Mainstreaming Gender in Climate Change Mitigation: The Anticipated “Paris Agreement”

By Madelin Orr

Madelin attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.


To achieve the long-term objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) evidence suggests both men and women need to be equally involved in all areas of decision-making processes. Women play a crucial role in climate change mitigation actions due to their knowledge of coping strategies used to ensure the availability of food production, household water supply and energy use. Despite efforts made to expand UNFCCC obligations in gender mainstreaming, the UN, as of yet, has not successfully secured gender-equality in all policy areas and programs relating to climate change mitigation actions.  


  1. Dual action needs to shift gender-mainstreaming from promoting gender equality in UNFCCC processes, to actively implementing 'gender-sensitivity' into mitigation actions for climate change.
  2. COP 21 should prioritise the identification of challenges and opportunities in mainstreaming gender in UNFCCC processes and mechanisms, to reinforce the importance of gender analysis in mitigation actions. 
  3. It is crucial to the Paris Agreement that female participation in UNFCCC decision-making bodies and delegations is increased. Greater public participation as a whole is required to ensure communities understand the climate issue and how it affects their specific regions.
  4. Parties should support the inclusion and awareness of gender-sensitive climate policy by drawing on expertise of international institutions to amend current policies and programmes.


The Paris Agreement requires dual action to institutionalise gender equality in UNFCCC institutions and mechanisms, with a focus on integrating equal participation of both men and women in all ares of climate change decision-making processes. A gender analysis should be taken in mitigation actions using gender assessment tools, comprehensive data and action policies to mainstream gender in climate policy and amend current policies and programmes.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently working to create a gender-balance in climate negotiations and policy, to rectify 'institutional, systematic and human-resource'[1] related capacity building measures within the Convention. To reduce the effects of climate change, the UNFCCC requires the inclusion of gender-responsive climate policy in the new climate change global agreement ("Paris Agreement") to e adopted by the Parties at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21).


Lima Work Programme:

During December 2014, the Lima Climate Change Conference recognised strategies implemented by women to uphold household duties, to adjust to the effects of climate change. These coping strategies continue to be used, especially in the developing world, to help women adapt to the effects of climate change which are causing difficulty in carrying out typical daily tasks. The adaptive knowledge of these women has enabled the development of innovative skills to combat indirect evolution; and has further encouraged global institutions to recognise the importance of the first-hand knowledge women can contribute to finding a solution to rapid climate change.

Although these strategies have been recognised by the UNFCCC, women continue to remain underrepresented in the global community. Women are largely marginalised from the decision-making at all levels of climate decisions, locally, nationally and globally. To counteract the climate change inequalities, the Parties to COP 20 adopted the Lima Work Programme on Gender, to familiarise the Convention with the important role women have to play in responding to climate change. Women are at the centre of this program and are encouraged to participate equally and be ‘actively engaged in the planning, implementation and decision-making processes’[2] of climate mitigation actions. 

The absence of female involvement in climate discussions and policy-making can be largely afforded to the victim mentality which has been directed by active leaders and participants to view women more as victims of climate change, than as confident contributors to solutions and responses of climate change. The Lima Work Programme has been established to increase the participation of women in the UNFCCC to prevent the predictions of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance that presumes a ‘Lack of attention to women’s needs may lead to interventions that reinforce existing gender inequalities and deepen the negative effects women experience’[3] The UN is working to motivate women and girls alike, to become ‘key actors, contributors, and agents of change in climate initiatives.’[4] 

In-Session Workshop Report SBI 43:

In response to the request of the Conference of the Parties in regards to the Lima Work Programme on Gender, decision 18/CP.20 was upheld in Bonn in June 2015. The secretariat organised an in-session workshop on gender-responsive climate policy with a focus on mitigation action and technology development and transfer during the forty-second session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 42). The in-session was composed of discussions surrounding gender mainstreaming in climate change mitigation and technology development and transfer, as well as applying gender-responsive measures to synergy work to strengthen the awareness and tools and methodologies used to practice the most efficient gender-responsive climate policies and actions.[5]

Session I of the workshop, of the in-session workshop report for the forty-third session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 43) defines gender mainstreaming as, ‘the integration of the gender perspective into every stage of policy processes – design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation – with a view to promoting equality between women and men. It means assessing how policies impact the life and position of both women and men and taking responsibility to reassess them if necessary’[6]. Further clarification of key terms and concepts in relation to “gender” can also be found in the Annex of the in-session workshop report for the SBI 43.

