What it Will Take to Strengthen Gender-mainstreaming in the UNFCCC

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Voices from the Climate Front Lines, Thematic Session at UN Climate Summit

While the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has no formal gender equality mandate, many UNFCCC decisions, in particular over the last six years, have re-iterated the central importance of advancing gender equality and women’s rights for effective climate policies.  A decision in Doha at the climate summit then (COP 18) mandated that the 196 countries that are parties to the UNFCCC make progress in advancing the gender balance of bodies established under the convention and the improve the gender composition of their national delegations.  Unfortunately, the UNFCCC bodies, especially in technology and finance (where it would be particularly helpful to overcome the stereotype of seeing women primarily as victims of climate change, not capable actors to combat it), as well as many delegations still fall short of having a significant percentage of women decision-makers and delegates, especially also in leading positions, in their midst.

At the climate summit in Lima, Peru in 2014, the UNFCCC launched a two-year work program. It made gender considerations of climate change a standing agenda item under its Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), including by having yearly workshops addressing mitigation, technology, adaptation and capacity-building as areas of concern.  As climate negotiators from around the prepare for the upcoming annual climate summit (Conference of the Parties) in Marrakesh, Morocco in early November (COP 22), the Secretariat has asked for input and suggestions by member states as well as civil society organizations and other observers on how to continue and strengthen the UNFCCC’s Lima Work Programme on Gender.

The Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America made a detailed submission (available here).  It details, building on the experiences gained with efforts to integrate gender consideration in the UNFCCC, what it will take to strengthen gender-mainstreaming in the UNFCCC to ensure that all climate actions are implemented in a gender-responsive way.  It focuses on three main points:

  • All work on gender-mainstreaming in the UNFCCC must be framed by an understanding and commitment to human rights and women’s rights: All UNFCCC member states have existing human and women’s rights obligations and they cannot put them aside when tackling climate change. Closer cooperation of the UNFCCC Secretariat with relevant human rights bodies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) or the Committee for the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is needed, including for capacity-building of UNFCCC negotiators on the human- and women-rights dimensions of their climate change decisions and actions.
  • For successful gender-mainstreaming in the UNFCCC, don’t side-line it with an extra work program but integrate and correlate it better with the ongoing work in the climate negotiations in all thematic areas such as mitigation, finance, technology development and transfer, adaption, loss & damage, or transparency of efforts.  Continuing a separate work program on gender carries the danger of isolating the gender and climate change discourse as an add-on.  To mainstream gender considerations into the whole UNFCCC process, instead thematic sub-area programs should be developed under a convention-wide multi-year Gender Action Plan (GAP).  This would also enhance the gender-awareness and capacity of all thematic experts and negotiators and create much needed “gender plus…” expertise. Focusing on parties’ climate communication and strategic planning processes, including via developing guidelines for integrating gender into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will be probably the single most important step in securing success in the gender-responsive implementation of the new Paris Agreement in individual countries and globally.
  • Money, or in UNFCCC parlance, “means of implementation” (MOI): For gender mainstreaming in the UNFCCC we need adequate, sustainable, predictable and additional financial resources for both the UNFCCC Secretariat, but also in form of public climate finance and channeled through the UNFCC financial mechanism, specifically also the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). 

Currently, the Lima Work Programme is resourced only by voluntary money given by parties for that purpose. This underscores the gender work as an “add-on” and as a disposable on as such.  Instead, it should be treated as the core task that it is and financed through the UNFCCC Secretariat’s core administrative budget financed by assessed contributions of all UNFCCC member countries.

Likewise, it is important that predictable, adequate, scaled-up and additional public climate finance as an obligation by developed countries to support developing countries is mobilized and channeled to the GEF and the GCF, both of which have gender-mainstreaming mandates and have made significant advances over the past years, although they still lack in achieving gender-balance of their governing bodies and secretariats’ staff. Many of the gender-responsive climate actions countries still need core public financing as they might not guarantee a sizable financial ‘return-on-investment’ which most private sector investors (maybe with the exception of a growing number of social impact investors) prioritize. The GEF and GCF are also tasked to help developing countries in developing and implementing country-owned climate strategies and plans (such as NAMAs, NAPs and NDCs).

Click here for the full text of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America submission on enhancing the Lima Work Programme on Gender to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Click here for more information on how the UNFCCC addresses gender and climate change issues.

Click here to see submissions made by non-Party stakeholders to the UNFCCC on matters under the SBI, including gender and climate change.