Climate change is not gender neutral: The need for a Just Transition

Post Date
18 December 2023
Emily Williams
Read Time
4 minutes
  • ESG advisory

There has been strong debate around the success of COP28 and the lack of ambition in moving away from fossil fuels, but even in this murky water, a light shines through – the launch of the Gender Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership.

This alliance, one which is long overdue, will not only put a Just Transition at the centre of its agenda but also place women at the heart of it all. In a powerful opening statement, Ina Parvanova, Director of Communications and Engagement at UN Climate Change, stated that climate change is not gender-neutral. Often, the narrative of climate change is all-encompassing, one that brings all humans together in a shared issue - which simply is not true. The global nature of the problem cannot be denied, but the distribution of the impacts are not equal.

Not only are those in poverty more adversely affected by climate change, but women and girls, particularly indigenous women and girls, bear the brunt of these impacts. Women make up the majority of the workforce in the agricultural sector, which is heavily impacted by climate change through droughts and flooding, as well as soil degradation and biodiversity issues.

Furthermore, women are overrepresented in the casual workforce within agriculture, meaning they lack the technology, finance, stable wages, and security within jobs. This compounds the issues posed by climate change, limiting the ability women have to build resilience. Already, women are disadvantaged when it comes to the labour market and economic growth and are unlikely to benefit from the growth that is expected in the new market economies born from sustainable work.

Just Transition has since expanded to cover many industries, but has traditionally been associated with the labour movement from high emitting industries such as oil and gas. As the demand for fossil fuels drops and some associated jobs are lost, there is a need to reskill and upskill workers to enable them to be part of the labour force within the so-called ‘blue’ and ‘green’ economy. Yet even when these programmes are set out, women are left out of the conversation. 80% of new jobs that will be required for the future sustainable economy will be within male-dominated industries, whilst only 20% will be in women-dominated sectors.

The approach taken to ensure a gender-responsive Just Transition has been led by The Netherlands and follows the 4 Rs - rights, representation, resources, and reality check (more accurately translated to pragmatism and addressing the cultural nuance). These four pillars are central to the themes of a Just Transition, ensuring that the outcomes are considered in collaboration with all key parties and stakeholders.

Whilst ensuring a Just Transition should be in and of itself a cause important enough to pursue, studies have shown time and again how much benefit can be gained from putting women at the centre of a Just and inclusive Transition. Finance ministers from The Netherlands and Rwanda spoke on the benefits that can be seen from investing in women, highlighting that resources that benefit women benefit whole households.

Women may be most affected by climate change, but they also have many of the solutions – they just lack the resources to enact them. Investing in women brings returns that benefit entire communities. The International Labour Organisation talks about ensuring a gender-responsive Just Transition and estimates that by 2030, 2% of work will be lost because of heat stress, and in moving to a sustainable economy, there must be an emphasis on creating inclusive and impactful jobs that are accessible to all. 12m jobs in Nigeria and 15m jobs in Latin America relate to climate policy but these are not likely to be available to men and women at the same rate. The job market is moving in the right direction, but gender equality is not following. We must continue to address women's needs and value their contributions, by creating jobs with dignity and jobs that women want that will enable them to support families. It is essential that not only do we ensure there is equal access to training and skills, but that there is equitable access to child and elder care. These are two of the key reasons why women cannot partake in the formal work economy. We need to value not only the contributions made by women in the workplace but also the unpaid labour women do.

It is imperative to include women in decision-making to recognise the value they offer. Women are active agents in their communities, possessing unique knowledge, expertise, and skills related to sustainable and resilient economics, and can bring this into the workplace.

Women bring the change; they have the expertise and the experience. Women's participation and leadership for Just Transition policies are essential, and all aspects need to be conducted in a gender-inclusive manner and formulated with and by women. The Just Transition and Climate Action Partnership intends to do just that, supported by the ILO and their continued work to enable and drive a Just Transition, illustrated by the mandated in session workshop on gender and a Just Transition at COP28.

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