“Gender-Blind” Mitigation:

Due to failure to account for gender issues in mitigation and adaptation approaches, past initiatives have proved unsuccessful, time and time again.[7] Professor Margaret Alston, Head of the Department of Social Work at Monash University believes that ‘while women should play a greater role in the formation of climate change policy, climate change is largely gender blind.’[8] From this assumption, the general essence of mitigation projects and programmes[9] can be altered to achieve gender-responsive programming that considers and measures the impact of gender norms, roles and inequalities.[10]

Programs such as clean energy for household lighting or cooking[11] go beyond raising gender-sensitivity and awareness, to acknowledging and acting on the gender inequalities observed in previous mitigation actions. Gender-sensitive mitigation actions which consider possible impacts to gender equity in the early stages of planning projects[12] such as where revenues will progress to can be used as strong contenders to achieving gender-sensitive mitigation actions in climate change.

“Equal-Gender” Opportunity and Participation

Deputy Executive Secretary, Richard Kinley, of the secretariat, opened the in-session workshop in accordance with the agreement set out by the Lima Work Programme on Gender.  This session was marked as the first mandated event for the Lima Work Programme on Gender and strongly focussed its attention on emission reductions and the advancement of low-carbon development.[13] Within Section III of the Report on the in-session workshop on gender-responsive climate policy with a focus on mitigation action and technology development and transfer (SBI 43)[14]the Deputy Executive Secretary recalled that, until now, gender-related discussions in the UNFCCC process have mostly taken place in the thematic area of adaptation. He noted that, ‘the thematic area of mitigation has some catching up to do.’[15]

His opening remarks stressed the need for gender-responsive climate policy to incorporate gender-sensitivity in mitigation actions, in a way making ‘it possible for women to be the drivers of climate action and ensure that implemented climate actions better the lives of women around the world.’[16] In an effort to ensure ‘gender-sensitivity’ is actually played out and implemented by participants, the Deputy Executive Secretary suggested participants use the in-session workshop report to incorporate the ideas held in the discussions into their own national and organisational policies and actions.[17]

Women in the UNFCCC

Gender mainstreaming requires countries and UNFCCC bodies to assess how policies ‘...impact the life and position of both women and men and taking responsibility to reassess them if necessary.’[18] Climate change policies do not necessarily need to be based on gender, however, the UNFCCC and its Parties to the Convention seek to mainstream gender into mitigation action, so that it is no longer viewed as a requirement, but is instead an automatic response to climate change policy compositions. 

In Travel patterns and environmental effects now and in the future: implications of differences in energy consumption among socio-economic groups, Carlsson-Kanyama and Linden state that ‘...women appear to be more supportive to an increase in the information supply whereas men are inclined to more often name tax incentives and actions on energy standards as public authorities’ priorities.’[19] In this observation, Carlsson- Kanyama and Linden offer a direct compilation of reasons the recognition of “gender” and “women” should be confirmed in all climate mitigation actions. “Gender” should no longer be a factor that is ‘added,’ to climate change policy. In 2015 it should form the basis of every stage of policy, to incorporate gender-sensitive programming within the Convention. 

A visual framework of the benefits of mainstreaming gender in mitigation action is highlighted in the following case study regarding the inclusion of gender in climate change mitigation policies in Latin America. In November 2014 in Lima, the gender and climate change branches of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), alongside the Agronomic Centre for Research and Investigation (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) (CATIE) organised the inclusion of gender in climate change policy-making, a central theme to the pre-COP 20 event on gender.[20] The event was established to discuss questions such as ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ with government representatives, consultants and NGOs working on incorporating gender in climate change policies and projects within Latin America.

