There is growing evidence that climate change exacerbates existing structural inequalities, has a more severe impact on the poorest and the most vulnerable communities, and especially affects women. For instance, in the event of a climate emergency, not everyone has the same capacity to move, and women are often left behind while others evacuate, leading to gender differences in mortality. This explains why figures state that women and children are 14 times more likely to die in a natural disaster than menMary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice, “Women’s Participation: An Enabler of Climate Justice”, November 2015, p. 4..
. Studies in Bangladesh have shown that most women cannot swim, that their responsibilities towards children limit their movement and that fear of sexual and physical abuse increases outside their home. For instance, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record occurred in the country in 1991, and 90% of the victims were women Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, “When the disaster strikes: Gendered (im)mobility in Bangladesh”, Climate Risk Management, Volume 29, 2020, p. 2.. These tragic situations are made possible by existing gender disparities, such as the overrepresentation of men in decision-making processes and the neglect of women’s needs, which result in less effective climate policies. In this context, the world must imperatively put gender at the forefront of climate action.
At the international level, the most important treaty tackling human interference with the climate system is the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992 and whose supreme governing body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), meets annually to assess progress in combating climate change. Since the late 1990s, Parties to the Convention have worked on improving women’s participation in all UNFCCC processes and increasing support for the implementation of gender-sensitive climate policy.
The present article will discuss the progress made on these two goals in 2021, particularly at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference – more commonly known as “COP26” – which took place in Glasgow a year later due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was chaired by the United Kingdom.
Women’s participation in the UNFCCC: Gender compositions and speaking times
Since 2012, the UNFCCC Secretariat has been preparing an annual report on the gender composition of Party delegations and of selected bodies established under the Convention. According to last year’s report, in sixteen technical subsidiary bodies, such as the Adaptation Committee or the Standing Committee on Finance, women occupied an average of 33% of all positions, as was the case in 2020. On the other hand, 11 female delegates were elected as Chair or Co-Chair of a technical subsidiary body in 2021 out of 23, whereas nine filled such positions the year before. In addition, two women (out of 9 positions) were elected to the position of Vice-Chair of a technical subsidiary body in 2021, the same figure as in 2020United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Gender Composition: Report by the Secretariat”, 20 August 2021, p. 4-5..
Women represented 49% of Party delegates and 39% of heads and deputy heads of Party delegations. Compared to 2020, the representation of women in Party delegations increased by 9% and among heads and deputy heads of Party delegations by 12%Ibid., p. 7-8..
Further on in the report, the UNFCCC Secretariat introduced for the first time an analysis of women’s and men’s speaking times, in order to provide a more detailed understanding of their participation during the negotiations. It revealed that, while 51% of Party delegations were men, they accounted for 63% of the total speaking time in plenariesIbid., p. 10-12..
This overview shows that women are still underrepresented in terms of presence and tend to speak less than men during these events, but there are examples of progress in terms of women’s participation compared to the previous year, especially among Party delegations and in high-ranking positions.
Visibility of gender at the COP26: Websites and events
To enhance gender-sensitive climate policies, it is important to make the issue visible to all, starting with the official COP26 website. On this platform, one can read: “although COVID-19 posed challenges for the multilateral climate change process, the UK COP26 Presidency committed to making progress in a transparent and inclusive [emphasis added] way and in solidarity with all countriesUnited Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “Negotiations”, URL: https://ukcop26.org/uk-presidency/negotiations/”. Further on the same website, it is stated that many countries have set common priorities for the COP26, including “promoting fair, inclusive [emphasis added] climate actionIbid.”. After a thorough reading of the website, it appears that achieving gender balance is not the goal behind these statements and that inclusiveness refers to international participation of the conference given the challenges caused by the pandemic, such as travel bans and different levels of vaccination between countries.
In fact, gender is not mentioned anywhere on the COP26 website, including in explanatory documents where one would expect the opposite, such as the “COP26 Explained” brochure and the “COP26 Goals” page. Unless the implicit use of the word “together” (e.g., “we can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working togetherUnited Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “COP26 Explained”, URL: https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COP26-Explained.pdf”) is seen as a statement of gender inclusivity, there are no specific indications of the topic on the COP26 platform. This shows a very clear deterioration in the interest in the role that gender plays in climate action compared to the COP25, chaired by Chile in 2019 in Madrid, which lists gender as one of the main issues to address on its homepage.
At the COP26, half a day out of ten was dedicated to discussions on gender and six official events and workshops focused on the theme. These numbers are lower than in the previous COP which had an entire day of debates on gender and held a total of eight official events and workshops related to the topic. On the other hand, both conferences held a high-level meeting on gender and climate change. Regarding the side events organised in the Presidency pavilion, 10% were held by the United Kingdom in 2021 on gender and a specific climate change theme such as finance, energy, and monitoring & reporting, while less than 2% were organized by Chile in 2019United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “UK Presidency Pavilion at COP26: Event Programme”, URL: … Continue reading.Ultimately, the pressing issue of gender and its relation to climate change was not highlighted nor explained to visitors of the official COP26 website, unlike COP25’s. In Glasgow, the subject was presented to participants at a more or less equal level than in Madrid. In the end, there is no major progress to report on visibility, but rather a failure to communicate on gender for the general public which could not attend the COP26. It is now necessary to see how this shortcoming is reflected in the multilateral decisions adopted in Glasgow, compared to Madrid.
