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Women’s Leadership: Critical to Securing the Paris Agreement; Essential to Fulfilling It

The Paris Agreement on climate change wouldn’t be what it is today without action from strong women from around the world. Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary during COP21 (and now WRI Board member), spent decades working towards an ambitious and equitable final text. New Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa now helms the Convention’s highest office and will be responsible for overseeing the Agreement’s implementation. High-Level Climate Champions Ambassador Laurence Tubiana and Minister Hakima El Haite will encourage climate action from state and non-state actors, with a specific mandate to amplify the voices of women in the UNFCCC process. And Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement Sarah Baashan and Jo Tyndall will prepare for the Agreement’s entry into force and convene the first meeting of its Parties, known as CMA1.

But as negotiators move forward with implementing this landmark climate agreement, it’s clear that gender equity still hasn’t fully permeated the climate talks. In 2015, the UNFCCC reported that female representation at COP20 amounted to approximately 36 percent of all national delegates and approximately 26 percent of all Heads of Delegations (a Party’s highest level of representation at the negotiations). At COP21, the Gender Composition report by the Secretariat showed those numbers dropped to 32 percent and 20 percent respectively. At the same time, women are disproportionately affected by the effects of a changing climate.

That’s a problem because gender equity and women’s leadership will be critical for implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement for several reasons:

  1. Women, especially poor women in developing countries, are often the most vulnerable to climate impacts as a result of social structures and existing inequalities. In fact, women and children are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters which are becoming more common as global temperatures rise.

  2. They also play a significant role in implementing climate action due to their role in providing energy, water and other resources for their families.

  3. Women are more likely than men to engage in environmentally sensitive behaviors, such as recycling, conserving water and using environmentally friendly products.

  4. UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report found evidence that when gender inequality is high, forest depletion, air pollution and other measures of environmental degradation are also high.

COP22 offers a number of opportunities to advance the role of women as agents of change in the climate community. COP22 will serve as a review moment for the Lima work programme on gender, a decision mandated at COP20 in Lima to increase gender considerations in decision-making. The opportunity to formally take stock of gender-related activities will be an important moment to highlight gaps and opportunities towards fulfilling this mandate. Furthermore, there are several high-level events on gender that can provide a space for this important conversation with state and non-state actors in Marrakech. The Climate Champions will host Gender Day on November 14th to bring attention to their mandate for gender equality, and the Women Leaders and the Global Transformation Summit, to be held on November 16th, offers an opportunity for leaders in the political and business worlds to share best practices, ambitions and ideas for the future and highlight female success stories.

Ever important will be the link to civil society, especially bridging from the Women and Gender Constituency of the UNFCCC, a coalition of civil society groups who speak as one voice at the negotiations. These groups are critical to pushing the ambition and accountability of state and non-state actors towards improved gender equality inside climate negotiations.

With efforts now turning from negotiating the Agreement to implementing countries’ national climate plans, we look to women to lead the charge for implementing those commitments. And now more than ever, we look to the international community as a whole to rally behind them for a just and sustainable future.

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