Climate Change and Gender Justice – COP28 talks empty rhetoric without means for Implementation

By Ruchi Chaudhary

My very first COP – COP28 – at Dubai, was a huge eye-opener. It was a great revelation on how high level negotiations at the international level are held, and how important it is for more women to be out there, speaking on behalf of those most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change – women and children from poor and developing countries.

I saw a multitude of women from all walks of life, representing least developed countries, and small island developing states, countries of Africa, and South Asia – all the countries they belong to are among the most threatened – their very lands are under threat from extinction due to rising seas. Each of these women spoke eloquently at the multiple side events at COP28 organized by various constituencies. Each of them highlighted the differential and extreme impact of the poly-crisis today on women and children.

And it’s not just climate change, but wars between countries, air pollution and pollution of waterstreams/sources, all of these are impacting women and children most severely. In the area of conflict and war, women shared stories of sexual exploitation and torture, and how bombing of their area had forced them and their children to drink water contaminated with phosphorus and arsenic. Only much later did they realise that the soil and water sources around their area were all contaminated. There was no food and the water too was becoming dangerous to life.
 
Yet, not all was about desperation. At some events, women shared best practices of how women-led initiatives in their villages/ towns contributed towards recharging water reservoirs and water management systems that helped cope with the prolonged drought conditions. They shared how a shift to using climate-adapted seeds helped them sustain agricultural production, leading to reduced migration in their village. However, a major challenge they faced was in scaling up such adaptation initiatives and best practices as banks did not provide loans for investment projects associated with risks. Further, structural barriers and patriarchal systems also created hurdles for women to receive funding directly. Lack of education and low capacity to deal with extensive documentation to apply for adaptation or loss and damage funds by the people, especially women, who are most impacted by the climate crisis, still does not feature at all in climate change policies which continue to fall short in terms of gender responsiveness. Women are the primary resource managers in their families, and it is critical to invest in women as leaders and not mere recipients of services, and in developing their leadership skills and their agency. Just inclusion of women in policies and programs is not sufficient. To ensure their meaningful participation, it is imperative to ensure they are guaranteed a seat at the decision-making table. It is indeed unfortunate that the brunt of climate change and changing weather patterns is being borne most by the poorest, agricultural farmers who had contributed least to global emissions. Severe lack of water for irrigation due to prolonged periods of droughts, erratic rainfall damaging standing crops, or increased salinity of soil due to sea level rise, as well as floods rendering lands infertile or unfit for cultivation, forces people to migrate to safer and economically viable places; most often leaving behind families which include women, children, and the elderly. This, in turn, leaves women bearing the burden of working to provide for the family to make up for the ‘disappearing’ men, in addition to caretaking. In any given situation, women and children are more vulnerable to climate change when forced to migrate to areas that are often unwelcoming, making them more vulnerable and at risk of being exploited, with concerns for their safety and protection, due to facing increased violence and violation of human rights. It’s ironic that it’s these women who are among the people closest to nature – they serve the environment, plan, use and manage natural resources most efficiently and do not allow anything to go waste.
 
While COP28 in Dubai began on a note of hope, with the announcement of operationalisation of the loss and damage fund, and this was celebrated by many, the quantum of money put into the fund again became an area of concern. The funds were not sufficient to fully contribute towards even one single episode of climate catastrophe. Civil society organizations and developing countries from the global south have been pushing the agenda of climate finance for a phase-out of fossil fuels in a fair and equitable manner, and moving towards renewable sources of energy with doubling energy efficiency through common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). On the other hand, developed countries continued to advocate for the use of coal unabated, along with ‘false’ solutions such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which cannot tackle the urgent requirement to reduce emissions at a scale required to stay below 1.5 degrees. The clash between developed and developing countries on who pays for climate finance neither supports nor takes into consideration, gender responsiveness or applying the intersectionality lens to support the poorest of the poor who suffer the worst impacts of climate change, both in developed and developing countries.
 
While various climate finance instruments including the Adaptation Fund, Climate Investment Fund, Green Climate Fund among others, have explicit gender policy and gender action plans, their effective implementation has largely been a challenge. Most gender action plans at national levels end up as a set of activities for/with women’s group without clear gender- responsive progress indicators, hence they fall far short of the strategic interventions that would ensure long-term sustainability in building women’s agency.
 
It is time for a paradigm shift to move towards a world that is fair, equitable and gender-just. The traditional fabric of a fossil fuel-based economy promotes gender divide and wage disparity with largely men engaged in formal jobs, while women, if given a chance, are mostly involved in menial or informal work around the coal, petroleum or gas industry. A shift towards renewable energy systems also opens avenues for green jobs and provides an equal playing field for building capacity of both men and women in the green and clean energy generation and maintenance arena. The high-level negotiations at COP28 will have been a failure if the international cooperation committed at a global level fails to translate into action at the national level, pushing developed countries to raise their ambition on the principle on CBDR and funding developing countries to achieve their raised ambition with budgetary and technological resource flows. The COP platform should also look at the reduction of emissions and pollutants from war and unitedly create pressure to stop wars and thus further atrocities on women and children along with contamination of air and water

resources. The devastating impacts of war on the entire earth’s ecosystem, including climate, air, and water, has overwhelming consequences and if there has to be any climate or gender justice, it cannot be without peace and the upholding of human rights.

Ruchi Chaudhary is Program Manager, Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). She is an expert on child protection and safeguarding, gender equality and social inclusion, and innovative and gender-transformative programs.

This article is edited by Purnima Joshi