By Vaishali Nigam Sinha,
The bugle for COP 26, to be held at Glasgow in November this year has been sounded. In the 5 years since Paris, most nations have failed to meet their emission reduction targets, resulting in a deepening of the climate crisis. Recognizing the need for greater urgency and bolder commitments, COP 26 President Rt. Hon. Alok Sharma (MP) and President Biden’s Climate Envoy, Secretary John Kerry have started dialogues with key nations, with a view to ramp up global ambitions and nudge countries to adopt frameworks for net zero economies. Not surprisingly, India, given its undisputed importance in global climate action, figures prominently in their itineraries. Close on the heels of Rt. Hon. Alok Sharma’s visit in February, India will welcome Secretary Kerry in early April for discussions to set the stage for a fruitful Glasgow summit. In many ways the time is opportune to raise the issue of prioritizing gender responsive climate action, ensuring a key role for women at Glasgow and steps required to unlock the potential of women as change agents.
It is time we recognize that gender and climate are cross cutting issues with women much more vulnerable to socio-economic and environmental shocks due to climate change.80% of people displaced by climate change are women and they are also 14 times more likely to suffer direct impact of climate disasters. This isn’t surprising when you consider that women comprise 70% of the world’s poor and own only 10% of agricultural land. Their traditional role in society and barriers like restricted access to resources, technology, limited mobility and minimal say in decision making lowers their resilience, exposing them to a far higher risk of disruption in livelihood and food security besides violence and abuse.
This calls for prioritizing gender dimensions in climate mitigation policy responses, by ensuring adequate women representation in decision making processes. Climate action cannot continue to neglect the problems of those most affected and turn a deaf ear to their voices. Women must play a bigger role in climate dialogues and their needs and preferences integrated within adaptation and mitigation plans. The best way to make this happen is by enabling women leaders to shape & drive the climate agenda. We need transformative action to unlock the unique capabilities, knowledge, skills and resource management experience that women possess to deal with the climate challenge. Women leaders can contribute to better, more inclusive decision making by offering fresh and diverse perspectives resulting in innovative and practical solutions.
There is conclusive evidence that a more gender diverse climate leadership results in stronger and more effective solutions. Climate change risk perception and concern is consistently higher among women and they also tend to be more supportive of policies and lifestyle changes to tackle climate change.Research shows that countries with high representation of women in parliament are more likely to ratify international environment treaties. Multiple studies indicate female policymakers are better at driving collaborations and negotiations across party lines and more sensitive to community needs. There are also several success stories of women led climate smart solutions transforming lives in communities. The Solar Sisters programme in Africa and the Solar Mamas initiative of Barefoot College which train women as solar engineers, the Wonder Women programme in Indonesia or tribal women in Rajasthan turning greenpreneurs by mass manufacturing of solar lamps, are all examples of women catalyzing change towards a sustainable future.
Despite the compelling evidence and rationale for women leaders, the numbers tell a very different story, underlining the gross under representation of women in decision making and policy design. The average representation of women in national and global climate negotiating bodies is below 30% and doesn’t improve at the local level. At last year’s COP25, only 21% of the 196 heads of delegation were women. This failure to tap into half the world’s brains trust is resulting in suboptimal solutions to a widening pre-existing inequality. The senior leadership team of forthcoming COP 26 is also male dominated with women occupying a mere 25% of key leadership roles, thus raising the prospect of their concerns and perspectives being excluded from the conversation. Lack of a gender balance will seriously undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the COP 26 leadership. The discussions need to be gender inclusive with women lending their voice and actively participating in and influencing the agenda, negotiations, and key decisions. Several women leaders have been campaigning for a 50:50 gender split in the summit’s apex leadership to ensure greater transparency and accountability on gender.
Additionally, to boost gender responsive climate action, the summit must address the following issues:
i) Wider adoption and implementation of the enhanced Gender Action Plan as agreed to in COP 25. Encourage nations to appoint a high-level Gender Champion for climate negotiations and policy making.
ii) Enhanced access to funds for women-led and women’s rights organisations addressing climate change impacts at the grass root level.
iii) Skill development to enable women to lead deployment of sustainable solutions.
iv) Urge Governments to incorporate gender perspectives into their climate policies&action plans through systematic gender analysis; collecting and utilizing sex-disaggregated data& establishing gender-sensitive benchmarks and indicators.
v) Drive equal representation of women in all national delegations to the UNFCCC, national and local climate action task forces, committees.
vi) Recognize and share success stories of gender sensitive and/or women led climate action
To tackle the climate crisis effectively, women, as the most affected group,should be adequately represented in decision-making processes and deserve an equal seat at the table. The COP 26 summit provides an excellent opportunity to move towards a more inclusive mitigation strategy that is also shaped and spearheaded by women. There isn’t a better time for women to be at the forefront of the climate movement and I hope we don’t miss the bus.
(The author is Chief Sustainability Officer, Renew Power & Chair SAWIE. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)