State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate change finance as a tool for women’s empowerment

When gender is mentioned in the context of climate change, it’s generally to point out women’s greater vulnerability to climate change’s impacts. Indeed, women do tend to be more vulnerable than men, especially in less-developed countries, and they have different capacities to cope. The reasons for the gender differences include rights to home and land ownership, access to education and health care, participation in policy-making, knowledge of resources, training in disaster preparedness and many others.

This gender-specific vulnerability is important and should not be minimized, but another important (though less-addressed) issue is the role that women can play in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts—if they are given access to the right tools.

Here’s an example of what I mean by that, courtesy of a new report by the Böll Foundation.

The main policy tool for developing countries to mitigate climate change is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), through which industrialized countries can meet their own greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by financing emissions-reducing projects in developing countries, thereby “offsetting” their emissions. The CDM, though nominally designed to benefit all developing countries, is dominated by large projects in China, India, Brazil and Mexico—about 75% of the more than 1600 projects so far have come from these countries.

The flip side of that coin is that many of the world’s poorest people in Africa, South Asia and South America have seen little benefit from the billions of dollars each year that are transferred through the CDM. Women in particular have difficulty accessing these funds because they face societal and economic barriers to designing the types of large projects that CDM funders look for.

This mechanism, in the words of the Böll Foundation’s report,

because of its design as a market‐driven instrument for realizing the cheapest emission reductions opportunities – is clearly biased in favor of large emitter countries and large‐scale mitigation projects, leaving not only women’s efforts specifically, but more generally [least-developed countries] and smaller community‐based mitigation contributions woefully underfunded, unaccounted and uncompensated.

The complicated CDM application process and the fees associated with it also discourage small projects from applying.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. The fee structure can be rethought and the application process streamlined to facilitate more involvement from women and other disadvantaged groups. If community-level and small-scale projects like household energy generation, agriculture and food production could be bundled more easily, small-scale projects would be easier to invest in, and the agents who assemble these bundles could focus specifically on gender-inclusive approaches. And small-scale project templates, with pre-approved baselines, could be adopted and would enable women to imitate successful projects with relative ease.

This gender-equity approach is important not only because as a large, influential and self-propagating group, women could have a huge impact on the problem. It is also important that climate financing make a special effort to include women because it would help them navigate out of poverty—and as the report points out, climate mitigation is intimately linked with global development imperatives like ending extreme poverty.

The experience of Grameen Bank, the famed microlender, and other similar institutions, is instructive here. For these banks, women often represent more than 75% of loan recipients. Grameen explains that it is more effective to lend to women because “the overall output of development is greater when loans are given to women instead of men, as women are more likely to use their earnings to improve their living situations and to educate their children.” This gender disparity is likely to hold true for women recipients of climate mitigation funding as well.

The parameters of the CDM are up for re-negotiation at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Copenhagen this December, so there will soon be a chance to incorporate this gender-equitable approach into the international climate finance model.

If you have never considered climate change finance from a gender perspective (and, judging by the relative paucity of literature on the subject, many of us have not), take a look at the Böll Foundation report. In addition to the CDM improvements summarized above, it also offers ideas to bring women into the fold of finance for adaptation and reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation measures. Within each of these categories, it brings to light important considerations for the Copenhagen COP.

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15 years ago

Wow, this is interesting. I wonder who, or what, could initiate such a streamlining and fee-reducing approach to the CDM process.

Something that I have heard about and even observed myself is that women do a disproportionate percentage of the work that is done in this world. I don’t really know why, but it’s been obvious in my (only two, both tourist-oriented) visits to third-world countries that it’s all about the men, but it’s largely due to the women.

Thank you for your intriguing questions. Who’s pursuing the answers?

15 years ago

Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, seems an example of what you are talking about. Low tech, probably low budget when compared to the big, big projects, driven by women, and the result of their labors is the reforestation of large swaths of Africa.