protester holding sign "Climate Justice for Gender Justice
Political action that deals with topics of climate change as if they were gender neutral leads to the reproduction of gendered insecurities. | Image: John Englart - Flickr | CC BY-SA

The 2024 Bonn Climate Change Conference: An opportunity to push gender responsive action

In preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference, held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November of 2024, subsidiary bodies will meet 3-13 June at the Bonn Climate Change Conference to decide which urgent issues shall be discussed in Baku. Compared to the early years of the UN Climate Change Conferences that were established in the 1990s, it is no longer controversial to see gender among the focal points. Gender has become an established topic to be addressed and the necessity of implementing climate policies in gender-responsive ways is widely recognized. Nevertheless, political practice still leaves much to be desired.                     

The UN Climate Change Conferences, which were introduced in the 1990s as decision making bodies to foster global climate change politics, involve a complex institutional system for knowledge exchange, multi-level stakeholder consultations, scientific, economic and political assessments. The subsidiary bodies – one in charge of Implementation (SBI) and one for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) – play an important role in this system: They discuss which issues should be seen as most urgent, and thereby prepare the decisions to be taken during the next Climate Change Conference. The subsidiary bodies meet twice a year, once in Bonn for preparations, the second time at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) when actual decisions are being made. This year’s meeting in Bonn is to take place 3-13 June and leads up to the November 2024 COP in Baku, Azerbaijan (COP29).

Among the crucial agenda items of the upcoming Bonn Climate Change Conference is the comprehensive review of the ongoing Lima Work Programme on Gender and the implementation of its Gender Action Plan (GAP). The review will be initiated in Bonn and shall be concluded in Baku. Given that existing gender norms, climate change and conflict have been shown to interact in complex, but mostly detrimental ways, the urgency of addressing this ‘triple nexus’ is undeniable. However, political discourse and practice still tend to lag behind the state of research. Looking back on the development of the Climate Change Conferences since their beginning three decades ago, we have seen progress in integrating gender perspectives. There are explicit references in National Action Plans and communications, the appointment of gender focal points, and the dissemination of pertinent reports and research. Instrumental for those achievements is especially the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), which has been working persistently to achieve their goals within the UN climate negotiations. Nevertheless, the translation of rhetoric and commitments into tangible action remains as yet inconsistent. Some actors, such as Russia, openly oppose the integration of gender perspectives. 

Although women and marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by climate change and related conflicts, their needs and demands are usually heard and addressed last. A glaring illustration of the disparity is the initial composition of the COP29 organizing committee that consisted solely of men. After heavy criticism in the media, a new list of members was published by the President of Azerbaijan without any comment, which now includes 29 men and 12 women. While this step may be seen as a positive signal and indicate a certain inevitability to meet international expectations pertaining to gender balance, it does not do away with the ongoing routines of gender blindness in international climate politics. The dominant binary understanding of gender is in itself a further example: As mentioned above, women and girls are in fact among the most vulnerable groups who are affected by climate change in very specific ways. But the picture is really by far more complex. De Jonge Oudraat and Brown underscore this observation by emphasizing that “the starting point for analyzing the impact of climate change on humanity is understanding that the ‘pre-change’ societal baseline contains a multitude of intersectional inequalities, with gendered inequalities being at the top of the list”. It is hence not sufficient to just focus action on the female parts of societies.  

Gender blindness as political routine – at high expenses 

As in many other policy fields, gender blindness is also routine in negotiations surrounding measures to target climate change induced crises, even though it is evident on the ground that the specific impact of a crisis can vary depending on gendered power relations, gendered roles, and social identities. For example, particular factors in gendered labour divisions determine the higher vulnerability of women and other marginalized groups in performing traditional household tasks. The intricate manifestations are diverse and depend on social norms and role constructs. Women and girls frequently find themselves overburdened with unpaid labour and household chores. With the advent of droughts and rising temperatures, the workload borne by women and girls in the Global South typically escalates when they must traverse longer distances to meet their responsibilities, such as procuring water or firewood. Consequently, they face heightened vulnerability to gender-based violence, both outside their homes and within, exacerbated by tensions stemming from unmet social expectations and the sheer heat stress. Moreover, while women are often assigned important responsibilities concerning natural resources, institutionalized gender norms may nevertheless exclude them from participating in natural resource management and land ownership, thereby limiting their access and opportunities to engage in adaptive climate action. In sum, political action that deals with topics of climate change as if they were gender neutral leads to the reproduction of gendered insecurities – for all genders.

