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Integrating a Gender-Responsive Approach in Climate Change Decision Making

Hanh Nguyen, G20 Research Group
July 22, 2016

The representation of women in decision making on climate change remains a missing element in many countries, albeit with increasing public attention to this topic. Gender disparities, especially in developing countries, prevent women from contributing meaningfully to climate-related policy design and implementation. The link between women's participation in decision making and the effectiveness of climate change policy has been broadly acknowledged by scholars, experts and policy makers. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), since 2012 there have been over 50 decisions under the convention and the Kyoto Protocol that refer to gender and women, predominantly in adaptation and capacity building. In the context of the forthcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, in September 2016, with climate change as one of the key issues to be addressed, G20 leaders should encourage a gender-responsive approach to promote women's equal contribution to climate change policies.

Women, especially in developing countries, are highly susceptible to climate change. Climate change has greater impacts on more disadvantaged groups, which includes women. Women in least developed countries are most reliant on nature for their livelihoods. However, they usually lack the capacity to respond to natural hazards such as droughts, landslides, floods and hurricanes. When disasters strike, women are more likely to die than men are, as happened in Bangladesh during Cyclone Gorky in 1991 or in the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. In a 2013 study on the linkages between gender and climate change in the Pacific, the United Nations Development Programme found that the "degree to which people are affected by climate change impacts is partly a function of their ... gender." Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change.

Women are not only victims but also an important part of the solution. They can play a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation at the local and political levels. At the 16th Conference to the Parties (COP) in Cancun in 2010, women were mentioned as victims, among the most vulnerable groups affected by climate change. COP21 in Paris in 2015 recognized gender equality and women's empowerment as the key to achieving the UNFCCC's objectives. The parties promised that they would "respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights ... as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity" when taking action to address climate change.

A gender-responsive approach to climate change is also emphasized in Article 7 and Article 11 of the Paris Agreement that came out of COP21. Studies have shown that the integration of women into the policy-making process can result in responding to the needs of the public, especially vulnerable groups, and in delivering sustainable peace. At the same time, addressing gender gaps in the response to climate change is one of the most effective mechanisms to build climate resilience (UNWomen 2015). If climate change policies are implemented without women's meaningful participation, such policies are likely to decrease their effectiveness and increase existing inequalities. Therefore, it is critically important to commit to gender-responsive climate solutions and comply with them.

A comprehensive integration of gender-responsive approach to political agendas, however, remains challenging. Despite the recent increase in female representation in global governance summits, women are rarely referenced in the documents issued collectively by the leaders (Kulik 2012). Several realities relating to gender, such as gender-based differences in technical knowledge, may hinder their capabilities to make use of climate change adaptation and mitigation tools. Crucially, established institutional and cultural norms restrict women's participation in decision making. In many countries women still face huge challenges in accessing information, legislation and the resources necessary to participate in decision making. Social and cultural norms can limit women from acquiring the skills needed to mitigate risks or recover quickly after disasters. Moreover, gender data in climate change–related policies are often censored, which constrains evidence-based policy-making process. Once these challenges are fully addressed, women can contribute more meaningfully contribute to climate change control.

The G20's Hangzhou Summit offers a great opportunity for leaders to commit to and act on climate change by taking its gender dimension seriously. Gender equality aligns with the inclusive, expanded and equal centre of global governance on climate change that G20 are trying to develop (Kirton and Kokotsis 2015). The leaders should recognize women as agents of change in climate action and in managing natural resources. Following the Paris Agreement's successful integration of a gender-responsive approach in tackling climate change, they should commit to the next step by ratifying the agreement. G20 members should also reinforce gender equality in climate change decision making by ensuring that gender equality is a guiding principle in all relevant aspects of the Hangzhou communiqué.

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Hanh NguyenHanh Nguyen is a researcher with the G20 Research Group and the G7 Research Group. She has worked on several regional climate change and development projects based in Vietnam. She has also undertaken research in Vietnam, Thailand and Hungary with the focus on economic development and public policy. She is recently contributing to the climate change compliance report aiming at assessing the commitment of G20 members. In addition, she is doing research on the relationship between women leadership and climate governance. Hanh is in charge of data analysis and quantitative evaluation of G7 and G20 compliance catalysts. She is currently pursuing Master of Public Administration at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

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