The author is Global Green Growth Institute’s climate diplomacy specialist.
On this International Women’s Day, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) would like to propose that inclusive green growth can serve as a crucible for the transformational change necessary to simultaneously achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment while implementing the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Inclusive green growth is a promising new development model where countries integrate economic, social and environmental priorities to achieve even more in each area.
As the impacts of climate change increase this century, the consequences will be felt most acutely by women, the poor and other marginalized communities who are least able to adapt. Women are often on the front lines of climate impacts, especially in developing countries where they play critical role in securing food and water for their families, both of which are heavily impacted by changing weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth Assessment Report emphasizes that climate change impacts women and men differently, highlighting that climate change exacerbates existing socioeconomic disparities (IPCC 2014) because climate resilience is linked to having access to and control of resources.
In order to achieve true transformation that will prevent the worst consequences of climate change, it is critical to recognize that women are capable of leading emissions mitigation and climate adaptation actions in their communities. To foster this, it is essential to empower women to take action, while ensuring that mitigation and adaptation measures improve the lives of women, the poor and other marginalized communities. The recent “yellow vests” movement in France provides a powerful demonstration of the danger of failing to integrate social justice considerations into emissions mitigation policies.
While the impacts of climate change will have disproportionate effects on women, actions to address climate change are agnostic to gender differences unless they are explicitly designed to include women and address social injustice. In order to ensure that measures to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change supports, and importantly does not harm, women, it is essential at a minimum to take gender into account at the outset and to explicitly address gender inequalities in the context of climate change.
Currently, climate action under the Paris Agreement does not sufficiently integrate gender considerations. A 2016 report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on maximizing “co-benefits” between gender equality and climate action found that only 40 percent of the 162 national emission reduction targets submitted under the Paris Agreement, representing 19 percent of total global emissions, actually mention gender and only 20 percent refer to “gender mainstreaming.”
There is a way to address these challenges more comprehensively. By incorporating climate action directly into an inclusive green growth framework, it may be possible to increase social inclusion and gender equality while transforming existing economic paradigms and achieving emission reductions and climate resilience. A report by GGGI, the International Instituted for Environment and Development and the Green Economy Coalition, emphasizes that true transformation towards environmentally sustainable economic systems requires strengthening livelihoods and must be undertaken through a participatory transition process “owned” by local communities, including women, the poor and other marginalized communities (GGGI 2016).
The transition towards a low carbon and climate resilient future can and should be achieved through processes that leverage gender and social inclusion to maximize outcomes for both women and the environment. When innovative approaches are applied, they can serve as multipliers of each other.
For instance, in the case of international carbon markets, it is possible to conceptualize climate mitigation projects that generate tradable emission reduction credits and also sell credits through markets designed to incentivize gender equality and social inclusivity. A leading example of this is the W+ Standard, developed by Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (Wocan), which allows investors who care about the social impacts of their investments to purchase such credits, called “W+ Units,” from projects that explicitly empower women. Under such a scheme it is possible to envision projects receiving revenue streams from both carbon and social inclusion credits that simultaneously promote climate action and transformative social change.
GGGI deliberately considers these elements at the outset of its programs to help governments develop policy for the green shift and to stimulate green investments and financing. This includes, for example, working in Myanmar on “bio-economy” value chains to support mangrove restoration while stimulating sustainable livelihoods, or in Papua New Guinea to strengthen government capacity to mobilize finance that promotes climate resilient economic growth.
Without considering the critical role of women, the poor and other marginalized communities in taking effective climate action, these communities are likely to face exacerbated impacts of climate change. Where those policies magnify social injustice and inequality, they risk creating social unrest and conflict, some of which will ultimately undermine efforts to reduce emissions. By integrating social, environmental and economic considerations, inclusive green growth pathways can generate the political will necessary to undertake ambitious climate action that integrates gender equality and pro-poor approaches.
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