable to socially distance and limiting their ability to access aid.

LEFT OUT

Ensuring women’s and girls’ rights, leadership and participation is critical for an effective, just and accountable response to COVID-19 - and for building a more resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.

Unfortunately, gender and economic empowerment for women and girls seem to have been omitted in most climate-relevant COVID-19 recovery measures. For its new report, CARE reviewed nearly 350 measures and policies from the G20 countries identified as climate-relevant in the Energy Policy Tracker database. None was found to have an explicitly gender-differentiated approach or would specifically support women in the workforce.

Most of the climate solutions needed exist today and are ready to be implemented at a larger scale. Many of them can provide joint benefits to both the COVID-19 response and climate action in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Shifting to a low-carbon economy could create a $26 trillion economic opportunity and 65 million new jobs by 2030, according to a New Climate Economy report.

However, there is a real risk that women will not be able to take advantage of these opportunities. Much of the jobs growth is predicted in sectors that are traditionally male dominated, such as construction, energy, infrastructure and mining.

Without proactive investment in women’s skills and girls’ education, development and training, not much will change. This is especially so if systemic issues - such as hiring discrimination, gender-based job segmentation, lack of representation in decision-making bodies and persistent gender pay gaps - are not addressed.

The pandemic, with its serious economic repercussions, also poses a grave risk to maintaining the quantity and quality of climate, development and humanitarian financing, which are essential to confronting the crises.

Using COVID-19 as an excuse to reduce funding levels will exacerbate the effects of the pandemic and eradicate global progress. To turn the tide, we must act now. Recovery strategies must focus on ecosystem protection, climate-resilient agriculture and climate adaptation in a gender-transformative way and align with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C global warming goal.

Donor governments also need to deliver on official development assistance and climate finance commitments, while redirecting harmful fossil fuel subsidies towards a greener economy. At the same time, they should ensure that public money does not fund gender-ignorant policies or programmes but is used rather to make COVID-19 recovery plans work for both women and the climate.