The in-session workshop panel discussed the importance of countries sharing their own experiences, especially those countries that have effectively integrated gender equality into their climate change policies. Countries in Latin America can utilise this ‘trial and error’ information to mainstream gender into their policies and can use it to determine the ‘gender asset gap’[21] which is preventing women in their communities from engaging in climate change mitigation actions. For example, Tatiana Gumucio from CCAFS and CIAT, says that if the different vulnerabilities of men and women in climate change are acknowledged this could lead to providing ‘...women with the same access to resources as men, the number of people who fail to meet their basic food needs could be reduced by 12-17 per cent.’ [22]

The Importance of Public Participation

Socially disaggregated data collected from mitigation processes and resources shows a distinct gap in ‘...the lack of gender differentiated data regarding public participation...’[23] and public contributions to climate change mitigation projects, as well as the economic and social benefits of those projects.[24] Many original climate change mitigation projects disregard the social and economic surveys which assess conditions on the basis of ‘gender roles, responsibilities, and requirements,’[25] in their policies. As a result, it has been difficult to compare and evaluate these programs with the data now available. To prevent mitigation projects from excluding baseline survey and/or assessments as depicted in previous actions, mitigation projects now require their initial set up to be based on gender plans and ‘related targets and indicators to facilitate the collection of information needed to more fully evaluate and analyse the impacts of integrating gender and including women.’[26]

By including gender in the immediate development of these projects, the overall effectiveness of climate change mitigation activities will be improved, as well as the longevity and sustainability of such activities. The prosperity of such measures largely relies on the communities ‘...acceptance and use of new products and infrastructure facilities.’[27] Climate change mitigation measures are more likely to succeed because they meet the needs of different sectors of the public. This transfers into ‘Economic and social co-benefits, for men and women’[28] The concerns of governments and communities in developing countries are usually centred around the monetary wealth of the region, and so are more likely to assess ‘...the national and local economic and social impacts of climate-related programs and investments’[29]  than they are in investing to reduce their GHG emission levels.

To deviate from the prejudicial assessment of hard numbers related to expected emission reduction levels and return rates on investments,[30] ‘ and technical experts...’[31]  need to further observe ‘soft factors, such as cultural preferences and gender roles’[32] in their mitigation project developments. To such a degree, it would be worth considering the influence civil societies have in promoting public participation and acceptance of gender-responsive climate change mitigation actions.

Civil societies can place a significant amount of weight on the importance of accepting new low-emission energy technologies, transportation modes, and agricultural techniques by personally relating to the average person within the community. The personable status of civil societies can encourage countries and communities to adopt gender-sensitive climate change policies in their mitigation actions.

Current Policies and Programmes

Mitigation remains without the direction of a guiding mandate on gender-sensitive mitigation actions which is specified in the Technical Guide for COP 20 which provided a report on ‘Existing Mandates and Entry Points for Gender Equality’ in Lima, 2014. This report determined that mitigation has the lowest number of decisions referencing gender, compared to other main areas of climate negotiations such as adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building.[33]

Below are the few response measures that have achieved gender-sensitive mitigation actions to combat climate change:

·      Mozambique mining and energy sectors[34]

·      Sudanese REDD-plus[35] program[36]

·      The energy sector in Georgia.[37]

·      Gender and energy in Western Africa, [38] and;

·      The role of women in the Ecuadorian Amazon to create and maintain biodiverse forests.[39]

A significant case study on gender mainstreaming in mitigation action is the REDD-plus (REDD+) program in the Sudan. The United Nations REDD Programme refers to REDD+ as a ‘...mechanism being developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reward developing countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’[40], which was first established by the UN-REDD Programme. The idea behind the creation of the REDD+ mechanism is to generate a‘...incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, and in so doing contribute to conserving biodiversity and to the global fight against climate change.’[41] In addition to the environmental benefits, REDD+ also offers social and economic benefits.

