In their latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the impacts of climate change on human communities and recognizes that over 40% of the world’s population is “highly vulnerable” to climate change. Among that group, the most vulnerable and marginalized will experience the greatest impact due to their reliance on natural resources. Women and girls account for many of the world’s poorest populations, and they are often responsible for managing these natural resources, from water for cooking and cleaning, to firewood and the use of the land for livestock.
Climate change amplifies existent gender inequalities by disproportionally impacting the livelihoods of women and girls.
The primary source of income for women in developing regions continues to be limited mainly to agricultural roles dependent on local natural resources. As the result of extreme weather events worsened by climate change, these jobs are often displaced or deprioritized over household responsibilities that socio-cultural norms assign to women, such as food security and childcare. For girls, these events often lead to school closures or increased pressures on home finance, which dictate that a girl’s education is less of a priority. Further threats of displacement include gender-based violence and access to healthcare.
Women offer a unique and valuable lens on the energy-climate transition. Their societal responsibilities, which coincidentally put them at enhanced climate change risk, also lend strategic planning and adaptive skills that brand them distinctly qualified to participate in the solutions. Countries where women claim higher social rank have shown 12% less CO2 emissions. When provided the means, women are more likely to make eco-friendly purchasing decisions. This is not insignificant as women represent 70 to 80% of consumer purchases.
Women have long been active agents and promoters of change in society. In African nations, generations have overcome obstacles tied to gender inequalities and land ownership, housing conditions, education, and security. Yet, while dominating the management of farms, women take responsibility toward climate change on a smaller scale through the implementation of seed banks and regenerative agriculture. They pass this knowledge down to younger women, empowering resilience through increasingly long dry seasons while men travel for work opportunities. Other women-led innovations include the development of shipping containers for homes following Hurricane Maria, and wind and flood-resistant improvements in Bangladesh. In many societies, women maintain purchasing power, especially decisions regarding household items. Communities that depend on women to gather food, water, and other resources for the family are affected by climate-driven scarcity. With improved educational, and ultimately financial security, women could transition household tasks to more energy-efficient methods. One example with significant influence on household emissions reduction would be the transition from burning biomass openly to energy-efficient appliances or methods of cooking.
Despite the myriad strengths of women to tackle climate change’s toughest challenges, less than 30% of national and global negotiating bodies' representatives are women. Even climate-forward industries and groups are underrepresented. So, what can we do as companies and individuals to involve women in the conversation?
Addressing climate change is a matter of justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. Let us recognize the contributions of women and the importance of ensuring a just transition for all.
The authors wish to thank ENGIE Impact’s employee resource group Ellxvate, Lauren Kinsman, and Bryn Donovan for their contributions.