The finding that climate change has gender-differentiated impacts is not new. Closing one’s eyes to the existing body of evidence means the continuation of gender-based violence. The UNFCCC secretariat in 2022 highlights the important potential of women and marginalized groups to mitigate and adapt to climate change. While the report deals with the topic mostly by spelling out the risks of gender-based violence in concrete terms, it explicitly refers to the relevance of a gender perspective on the conflict dimension of climate change. The report states that, “gender-based violence is prevalent in areas of conflict that are also more at risk of experiencing extreme weather events; notably in Colombia, Mali and Yemen women and girls are particularly at risk of experiencing gender-based violence owing to the combination of adverse climate change impacts, environmental degradation and conflict”. Given that so many of the countries most susceptible to climate change are also experiencing conflicts and are therefore weakened in their governance abilities to adapt, the complexity of interconnecting and gendered human security threats is a crucial ‘triple nexus’ to address most urgently.

The Gender-Climate-Conflict Nexus

With a view to the nexus between gender, climate change and conflict, climate change phenomena create new risks and/or exacerbate already existing social frictions in families, communities, and countries, but also across national borders. Climate change has therefore  been recognized as multiplying human security threats, such as conflicts stemming from competition for scarce resources, the increasing risks of droughts and floods, rising social tensions resulting from rural-urban migration etc. Furthermore, increasing militarization and armed violence in conflicts have dire consequences for the environment. Crucially, however, and as explained above, there are a number of significant contextual factors besides gender, such as age, ethnicity, educational attainment, economic status, and concrete living conditions. These engender diverse experiences and particular impacts of climate risks, shaping individuals‘ and communities’ capacities to cope and adapt.

Existing feminist research on the issue allows us to better understand these impacts and, furthermore identify transformative potential because it points to gendered forms of hierarchies and inequalities. In the debate surrounding vulnerabilities, for example, it is often overlooked that systems of oppression, in this case most prominently patriarchy, do not only make some people and communities more vulnerable than others but systematically silence their voices and needs, ignoring their valuable knowledge and potential agency. An intersectional understanding of this structural and systemic condition of continuous violence is key to informing effective and more sustainable change processes. Evidence from feminist research underscores the significance of gender equality not only in environmental protection and climate change responses but also in enhancing societal security in more general terms. In this vein, the Women, Peace and Security Index (WPS) highlights a correlation with the Global Adaptation-Index (GAIN) which measures the preparedness of a country to respond to the effects of climate change. In other words, countries that perform better at securing the representation and rights of all genders also appear to be better at protecting the environment, promoting democracy and accountability. Considering these findings, it is imperative to adopt an intersectional gender lens in international climate negotiations and peacebuilding responses to climate-induced conflicts, and to move beyond state-centric approaches by amplifying the voices and needs of those that are the most impacted by climate change but often marginalized in defining responses. Climate change adaptation strategies that pay attention to intersectional inclusion are needed to further the agency of marginalized groups and (often indigenous) knowledge that is so much ignored in policy negotiations and practice.  

Outlook & Ways Forward

In spite of the impressive body of UN research on the importance of gender and resulting action plans, such as the Lima Work Programme, mitigation and adaptation strategies to the climate crisis are still mostly discussed in gender-blind ways. Not all people are affected equally by human-induced climate change. Instead, Singano reminds us that “we must acknowledge and address the underlying structures that drive both the climate crisis and rampant gender inequality. This is not about a single committee: gender injustice is a systematic issue that impacts all aspects of society, politics, and the economy.” Social structures, economic circumstances, and the gender differentiated distribution of resources, labour, and power determine not only how people experience but also how they are able to address the effects of climate change. For the time being, women and climate advocates summarize that “prevailing gender norms, existing inequalities and their unequal participation in decision making processes often prevent women from fully contributing to climate solutions”.