In the Sudan, a consultation was required with communities in five Sudanese states, as well as the involvement of women in these consultations to effectively utilise REDD+ discussion forums. The underlying principles of REDD+ in the Sudan were to identify linkages between the lives of women and their livelihoods which depend on the forests. It was important for REDD+ to identify the priorities of the affected communities, and thus mainstream gender into the livelihoods of women, recognising that in the Sudan, women most commonly rely on the production of firewood and gum Arabic. This also ‘afforded the communities an opportunity to understand what REDD+ means for them.’[42]

The REDD+ project in the Sudan operated to assist men and women, and boys and girls to participate with other vulnerable groups in REDD+ activities that link the forests to the livelihoods of their communities. REDD+ made significant strides in improving community attitudes towards women through consultation workshops that established joint discussions between men and women on how climate change is affecting their community. Discussions such as this are not common; however they provide the community with equal opportunities to help remove gender barriers which often prevent different sectors of the community, such as men and women, from equally sharing their experiences and knowledge.

Dr. Mey Eltayeb Ahmed, the Climate Change and Gender Adviser for Sudan, concluded in Session II of the workshop that gender mainstreaming climate change mitigation actions requires ‘...multi-track cooperation and coordination among policymakers, United Nations agencies, the private sector, donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community based organisations.’[43] To mainstream gender in REDD+ activities in the Sudan, Dr. Ahmed proposed that raising awareness is key to introducing capacity building measures such as networking and advocating and identifying new sustainable solutions research,  as well as assessing solutions and sharing knowledge of the best practices and financial support available to the community.[44]

Mainstreaming Gender

In the Bonn session, there was a general discussion regarding the challenges faced by countries implementing gender-responsive policies and programmes to mainstream gender in UNFCCC mitigation policies and programmes to mainstream gender in UNFCCC mitigation processes and mechanisms. An important subject within the discussion was ensuring countries and the UNFCCC do not blur the lines between reducing gender gaps and reproducing inequalities. This means that when mainstreaming gender, at both a global and national level, the UNFCCC and participating Parties need to accurately determine the wealth behind the meanings of 'gender' and 'women'.

The idea behind gender equality is to equally meet the needs of both men and women and assure there are an equal number of female representatives just as there are male representatives, at all levels of climate change discussion and policy-making. It would be a contradiction to the terms of equality to address this issue by singling out 'women' and further holding their needs above the needs of men and other vulnerable groups.[45] The session emphasised that ‘...gender equality should be treated as a human right, as opposed to including superficial related language in project activities.’[46]

Respectively, UNFCCC institutions and mechanisms were promptly discussed in relation to sovereignty issues regarding the capabilities of institutes and mechanisms reaching out to countries, through ‘...NDEs in the case of the CTCN [Climate Technology Centre and Network], to encourage them to consider gender issues at the design and development stages of projects.’[47] A market mechanism such as the Clean Development Fund (CDM) which was established by the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund which ‘...allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2,’[48] could alternatively leverage the relationship between the buyer and the seller ‘ encourage the inclusion of gender responsiveness in projects.’[49]

All UNFCCC decisions should ideally include specific references to gender considerations, as pin pointed in the effectiveness of mainstreaming gender in the mitigation actions of UNFCCC institutions such as the Green Climate Fund. The mandate for the GCF states that the Fund should adopt a gender-sensitive approach in its work. According to Decision 3/CP.17 ‘...women should be part of the design and implementation of activities financed by the fund,’[50]  to involve women in all aspects of climate change mitigation actions. 

