Has Anything Changed? The Gender Politics and Policies of COP26 and COP27

Though both COP26 and COP27 have seen various initiatives—from travel funds to mentorship networks to enhance women’s participation in climate action—overall progress remains inconsistent and slow as richer countries tend to fall short of their financial promises.

Editor’s note: This essay is available in our print issue, A New Chapter for African Artefacts?. Buy the issue here.

Women are often excluded from discussions around climate and the environment despite being at the center of climate change. They have less access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making systems, technology, and training that would allow them to adapt to climate change. 

‘Women are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they represent the majority of the world’s poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources,’ the United Nations has said. 

Each year, the global community gathers to discuss the rapidly warming planet and what governments and companies can do to reduce contributing factors and mitigate loss.  

The United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, commonly referred to as COP, sees strategies, initiatives, and programs floated to address the impact of climate change globally.   

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) maintains the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to within 1.5 of pre-industrial temperatures. It argues that crossing the 1.5°C threshold poses a grave threat to people, wildlife, and ecosystems. The agreement also covers providing funds to low-income countries to help them adapt to climate change; and to review countries’ national climate plans every five years.  

At these events, discussions are set in motion by governments of states bound to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The gender concerns are two-fold: adequate female representation at the summit and commitments put forth by state and non-state actors.  

A 2022 report from Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) notes that at these summits, it is largely male dominated. The report remarked that the percentage of women across all national delegations had risen from 30 per cent in 2009 to 38 per cent in 2021, despite policy commitments and activities to promote equal participation. According to the report:  

For COPs, only 10 per cent of Heads of Delegations were women in 2009 and 13 per cent in 2021, with a low of 9 per cent in 2015 and high of 26 per cent in 2017. Arguably, COP15 in 2009 and COP21 in 2015 were considered pivotal decision making events under the UNFCCC, highlighting that as more senior officials take up the role as Head of Delegation, the more likely they are to be men. 

The report points out that women’s participation tends to be highest from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe, often between 45  and 50 per cent, and lowest in Africa and Asia, often between 30 and 35 per cent, though these regions are affected more by the climate crisis.  

Last year, Glasgow’s COP 26 ended in pledges to set new national emission-reductions targets, double adaptation finance, curb methane emissions, halt forest loss, accelerate the phase-out of coal, end international financing for fossil fuels and so on. Concerning gender, state and non-state actors presented initiatives to bolster women and girls in the face of climate-related impact.  These pledges were made in addition to the $139 million already pledged towards the United Nations Women-convened Action Coalition on Feminist Action for Climate Justice. 

However, Russia’s war on Ukraine and rapid inflation have seen global energy and food prices soar, distracting world leaders from their climate promises. For example, Germany had proposed phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions, but Europe’s largest economy is placing energy security over clean energy due to the war and is reviving coal projects as alternatives. 

‘Climate action is being put on the back burner—despite overwhelming public support around the world,’ UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said at the UN General Assembly meetings in September 2022. 

This year, extreme weather events became more evident; Europe issued drought warnings, Pakistan and Nigeria saw their worst flooding in decades. These events predate COP27, which started on 06 November and will run until 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. So far, at COP27, women have participated in talks around reparations and loss and damage. AP news reported that Chilean environment minister Maisa Rojas and Germany special climate envoy Jennifer Morgan designed a deal that put loss and damage on the agenda for the first time in all 27 climate summits. 

On November 14, 2022, Gender Day at COP27, the United States announced programmes to address the impact of the climate crisis on women and girls. These programmes cover the Indo-Pacific region, South and Central Asia, and central Africa. For the first time, the US rolled out a strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence as it considers the intersection between gender-based violence, climate change, and the environment. The White House said the strategy document will be released later this year.  

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also pledged over $21 million to gender-responsive climate action from the Gender Equity and Equality Action fund, surpassing its $14 million COP26 commitment.  This will see the further support of gender and climate change programmes such as scaling women’s access to green jobs and advancing women’s economic security through promoting women’s land rights.  

Through its Climate Finance Development Accelerator, USAID also announced the creation of its new Climate Gender Equity Fund, which will leverage private sector funding to scale climate finance that advances gender-equitable climate action.  

Launched through a five-year partnership with Amazon, with initial seed funding of $6 million, the fund will leverage public and private sector investment to increase access to climate finance for women-led climate organizations, and businesses that advance gender-equitable climate solutions in least developed countries. 

Though both COP26 and COP27 have seen various initiatives—from travel funds to mentorship networks to enhance women’s participation in climate action—overall progress remains inconsistent and slow as richer countries such as Australia, Canada and the US tend to fall short of their financial promises. In 2009, such countries promised $100 billion annually in climate finance to lower income countries by 2020. However, by 2020 20 per cent of their pledged amount was still unmet.  

Climate Home News reported that a loss and damage fund stream to help victims of climate disaster recover has been delayed by the European Union pending contributions from China.  The proposal, published on Tuesday, calls for a committee to discuss how the fund would work ahead of its approval next year.  

After a week of deliberations, it is left for governments to enact what was promised and match their pledges

Recommended Reading

Here are some Republic articles to read for more context on climate change in Africa:

The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].