Four steps that UK must take to put women’s leadership and gender justice at the heart of their COP26 Presidency

by 09th Oct 2020
People marching at #March4Women for gender equality and climate justice in London on International Women’s Day 2020 People marching at #March4Women for gender equality and climate justice in London on International Women’s Day 2020

The UK Government has a crucial opportunity to ensure women and girls are put at the heart of climate action as it hosts COP26 next year, the annual global climate change summit. But their recent decision to appoint an all-male hosting team for their Presidency puts their credibility into question. We are outlining four steps the UK government needs to take to ensure gender justice is central to their COP Presidency, and to drive implementation of bold climate action.

The evidence is clear that women’s equal leadership is essential for tackling crises. Where women are more equally represented, countries have adopted stronger climate change policies, and broadly are more likely to prioritise equality. Over the years, many women, including those from the global south, have played key roles in driving climate action and reaching agreements, but they haven’t been equally represented, and are outnumbered by men in key negotiating positions.

All governments, including the UK, have agreed through the United Nations Climate Change Convention Framework (UNFCCC) Gender Action Plan (GAP), to support women’s equal leadership. It states, ‘the full, meaningful and equal participation and leadership of women in all aspects of the UNFCCC process and in national- and local-level climate policy and action is vital for achieving long-term climate goals.’

The UK COP Presidency has also committed to being inclusive and considering diversity in whose voices are heard at the summit, which is very welcome. One essential way to do this is to continue to work with and listen to the Women and Gender Constituency. This is led by women’s rights organisations and is the platform through which observer organisations work to ensure women’s rights and gender justice are included in the UNFCCC processes and outcomes. The key demands they produced for previous COPs are examples of how to ensure gender justice is central to the agenda.

To ensure gender justice is central to the UK’s COP26 Presidency, CARE is outlining four steps they need to take:

  1. Lead with gender justice at the heart of a bold national climate policy - Failing to tackle the climate crisis and allowing global heating to rise above 1.5 degrees will impact on the world’s marginalised women the most, so the UK must ensure it’s own national plan (nationally determined contributions – NDCs) avoids this, and that they encourage others to do the same. COVID-19 recovery plans must also be in line with the Paris Agreement. Incorporating gender equality and addressing multiple inequalities will be key to making these plans a success.
  2. Build momentum with other countries to implement the GAP - The GAP gives clear guidance for how action on climate change should address gender inequality and include women’s participation and leadership. The UK should ensure that COP26 is a moment where progress can be highlighted and more action by governments is mobilised.
  3. Appoint a high-level gender champion to the COP26 team and ensure all leaders have gender equality as part of their mandate - The GAP encourages all signatories to appoint a gender focal point for climate negotiations and developing national policy. Ensuring this role is high-level and positioned in the UK’s top team could go some way to balancing out the leadership gap.
  4. Ensure climate finances reaches women on the frontlines responding to climate crisis - Women-led and women’s rights organisations are often delivering adaptation to climate change, or working to respond to climate emergencies in their contexts, but are not always able to access climate finance designed to support this. The UK could support the development of minimum standards for climate finance that would address this, and ensure that at least 85% of adaptation finance supports gender equality outcomes.

The truth is that the most marginalised women and girls are the most disadvantaged by the climate crisis, bearing the brunt of worsening droughts, floods, fires, and storms. This is especially true of those in the global south or those who experience inequalities such as those based on race, ethnicity or disability. This year, the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 have disproportionally fallen on marginalised women and girls as well, they are more likely to have lost jobs, and have seen increases in gender-based violence and unpaid care and domestic work. It really is a crucial time to ensure gender justice is programmed in to how we recover from and prevent future crises.

As hosts of COP26 and the G7 next year, the UK is set to play a central global role in galvanising action on the climate and COVID-19 crises. It is essential the UK leads domestic and global action to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, and focuses on sustainable and inclusive policies to recover from the pandemic. This means taking into account the multiple forms of inequality that cause marginalisation such as gender, race, ethnicity and disability, and working to actively reduce these through policies. Making sure diverse women are equally represented in decision making will make it more likely these inclusive and effective solutions will be found.

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Francesca Rhodes

I work in CARE International UK’s Advocacy and Policy team. I focus on gender and climate change, women’s leadership in crisis and am currently working on the COVID-19 crisis and CARE’s #SheLeadsInCrisis campaign. 

Previously, I worked on gender and economic inequality, women's labour rights, unpaid care work, feminist foreign policy and safe abortion. My particular interest is in feminist leadership approaches, policy analysis and development, campaign and advocacy planning, facilitation and programme development. I previously worked for Oxfam GB and Canada, and the UK Gender and Development Network.

Twitter: @frankirhodes