The fund has also adopted the request found in decision B.05/22, which the Secretariat prepared in document GCF/B.06/13 Options for a Fund-wide Gender-sensitive Approach as per the mandate of its sixth meeting, to include ‘...gender in the operational modalities of the fund and to draft a gender policy and action plan...’[51] Moreover it is made operational through six principles which intend to commit the Fund to carrying out gender equality and equity in all its practices and most importantly, the institutional framework on which it is based. The principles work as a set of expectations rather than guidelines, to ensure the GCF is held accountable to ‘...achieving gender-sensitive rules and outcomes...’ [52]

It should also be noted that GCF has implemented an open channel to bridge the gender gap, particularly in countries that have not adopted a gender approach or inclusion into their policies. This open channel allows countries to request support on gender issues in relation to capacity building and training, to help effectively mainstream gender into their projects. 

Suggested COP 21 Response: The “Paris Agreement”

In June, the panellists to the in-session workshop called for clarity over the language used to explain gender equality, and again in the anticipated 2015 Paris Agreement. To achieve this outcome in the Paris Agreement, the Parties need to consider the objectives of the in-session workshop, as well as the list of anticipated outcomes the in-session workshop provided for mitigation action at COP 21. That is,

Increase the understanding of key gender related terms and concepts among delegates and civil societies alike.

Further clarify steps and processes involved in mainstreaming gender and include '...gender analysis results to inform climate policy and action.'[53]

Raise awareness of gender-responsive measures in UNFCCC processes, institutional climate change mitigation actions and mechanisms.

Inform Parties of the most efficient practices used to develop and implement gender-responsive climate change policies. The UNFCCC should provide the Parties with the most successful tools used to mainstream gender in mitigation practices, and advise on the lessons learned in this process.

Identify '...gaps in knowledge and challenges in implementation of gender-responsive climate policy;'[54] and;

Provide 'Guidance on next steps to advance gender-responsiveness in climate policy.'

The objectives and anticipated outcomes of the in-session workshop can also be afforded to the proposals set out by the European Council. The areas set out by the Council relate to issues on gender and mitigation and highlight important focus points that need to be clarified within the text of the Paris Agreement. The EU's tenth desired outcome of the Paris Agreement, intends to amend the moratoriums of the in-session workshop by introducing '...fair, ambitious and quantifiable mitigation commitments by all Parties, consistent with the UNFCCC's principles applied in light of different national circumstances and evolving economic realities and capabilities.'[56] To achieve the submissions to the Parties, the European Council furthermore '...stresses the importance of human rights, gender equality, a gender-sensitive approach, a just transition of the work force, decent jobs, education and awareness raising as well as ensuring food security in the context of climate action.'[57] 

Some participants in the in-session workshop suggested the need for ‘...a central repository of good practices and lessons learned from failures related to gender mainstreaming is needed to build up a data collection that can be used by all Parties.’[58] In this instance, to successfully instrument gender sensitive mitigation action in the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC COP 21 needs to officially address the current gender inequalities within its mandate, which contribute to delays in achieving gender equality in climate change policy.


The developing world has long awaited the inclusion of gender equality practices in climate change mitigation actions. To respond to the differing effects climate change has on men and on women the Paris Agreement should therefore adopt the concept of gender-mainstreaming in every stage of its decision-making and discussions. The lack of female participation in UNFCCC decision making processes and policy-making maintains the disproportionate affects of climate change on women, and creates further gender-barriers between men and women within poorer communities.

It is therefore imperative to the climate issue that the UNFCCC not only recognises the need for gender-sensitive policy measures, but also addresses the different roles and responsibilities of men and women, in respect to their varying cultural practices - legally and economically. Analyses of gender assessment tools, comprehensive data and action policies should be used to mainstream gender in all preparations for mitigation commitments and mechanisms. Mitigation actions such as the GCF, REDD+ and CTN work as a forefront to achieving gender-responsiveness in UNFCCC processes and mechanisms by managing the risks associated with mitigation action in developing countries. Networking between developing countries can create a viable means for communities affected by climate change to work together and share the challenges and overall experiences they have had in integrating gender-responsive climate policy in mitigation. Countries need to interact with one another to exchange information and develop successful tools and strategies that can be used to implement gender-sensitive climate change mitigation actions in communities, rather than constantly repeating the same mistakes that have allowed the multiple ineffective measures and resources to be used time and time again.

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