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Helping the Climate and Women Together: What Can Paris Do?

Julia Kulik, Senior Researcher, G7 and G20 Research Groups
December 3, 2015

The much anticipated 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is now under way, with more than 190 countries participating in negotiations to achieve a legally binding universal agreement to keep global warming below 2°C and reduce global carbon emissions. Many have viewed the COP meetings in previous years as having failed to produce any real action that addresses the true urgency of the climate crisis. So expectations are high with United States president Barack Obama, Chinese president Xi Jinping, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi all in attendance – the leaders of the three countries with the largest carbon emissions.

The adverse effects of climate change are no longer hypothetical far-off threats but growing problems in the form of natural disasters, diseases and resource scarcity right here, right now. Vulnerable populations tend to be those that feel these detrimental effects the most. Because women constitute the majority of the world’s poor they are disproportionately harmed by climate change, being more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. And yet, women have unequal access to the decision-making processes that attempt to mitigate the impact of climate change. Incorporating gender issues seriously into the COP21 process is essential not only to protect the progress made on gender equality thus far but also to provide innovative solutions to those groups that are hardest hit.

The disproportionate impact of climate change is particularly evident in agriculture and food security. In certain developing regions, female farmers account for up to 80% of all food production. Changing weather patterns and environmental degradation make it increasingly difficult for women to produce the food at the rate needed to sustain their families and their incomes. In these communities, women and girls are also responsible for the majority of domestic duties, like securing water and fuel for cooking. Climate-related natural disasters and the depletion of natural resources make this process more difficult and more physically demanding. Furthermore, due to deeply engrained gender discrimination in some developing countries, women do not have equal access to land and resources to provide them with the security needed in times of change.

Yet, women have been consistently underrepresented in the climate policymaking process. As Maria Ivanova noted in Paris Climate Summit: Why More Women Need Seats at the Table, female representation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change range from 36% to 41%. Only 26–33% are heads of national delegations, and only eight of the 34 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairs, co-chairs and vice-chairs are women. This is not for lack of qualified female climate champions.

Women, particularly rural women, also have a distinct set of knowledge and skills that can be utilised in the policymaking process to make better informed decisions on adaptation. What better way to inform your policies than by engaging with those directly affected by climate change who have had to use their first-hand knowledge of crops, seeds and land management to adapt to the changing environment in order to protect their livelihood.

There is a clear connection between climate change and gender equality. Successful governance of one depends on the successful governance of the other. Whether the Paris summiteers will see and act on this connection remains to be seen. However, we know that without a strategy that both harnesses the knowledge and skills of women and reflects the specific challenge that climate change poses to them, the COP21 meeting will not provide a truly effective and equitable agreement on climate change.

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Julia Kulik
Julia Kulik, MPP,s a senior researcher for the G7 and G8 Research Group, G20 Research Group, BRICS Research Group and Global Health Diplomacy Program, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has researched and written on G8, G20 and BRICS performance particularly on the issues of regional security and gender equality. She has recently co-authored articles entitled "Generating Global Health Governance through BRICS Summitry" in Contemporary Politics and "Connecting Climate Change and Health through Global Summitry" in World Medical and Health Policy. She has delivered several papers including "A BRICS Alliance within the G20? Assessing the Performance of BRICS Members" at PUC Minas in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, "The Role of Space and Place in Informal Security Arrangements: The Case of the G8" at the 2014 International Studies Association Convention in Toronto and "Working for Women's Security" at the Pre-G8 Summit Conference at Queen's University, Belfast in June 2013. Julia leads the group's work on gender, women's health, regional security and summit performance.

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