Climate Talks, COP23 - Fiji & Bonn, Gender

Mind the GAP: how gender is slowly imposing itself on climate negotiations’ radar

This article is written by Alexandra Lutz

If you were at COP23, you might have been lucky enough to witness an aerobic session where participants stepped their way to true gender equality within the climate framework.

That’s right, aerobic folks.

This was one of the Women and Gender Constituency’s (WGC) actions to raise awareness on the need for a strong Gender Action Plan (GAP).

Moving on from what an amazing acronym this is, the GAP was formally adopted by the Parties on November 14th, clearing the path for a true integration of gender in climate policies. And this is a great victory.

But why do we need to integrate gender within climate talks in the first place? And is the GAP really going to change the status quo?


Why gender matters within climate politics

Within the 2,2 billion people living with less than USD 2$ a day, women are still forming the vast majority of their ranks. In its 5th assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underlined that climate change increases existing gender inequalities, due to imposed gender norms and gender discrimination. Women in a vast majority of countries are still denied personal income, legal rights, access to land and resources, political rights and participation a.k.a. there are prevented from owning anything, making their own money, they cannot complain to anyone about it and do not have access to positions to change that. So when disaster strikes, when water becomes rare, that drought decimates crops, they have a slightly harder time than their male counterparts to face it all. That’s what it means when experts say they are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, they overwhelmingly bear the primary role of caring and providing livelihood for their families and play a distinct role in contributing to climate change. They are usually the ones cultivating the land and in charge of the cooking.[1] Accordingly, they are powerful stakeholders in leading the path to carbon-free economies, because of their unique knowledge of their environment. Yet, women are not consulted when designing mitigation or adaptation policies. Their voice and opinions are marginalized. They are neither included to design the solutions, nor involved in implementing them. However, that does not mean that they are helpless. Women are already up their adapting and finding solutions on their own. But the very structure of our economies, systems and institutions are ill-adapted to their situation. Take climate finance for example. Several funds exist to this date, like the Green Climate Fund (GCF), designed to supply finance for climate-friendly projects. However, the GCF will not fund a project for less than USD 10 million. This is a huge entry ticket, and given the current economics most women are subjected to in the world, especially in developing countries, an unrealistic one to expect women to have access to finance. Most women who organize themselves manage to do so on a local level, since the legal framework is not providing them enough rights to do otherwise. Therefore, if we want to help women tackling climate change, funds should be allocated to local community-based projects, where women are especially active.

In short, women are more affected by climate change and key agents in fighting it. Yet, not only are they not given the means to change things, they are actively prevented from stepping in by the very design of our institutions and current system.

And that’s where the Gender Action Plan kicks in.

A Gender Action Plan to step the gap

Gender made a first appearance in climate negotiations in 2001, and received its own dedicated program during the Lima conference in 2014. The Paris Agreement enshrined gender equality in its preamble, and in Marrakesh in 2016, the Parties extended the Lima Work Program for an additional three years until 2019 and commissioned the approval of a Gender Action Plan during COP23. So is it living up to expectations?

First of all, the adoption of the Gender Action plan is the result of seventeen long years of negotiations. Its adoption during this COP 23 was very doubtful at times, and all stakeholders in the negotiations room agree to say that they are pleasantly surprised that the Plan was finally adopted and not (too) diminished from its original draft.

The decision requires the UNFCCC Secretariat to prepare a synthesis report until November 2019 on the implementation of the Gender Action Plan, which is good news to keep track of the actual results.

The plan looks rather good on paper. First, it recognizes that gender responsive policies should be implemented in all activities, from adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology development, capacity building, to decision-making itself. The plan sets out five priorities areas, and each of them is detailed in a final table with specific activities assigned to responsible actors, with a given timeline and identified deliverables to have at that given date.

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Those priority areas are (A) capacity-building to help Parties to systematically integrate gender within their climate policies, (B) gender-balance through travel funds, notifications and trainings both at the UNFCCC and local/regional/national level in order to promote women leadership, (C) coherence by briefing chairs, members of the UNFCCC, the sharing of information to enhance synergies, (D) gender sensitive implementation through a gender responsive budgeting and technology needs assessment, (E) monitoring and reporting, notably introducing sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis.

Responsible actors rank from Parties themselves to United Nations entities, relevant organizations, observers, focal points and the Secretariat. The timeline goes usually until 2019, a.k.a. when the Lima work program is ending.

The plan is very operative-oriented, designed to give tools to all involved in order to effectively implement gender-responsiveness within climate policies, with deadlines and monitoring along the way. All in all, it is a great step towards the promotion of gender-fair responses to climate change.

However, some gaps are still remaining and deserve our attention for upcoming decisions on gender.

#StepUp the GAP in 2019

First of all, what was striking during the negotiations at COP 23 was the frequency of closed meetings. For those who are not familiar with climate negotiations, you need an accreditation to attend negotiations between the Parties.[2] As an NGO, you are usually awarded an “Observer” badge, which gives you theoretically the right to attend meetings where decisions are made. Parties can decide to hold close meetings, which might be helpful to reach agreement on contentious issues. However, it now seems to be the default setting in negotiations. Close to no gender meeting was open to observers, which made it difficult to advocate when you are not aware of the state of the latest draft. While it surely might hold benefits, closed meetings should be the exception, not the rule. It is crucial that observer be able to attend meeting and to contribute to the efforts towards greater gender justice within climate policies.

Next, no commitment on finance was made by developed countries. While the GAP does mention the importance of gender-sensitive finance, not allocating a specific budget to the gender leaves the question a dead letter and wishful thinking. Developing countries lack finance to achieve their goals, and gender sadly does not rank high a priority. Adequate financing is key to the actual implementation of gender-sensitive policies. The GAP is rather a start in the reflexion on finance rather than an actual plan on the question, where parties call on the organisation of a(nother) dialog and information sharing.

Speaking of dialog, it seems to be a new trend these days. “Let’s have a dialog” is again a nice start, but they need to lead to an outcome eventually. As the GAP rightfully points out, gender is a cross-cutting issue which needs to be considered in every aspect of climate policies. The dialog has been stretching out for a good 17 years now. What we truly need at this stage is the integration of gender in existing processes. The generalisation of a focal point on gender in each country and having permanent experts on gender at the UNFCCC would be a great way to ensure that gender is truly at the core of the designing of policies.

Last but not least, it should be noted that Parties are invited to implement the GAP. While not having a legally binding language is not necessarily a failure, it does mean that to ensure compliance, Parties need to be strongly assisted, to have financial assistance and regular reporting along the way.

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The stakes coming up thus involve making sure that the GAP will indeed be implemented, which means putting tools into place, according decent finance, to make it happen. The Lima work program ending in 2019 should ideally evolve in a permanent structure to which Parties could turn regarding gender-responsive policies. Alternatively, it should definitely be renewed and build upon to push those great achievements further and achieve a world with fair and equal representation and participation of all genders.

References and Sources:
[1] Which exposes them to toxic smoke. Did you know that indoor air pollution produced by food-making killed more people than HIV/Aids and malaria combined every year?
[2] You also need an accreditation to attend the civil society side of the COP since this year, but that is another story.

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