Glasgow’s gender-sensitive climate agreements: Multilateral versus plurilateral commitments
Given the lack of emphasis on gender at the COP26, it is not surprising that the discussions that took place during the conference did not amount to any ground-breaking decision. The Glasgow Climate Pact solely acknowledged the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment, as stated in previous treaties including the 2015 Paris Agreement, and encouraged “Parties to increase the full, meaningful and equal participation of women in climate actionUnited Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Decision -/CP.26: Glasgow Climate Pact”, 13 November 2021, URL: … Continue reading.”. It called upon Parties “to strengthen their implementation of the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its gender action planIbid.” which were both adopted at the COP25.
The only new outcome including a gender aspect agreed on at the COP26 is the Glasgow work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE). This 10-year programme reinforces the implementation of ACE, a concept initiated in the 1992 UNFCCC text and further defined over the years, which aims at empowering all members of society, including women, to engage in climate action through education, public awareness, or public participation.
In contrast, some governments and non-state actors made progressive commitments outside of the multilateral negotiations leading up to the Glasgow Climate Pact, at informal meetings and events. For instance, Canada pledged that 80% of its USD 4.3 billion in climate investments over the next five years will target gender equality outcomes. Sierra Leone committed to addressing long-standing discriminatory land practices. A venture capital firm called “Gender Equity Diversity and Investments” was launched by a group of experts, investors, and CEOs, and aims to fill the funding gap for women-led companies related to sustainable development.
Thus, more promising results took place in the margins of the international forum and, compared to the COP25 which adopted a work programme and an action plan, gender was not the focus of a breakthrough decision in Glasgow. Negotiators at the COP26 have mainly reiterated general principles, invited Parties to implement past agreements and settled on a program which strengthens the older concept of ACE.
Moving forward: The COP27 in Egypt
Egypt was nominated to chair the forthcoming COP, scheduled for November 2022. Among its various tasks, the Presidency sets the agenda for the summit and drives ambition internationally. Egypt will lead the formal negotiations and oversee the vision and priorities of the COP27. Ultimately, it will be responsible for taking forward the discussions on gender and climate change. As mentioned throughout the article, there is still much work to be accomplished as the COP26 made limited progress on the subject. Women were still underrepresented, and the issue was inconspicuous. The Glasgow Climate Pact was not innovative, and bolder initiatives were taken outside of the official discussions, by states and private entities.
This phenomenon could suggest that the UNFCCC multilateral system is slowly entering a dead end in the field of gender. Alternative frameworks, perhaps with fewer and different actors, may be prioritised by the more ambitious as witnessed in Glasgow. However, while multi-stakeholder alliances and dynamic actions at the national level are blossoming, one must not lose sight of the fact that the inclusion of women in climate action must be accomplished collectively and universally.
Egypt will most likely not have a substantial impact on this objective. The agenda of the upcoming session is not available yet but given the low representation of women in Egypt and the high gender gap, it is unlikely that the issue will be central to the incoming Presidency and that the COP27 will succeed in addressing climate change in an inclusive manner.
AYEB-KARLSSON Sonja, “When the disaster strikes: Gendered (im)mobility in Bangladesh”, Climate Risk Management, Volume 29, 2020, URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212096320300279#!
Gender Equity Diversity and Investments, “Homepage”, URL: https://www.gedi.vc
OTZELBERGER Agnes, “Tackling the Double Injustice of Climate Change and Gender Inequality”, CARE International, 2014, URL: https://careclimatechange.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Double_Injustice.pdf
World Bank, “Gender Equity Seal: A Key to Strengthening Egypt’s Private Sector”, feature story, 30 March 2021, URL: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2021/03/30/gender-equity-seal-a-key-to-strengthening-egypt-s-private-sector
To cite this article : Avril Chanel, “COP26 : A closer look at the progress made on gender”, 25.03.2022, Institut du Genre en Géopolitique
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.
|↑1||Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice, “Women’s Participation: An Enabler of Climate Justice”, November 2015, p. 4.|
|↑2||Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, “When the disaster strikes: Gendered (im)mobility in Bangladesh”, Climate Risk Management, Volume 29, 2020, p. 2.|
|↑3||United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Gender Composition: Report by the Secretariat”, 20 August 2021, p. 4-5.|
|↑4||Ibid., p. 7-8.|
|↑5||Ibid., p. 10-12.|
|↑6||United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “Negotiations”, URL: https://ukcop26.org/uk-presidency/negotiations/|
|↑8||United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “COP26 Explained”, URL: https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COP26-Explained.pdf|
|↑9||United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, “UK Presidency Pavilion at COP26: Event Programme”, URL:|
|↑10||United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Decision -/CP.26: Glasgow Climate Pact”, 13 November 2021, URL:|