What’s to come for more gender-responsive climate policy?

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Climate change and gender equality are fundamentally linked. The effects of climate change are, and will continue to be, disproportionately experienced by women. Climate vulnerability is not gender-neutral because women have higher levels of poverty, greater reliance on climate-vulnerable natural resources, fewer legal rights, less access to international institutions and finance, and often face more restrictive cultural norms.

But women also hold critical capacity to make the response to climate change more effective in agricultural production, household energy use, community management, natural-resource and biodiversity management, and education of children, among other channels (UNDP).

In recognition of this disproportionate impact and the important role of women in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other international bodies that engage in climate policy have begun processes to mainstream gender in their work. At the 20th UNFCCC conference in Lima, Peru, in 2015, the Lima Work Programme on Gender was established to increase both gender-responsive and gender-inclusive climate change policies.

Gender equality was also highlighted in the historic Paris Agreement ratified in November 2016, which acknowledged that countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on … gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

The increasing recognition of the relationship between gender and climate change is reflected in the development of gender policies in many—but not all—multilateral climate funds. These funds represent a critical mechanism for developed countries to make the global response to climate change more equitable and are a critical component of developed country pledges to mobilize $100 billion to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

Multilateral climate funds, including the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund, the Clean Technology Fund, and the Global Environment Facility, have created requirements such as gender representation or the reporting of gender “co-benefits” in project proposals. These requirements help make multilateral climate funds an important intermediary step in translating gender-responsive climate policies into action.

Over the last eight years, the United States has become a leader in drawing attention to the linkages between gender equality and climate change through its international development policies and engagement with international bodies. The United States has deposited around USD 5.7 billion since 2003 to the multilateral climate funds (and has pledged to increase its support). Its historic support and future pledges makes the United States one of the largest donor countries (behind the UK and Norway) to the funds referenced above, and this commitment provides considerable support to climate projects under multilateral funds with specific gender policies.

Further, the United States has initiated gender-responsive climate policies through the State Department and USAID through new programs such as the Gender Equality for Climate Change Opportunities, Women in African Power, and the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables.

In light of this progress in integrating gender equality and climate change response efforts, the incoming Trump Administration has denied the connection between human activity and climate change and has promised to withdraw the United States from international climate agreements. The incoming administration also appears likely to renege on the United States’ pledges for climate finance, which could decrease the global availability of finance under multilateral climate funds by 25%. In stepping back from engagement on climate change both politically and financially, the United States will be weakening many domestic and international institutions that work to address gender disparities in the context of climate change.

It remains to be seen whether President Trump will choose to be an active obstructionist or simply a passive isolationist when it comes to international climate policy. It is even more difficult to know exactly how the Trump Administration’s promises to renege on the United States’ climate change commitments will determine how these actions will affect gender-responsive climate action. However, if the United States pulls out of all United Nations climate agreements and fails to fulfill its financial pledges, the bodies currently working to address gender disparities in the context of climate change will lose one of their most effective advocates for making the linkage of gender and climate issues stronger.

Many questions remain to determine how actions of the Trump Administration will affect women around the world. Through the course of this initiative, we will monitor the new administration’s engagement with the international community in the hopes to better understand the complex relationships between gender-responsive climate policies at the level of international bodies, financial flows, and ultimate gender and climate outcomes at the local level.

—Peder Garnaas-Halvorson, MS-STEP Student, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

—Gabriel Chan, Assistant Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

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