Gender-just Climate Policy: Women and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

By Shannon Greene, Researcher at EmpoderaClima


2015 witnessed the inception of two major international agreements: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September, and the Paris Agreement, adopted in December. 

The 2030 Agenda intends to shift global development to a basis of sustainability. Gender equality is integral to the Agenda, recognizing that it cannot be separated from poverty, hunger, poor health, and of course, climate justice. As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Parties agreed to a long-term goal for adaptation and resilience, with Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) at the heart of these efforts. 

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are a critical  tool in advancing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They outline the obligation of parties to prepare and maintain NDCs that they intend to achieve. It is the government's discretion, however, on what information they show about their climate policies in their NDCs. The inclusion of gender within the NDCs is pivotal to hold countries accountable in translating their ambitions for gender equality, and to ensure that progress which has already been made is respected and protected. 

NDCs are integral for advancing gender equality while also meeting climate targets. 

Preserving the advancements that have been made in reaching gender equality and empowerment and addressing the challenges imposed by climate change require an intersectional effort that takes into account the impact of climate change on women.  A study conducted by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) analyzed the extent to which Nationally Determined Contributions address women’s human rights. It was observed that in total, 64 out of 290 INDCs included a reference to gender. Of the 64 countries, only 27  mentioned gender in relation to adaptation, followed by mitigation (12 countries), implementation of commitments (9 countries) and capacity building (5 countries). 

Additionally, only 37.5% per cent explicitly mention ‘women’ or ‘gender’ in the context of national ambitions, with sub-Saharan Africa the only exception. The most frequent way in which women were described as a vulnerable group. Moreover, only fifteen Intended Nationally Determined Contributions acknowledged women as important decision makers in the context of climate change policy-making. These figures are simply not enough, and with such a strong focus on gender justice within the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, we demand the same for NDCs. There is no climate justice without gender justice. In order to tackle climate change, we need to structurally tackle inequalities, not just between men and women, but inequalities that persist because of race, class, age, sexuality and gender.  

Moving forward, with member states preparing for another round of NDCs in the lead up to the COP in December, it is important to take note of just how important gender is for climate action. There is a need for gender-responsive technology and finance mechanisms, as well as gender-informed decisions on the preparation of NDCs. Country-specific gender and data analysis are integral in the preparation of commitments of each signatory to the Paris Agreement. Governments must ensure that NDCs are designed in a participatory manner, that enables the full participation of women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities. 

We cannot fight climate change with 50% of the population. Gender and data analysis that is specific to each country will help in identifying barriers to women’s participation, thus highlighting how it can be improved. There is a grave issue with only 15 NDCs acknowledging women as vital decision-makers in climate change policy making. We need more women influencing policy in order for these issues to be recognized and addressed.    

The integration of more gender inclusive language within NDCs will not only result in better climate change outcomes for everyone, but will also contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction goals. As Ella Bhat eloquently said at the Paris negotiations in 2015; “When we invest in women’s participation, we have an ally who wants a stable community and roots for her family. Each woman is not only a worker, but also a provider, a caretaker, an educator, a networker and a vital forager of bonds in a community. Moreover, women’s participation brings constructive, creative and sustainable solutions to the community”. 

So let us fight gender inequality and climate change together, and work toward an empowered climate with EmpoderaClima.

Photo credit: Women & Gender Constituency