Only by systematically taking stock of the differentiated impacts of climate change on individuals, families and communities with an intersectional gender perspective can we shed light on the dynamics at work, centre the needs and demands of those most vulnerable, tackle the root causes of related conflicts, and inform more sustainable and gender-just conflict resolution and climate change adaptation practices. To meet this end, it is essential to implement gender-responsive policies that recognize the local, in many settings indigenous knowledge, e.g. regarding heat resisting crops. This will ensure gender-inclusive representation of vulnerable groups in climate governance and institutionalize capacity-building, knowledge management and communication in a gender-balanced approach. For the upcoming Bonn conference, the review of LWPG and the GAP should focus on remaining deficiencies and shortcomings of putting the programs into practice. In particular, the translation of global politics into gender-transformative national and local practices seems to be of utmost importance as should be efforts to achieve its sustainability. This also means ensuring sufficient financial resources as well as bringing women and feminist civil society to the negotiation tables. It also includes the recognition of gendered practices of climate protection as well as addressing the underlying structural and systemic power inequalities. With so many countries implementing National Action Plans for the WPS Agenda, and with others having announced feminist foreign policies, the critical mass should be there to translate words into real action in gender-sensitive climate politics.

Sabine Mannitz
Dr. Sabine Mannitz leitet den Programmbereich „Glokale Verflechtungen“, ist Vorstandsmitglied am PRIF und PI im Forschungszentrum „Transformationen politischer Gewalt“ (TraCe). Sie forscht u. a. über Prozesse des Wandels politischer Kultur, soziale Identität und Erinnerungskultur/-politik. // Dr Sabine Mannitz is head of the research department “Glocal Junctions”, a member of PRIF's executive board and PI in the Research Center “Transformations of Political Violence” (TraCe). Her research fields include processes of change in political culture, social identity and practices of remembrance/remembrance politics.
Clara Perras

Clara Perras

Clara Perras ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin in der Forschungsabteilung „Glokale Verflechtungen“ bei PRIF. Ihr Forschungsinteresse gilt feministischen Ansätzen in der Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, insbesondere zu Gender, Frieden und Sicherheit, internationaler Cybersicherheit und feministischer Außenpolitik. // Clara Perras is a researcher at PRIF’s “Glocal Junctions” research department. Her research interest include feminist approaches to peace and conflict studies, especially on Gender, Peace and Security, International Cybersecurity and feminist foreign policy
Simone Wisotzki
Dr. habil. Simone Wisotzki ist Projektleiterin im Programmbereich „Internationale Sicherheit“ am PRIF. Sie forscht zu humanitärer Rüstungskontrolle (Landminen, Clustermunition, Klein- und Leichtwaffen), Rüstungsexporten und Geschlechterperspektiven in der Friedens- und Konfliktforschung. // Dr habil Simone Wisotzki is project manager at PRIF’s Research Department “International Security”. She conducts research on humanitarian arms control (landmines, cluster munitions, small arms and light weapons), arms exports, and gender perspectives in peace and conflict research. | Twitter: @SimoneWisotzki

Sabine Mannitz

Dr. Sabine Mannitz leitet den Programmbereich „Glokale Verflechtungen“, ist Vorstandsmitglied am PRIF und PI im Forschungszentrum „Transformationen politischer Gewalt“ (TraCe). Sie forscht u. a. über Prozesse des Wandels politischer Kultur, soziale Identität und Erinnerungskultur/-politik. // Dr Sabine Mannitz is head of the research department “Glocal Junctions”, a member of PRIF's executive board and PI in the Research Center “Transformations of Political Violence” (TraCe). Her research fields include processes of change in political culture, social identity and practices of remembrance/remembrance politics.

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