Climate justice requires women’s leadership

The world is well aware that the climate crisis is one of the main stumbling blocks to sustainable development. We also know that climate stabilisation depends on a whole-of-society response; on all citizens’ equal and fair participation in governance. That has not happened: women have been underrepresented in climate decision-making. 

Much more needs to be done to advance a gender-sensitive response to climate change. Three imperatives stand out: women’s leadership, indigenous rights and education.

Efforts to improve gender parity in climate governance have been ongoing for nearly a decade. In 2014, delegates to COP20 adopted the Lima Work Programme on Gender to encourage the inclusion of more women in climate-change negotiations. But five years later, at COP25 in Madrid, 60% of government delegates and 73% of heads and deputy heads of delegations were men.

This imbalance led to the adoption of the Enhanced Lima Work Programme and Action Plan on Gender. The parties pledged to appoint and provide support for national gender and climate-change focal points for climate negotiations, and for project implementation and monitoring. Even so, from 2019 to 2021, women occupied only 33% of all leadership positions in climate-change negotiations and expert mechanisms.

The final agreement issued at the close of last November’s COP26 in Glasgow included gender equality and women’s leadership as central components of climate policy and action strategies. 

Women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, but they are also important agents of change. Giving women a seat at the decision-making table and using a gender lens to shape low-carbon development strategies will go a long way toward making progress on efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The transition to carbon neutrality requires a radical change in production systems and consumption patterns. Women must be part of the process to develop effective policies. There are examples to follow.

Costa Rica has set a clear path toward net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. Since 2014, more than 98% of the energy in Costa Rica has come from renewable sources. In 2021, the country was awarded the Earthshot Prize for its conservation model, according to which local citizens are paid to preserve and restore natural ecosystems. Costa Rica’s success can be attributed to the commitment of its citizens to sustainable development and the involvement of indigenous and rural women in climate adaptation, knowledge production and efforts to strengthen resilience.

Indigenous and rural women are the most vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation. Initiatives such as Club de Madrid’s Shared Societies approach emphasise that indigenous people have the right to be involved in these discussions, and acknowledge that they are more likely to support and implement conservation plans when they are fully invested in their development.

Education is a crucial component of inclusive climate decision-making. In 2021, Unesco called for environmental education to be a core curriculum component in all countries by 2025. The Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development states that environmental education must be available to girls and boys alike from an early age to ensure that future generations have sufficient knowledge to respond to climate change.


The recent all-male “CEO lunch” convened at the Munich Security Conference shows that women are still missing from the highest levels of global decision-making. Yet women’s leadership is needed to respond effectively to shared global challenges. — © Project Syndicate

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Laura Chinchilla and María Fernanda Espinosa
Laura Chinchilla, a former president of Costa Rica, is vice-president of Club de Madrid. María Fernanda Espinosa, a former president of the UN General Assembly, is a member of GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy.

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