Addressing The Climate Crisis by Investing in Gender Equality and Women's Leadership

Women's leadership is key to addressing climate change. Photo: V.S.Anandhakrishna
Women's leadership is key to addressing climate change. Photo: V.S.Anandhakrishna

By Zonibel Woods

The recent IPCC reports have pointed out the climate emergency the world is facing. Through women’s leadership in climate action, we can better address the crisis.

The two latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on adaptation and mitigation have sounded the alarm that climate breakdown is happening faster than previously projected. Without urgent action, many parts of the planet may become unlivable in the next few decades, but for many people in the region, particularly women and the poor, this climate breakdown is already impacting their daily reality. Many of the hotspots of high human vulnerability are in Asia and the Pacific region, and globally there is a narrowing window of opportunity to shift towards a climate-resilient future.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres called it “code red for humanity” and appealed to public and private sector players to combine forces now to avert a climate catastrophe.

 When it’s code red for the planet, the world needs women front and center.

Here are three key takeaways from the recent IPCC reports:

We need to increase women’s participation in green economies. The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health and environmental and socio-economic crisis. Countries are turning to green recovery to enhance the resilience of communities, the economy, and the environment.

A just transition to low carbon, green, inclusive and resilient economies involves investing in the skills girls and women need to participate in green economies and the energy transition.  And this will also require the transformation of gender norms and challenging stereotypes that influence  girls’  and women’s career aspirations,  including in the education system, to open opportunities for girls and women to participate in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

One way to do this is to provide more learning opportunities for girls to support their future participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related jobs. The IPCC reports call for a faster shift to renewable energy, which can only happen with women’s skills, participation, and leadership in the energy transition.  

We need to support women’s leadership role in building climate resilience at community level. A recent United Nations report found that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Women are hit hardest by climate-related disasters, yet they are essential to effective and inclusive climate adaptation. 

More initiatives such as ADB’s Community Resilience Partnership Program are needed. The program supports countries in the region to scale up investments that address the nexus between poverty, climate change, and gender, with a dedicated focus on supporting grassroots women’s organizations.

Climate experts say we are at the tipping point, but through women’s leadership in climate action, we might be able to tip the scales in our favor.

Among the actions with the most significant potential for reducing land-use emissions are reduced deforestation and forest degradation, a shift to plant-based diets, and reduced food and agricultural waste. And some of the solutions with the most significant potential for CO2 removal are afforestation and sequestration of soil carbon in croplands and grasslands. These are all actions where women play a critical role, including influencing shifting diets and participating in community-led nature-based solutions such as afforestation or mangrove restoration.

 Women’s involvement in nature-based solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation offers a cost-effective way of protecting, sustainably managing, and restoring ecosystems. With women leading these efforts, we stand a chance to address societal challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and poverty and inequality.

To support these actions, we need to scale up climate financing for women. Women have less access to financial resources to prepare for and adapt to climate change. For example, restrictions on women’s land ownership mean that many women do not have access to productive land to farm.

A lack of financial capital and access to technologies means they cannot quickly diversify their livelihoods. If women are disproportionately affected by climate change, then resources need to prioritize strengthening their resilience. Recent reports found that about one-third of climate finance supports gender equality, and of that only 1.5% had gender equality as an objective, with even a smaller fraction of climate finance going to women’s organizations.

A two-pronged approach to gender-responsive climate finance is needed.  Gender equality should be included in all climate action and there should be investments that put resources directly in the hands of women. This includes everything from renewable energy entrepreneurs to grassroots women working on community-led adaptation and mitigation.

We need more initiatives such as Empower Her, an initiative by the Climate Investment Platform working to support women energy entrepreneurs and building a pipeline of commercially viable energy projects by women entrepreneurs and organizations focused on women's empowerment.  

Climate experts say we are at the tipping point, but through women’s leadership in climate action, we might be able to tip the scales in our favor.