Gender and climate change

Jyoti Parikh and Fatma Denton report on an event Engendering the climate debate which they organized at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the climate treaty.

Jyoti Parikh is a senior professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai, India. Fatma Denton is a policy analyst and is projects coordinator for Enda Tiers Monde in Dakar, Senegal.

At the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) held in New Delhi in October 2002, we organized a side event aimed at discussing the issue of gender and its relevance in the climate debate. The event, Engendering the Climate Debate: Vulnerability, adaptation, mitigation and financial mechanisms, was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme.

In opening the discussion, Jyoti pointed out that, in the fifteen years that the climate debate has been going on, gender issues have seldom been on the agenda. This was the only event at COP-8 where gender issues were discussed. The subject was introduced by noting that poor women are extremely vulnerable to climate change and may bear an unreasonably large share of the adaptation burden.

Climate change could mean extra hardship for farming activities which are often carried out by women. This is particularly so in Africa but also in Asia where women undertake such activities as paddy cultivation, and farming cash crops such as cotton and tea plantations.

Fishing is another livelihood in which women are often involved. Climate change may also affect this activity as sea levels rise and intrusion of saline water into freshwater systems takes place, making fishing difficult.

The task of supplying water and fuel for the family is typically the responsibility of women. This activity will also be affected by climate change with the many problems of accessing a clean water supply.

The increase in extreme events such as storms, floods, and cyclones, even today, puts the burden of dealing with devastation and destruction on the women who have to keep the family together. During a time of catastrophe, the burden of nurturing the family, especially young children, as well as providing the daily essentials is often largely borne by women.

Yet women’s knowledge in adaptation could be used as a resource and should be documented. Often, this knowledge is traditional and community-specific. By documenting this knowledge, different communities around the world could be connected. This highlights the potential role of women in Clean Development Mechanism projects and mitigation measures as women are engaged in a number of relevant activities such as brick making, charcoal making and agro-processing where energy efficiency can lead to carbon dioxide mitigation. Clean Development Mechanism projects, through afforestsation and carbon sequestration, can also be done by poor rural women.

Jyoti stressed that whether a woman wants to use traditional biofuels, renewable energy sources or carbon dioxide emitting petroleum products, it should be her choice entirely. Further constraints on women should not be imposed in the name of climate change. There are concerns expressed that if women switch to petroleum products, carbon dioxide emissions will increase. Poor women are not responsible for excessive greenhouse gas emissions nor are they responsible for the foreign exchange imbalance nor for the fossil fuels scarcity. These responsibilities lie with those who are rich, who are the profligate consumers of fossil fuels, regardless of wherever they are in the developed countries or the developing countries. A rural poor person in India emits only 50 to 60 kg of carbon as compared to the world average of 1,100 kg or the 5,000 kg average in the United States.

To the extent necessary, gender issues should be mainstreamed in the climate change process. This should occur within such bodies and processes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Subsidiary Bodies, the Conference of the Parties and the Clean Development Mechanism. Fair gender balance is also necessary among these bodies.

Fatma emphasized that gender is absent institutionally, in decision making, in semantics and in financial terms.

She stressed that climate change will pose a challenge to women in terms of land degradation, drought, loss of biodiversity and so on. Hence, vulnerability, adaptation and mitigation issues are very important.

The main recommendations which were agreed to as a result of the event are as follows.

  • It is the poor women who are vulnerable and will bear the adaptation burden despite their minuscule contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Funds should be mobilized for greater research in understanding the complex links between gender and poverty (with regard to climate change) and how to build the adaptive capacity of the poor.
  • Adaptation and vulnerability studies are needed to mainstream gender into climate change discussion.
  • It is necessary to raise visibility of the potential impacts of climate variability and climate change on vulnerable groups.
  • It must be ensured that vulnerable groups such as women are not a priori excluded from potential Clean Development Mechanism and adaptation projects.
  • Clean Development Mechanism projects should be promoted which integrate gender concerns with regard to the sustainable development of forests, the management of biomass resources and renewable energy.
  • It is necessary to build capacity and resilience to enable women and men to cope with the negative impacts of climate variability and climate change.
  • Women should have the right to have the fuel of their choice even if it is a petroleum product. They should not be denied the fuels of their choice in the name of climate change.
  • Finally, gender issues should be mainstreamed in the climate debate and the climate negotiations. The relevant bodies should ensure that this issue gets attention.

To further these aims, it is suggested that a special report on gender and climate be commissioned so that more information and analysis is generated.

Finally, we emphasize the recommendation that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ensures balanced gender involvement in Clean Development Mechanism projects, technology transfer activities, capacity building and other similar initiatives.

Further information
Jyoti Parikh, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Gen. Vaidya Marg, Goregaon East, Mumbai 400 065, India. Fax: +91-22-8402752. Email: Web:
Fatma Denton, Africa Information Centre, 56 George Street, Balsall Heath, Birmingham B12 9RT, UK. Fax: +44-121-2491296. Email: Web: