Publication Inequality / Social Struggles - Social Movements / Organizing - Gender Relations - COP 25 - Climate Justice No Gender Justice on a Dead Planet!

A brief analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the COP25 gender decision and the Gender Action Plan

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February 2020

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Feministas contra el cambio climatico
„Feminists against climate change“ Copyright by Annabelle Avril (WECF) / annabelleavril.com

From the very start of the UN climate negotiations, feminists, gender experts and civil society groups have been fighting for climate action to have women’s rights and gender equality at its core.  A gender-responsive answer to climate change is important to strengthen the overall effectiveness of climate action and to make sure that it does not further exacerbate inequalities. A milestone in that regard was the adoption of the Lima work programme on gender (LWPG) in 2014 (adopted at COP20 and prolonged at COP22), as well as the gender action plan (GAP) in 2017 (adopted at COP23). Their aim was to advance the implementation of the mandates for gender equality that already exist under the UNFCCC, to institutionalize gender into all UNFCCC areas and support the implementation of gender-responsive climate action.[1]COP25, that took place in Madrid, had the mandate to adopt a new gender decision, referred to as the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its GAP.

By Nanna Birk, Patricia Bohland (LIFE Education, Sustainability, Equality) and Isadora Cardoso (GenderCC - Women for Climate Justice)

We, climate and gender justice civil society organizations and activists, expected governments to deliver a more ambitious and progressive gender decision. One that would build on the previous ones, advancing principles, activities and language with comprehensive, measureable, targeted-oriented and resourced actions.

The Pre-COP in Costa Rica put forward a good basis for this. However, already during the first days of the negotiations, our expectations were frustrated: instead of moving forward, countries started re-negotiating rights-based principles already agreed on the previous GAP as well as in the Paris Agreement, such as human rights and just transition. The unwillingness of fully incorporating the principles of gender equality and human rights constituted a serious roll back for people-centered and rights-based climate action at large. Also, the most fundamental means to implement any climate action, namely finance, became a very disputed issue. These bottlenecks put at risk the entire gender talks. Similar disagreements could be found also in other negotiation tracks during the conference, such as loss and damage.

After two intense weeks, the COP finally adopted the five-year enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan. In 2020, there will be an intermediate review and in 2024 governments will identify further work to be undertaken on this. Although not sufficiently goal-oriented and with many gaps in means of implementation, monitoring and financing, this work programme and the action plan are indeed increasingly advancing gender-responsive climate action. 

The 5-year LWPG and GAP boost the relevance of gender-responsive climate action

It is needless to say that the overall outcome of COP25 is deeply disappointing in many aspects. It falls short on real action on climate justice and on putting us on a 1.5°C pathway.  Still, the adoption of the enhanced Lima work programme including the gender action plan is a success. This decision elaborates on the vital role of gender-responsive climate action, already recognized by the Paris Agreement. The structure of the decision was continued: the enhanced LWPG as the decision and the GAP contained in the annex. The GAP maintains the five priority areas[2] with a set of objectives and activities, including a new specification concerning the level (international, regional, national, local) of implementation of the activity. It aims to advance the knowledge of gender-responsive climate action and translate it into climate action taken on by the UNFCCC Secretariat, governments, international organizations and other stakeholders. In comparison to the previous GAP, the objectives are phrased broader and entail more comprehensive activities which often go beyond capacity building and exchange of information.

Especially some parts of the enhanced decision are noteworthy. It “recognizes that 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” and states that “gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation of climate policy and action can enable Parties to raise ambition” (UNFCCC Decision CP/2019/L.3). With that, governments confirm that climate action must respect and promote gender equality and women’s rights for being effective. It also recognizes that gender equality is vital for achieving long-term climate goals and ambition. This understanding is the result of many years of work, advocacy and research from around the globe that shows that gender-responsive approaches are crucial to ensure that measures reduce emissions and respond to the needs of all people. The paragraph further reinforces what was decided in the implementation guidelines of NDCs in Katowice at COP24. It is the governments' responsibility to engage women’s groups and national women and gender institutions in the process of developing, implementing and updating their national climate policies. In this regard, the enhanced decision also calls on the leadership of women besides improving only their representation. For representation to be effective, it always has to go hand in hand with leadership. In fact, this is often missing when looking at for instance the negotiations and compare who is sitting in the rooms and who is speaking and placed in the first row.

Advancing intersectionality in the climate regime

The decision is a sort of milestone concerning the understanding that gender equality entails much more than women, which is something that women and gender activists are continuously advocating for. For the first time ever, a COP decision recognizes intersectional identities that people hold, including indigenous women: “climate change impacts on women and men can often differ owing to historical and current gender inequalities and multidimensional factors and can be more pronounced in developing countries and for local communities and indigenous people” (UNFCCC Decision CP/2019/L.3). While the acknowledgement of multidimensional factors means progress, we still see a need to increase its understanding, also concerning non-binary social intersections that impact the ways in which people mitigate and build resilience to climate impacts. If climate policies are blind to the various social and gender dimensions to people’s lives, they tend to further exacerbate inequalities (and less likely contribute to real sustainable development).

A few improvements in finance related matters and just transition

Looking at the important issue of climate finance, also some small successes were achieved. The need to make climate finance more gender sensitive is taken up in this decision as it “invitesrelevant public and private entities to increase the gender-responsiveness of climate finances with a view to strengthen the capacity of women”. One of the activities also features gender-responsive budgeting for the first time as a key means to implement national climate action in a gender responsive way. Especially governments from the global north need to increase their commitments to climate finance and realise their pledges in leading the transition to a fossil-free future in a gender-just manner!

Lastly, this decision mentions the concept of just transition twice and recognizes that gender equality can enhance just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs. This acknowledges that for a just transition, it is necessary to look at current socially constructed roles and sectors including unpaid care work.

However, there are still gaps in the GAP

Although all highlighted milestones achieved in this enhanced work programme and action plan, there are still significant weaknesses and gaps in the GAP. Indeed, a high share of activities do not go beyond capacity building and information sharing. After five years since the first adoption of a Lima work programme on gender, activities should have gone beyond that. Throughout the decision, gender is often used as a synonym for women. This is an anachronistic and inconsiderate approach of the many gender-non-conforming people who are increasingly demanding representation and visibility in the UNFCCC process and at the grassroots level (check out these videos produced by the “Not without us! Climate justice and gender justice in international climate politics” project showing the importance of including women and gender-non-conforming people in the climate movement). Contrary to our claims, this gender action plan still lacks quantifiable indicators and targets for measuring its progress. Without clarity on what we want to achieve within 5 years, there is a high risk that too little will be achieved too late. Above all, it is urgent that the financial commitments called upon in the Lima work programme are rapidly translated into concrete means to implement the GAP, otherwise it will be completely jeopardised.

No gender justice on a dead planet!

To make the Lima work programme on gender including its GAP a reality on the ground, from global north to south, civil society needs to hold governments accountable for their commitments and duties, and support decision-makers in tailoring climate action and the GAP activities to local realities. Governments need to ensure a just transition for the people and share the costs to prevent climate breakdown with the big polluters, companies at the foremost! If climate action and true commitment for raising ambition is further delayed or disguised by false solutions and by consciously creating loopholes - and this is the overall conclusion about what we could observe at this COP25, despite a climate action summit in September and despite growing protests from civil society, there will be no hope for gender justice. There won't be gender equality on a dead planet. So while this GAP is a critical tool, it is urgent to demand climate and gender justice from the entire process. 


[1] In fact, in only three and two years of implementation of the previous work programme and the GAP, respectively, we already noticed important improvements. For example, regarding the work of the UNFCCC constituted bodies, 7 of them demonstrated their progress towards integrating a gender perspective in their processes beyond gender balance, compared with only 3 in 2017. In addition, the nomination of national gender and climate change focal points has helped to increase commitment and ownership for gender by the countries themselves. More examples of progress made can be found in the UNFCCC Secretariat reports “Executives summary on the implementation of the Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan” and “Synthesis report on the implementation of the Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan” accessible here: https://unfccc.int/topics/gender/events-meetings/gender-in-the-intergovernmental-process/LWPG-and-GAP-review#eq-4

[2] Priority areas: A. Capacity-building, knowledge management and communication, B. Gender balance, participation and women’s leadership, C. Coherence, D. Gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation, E. Monitoring and reporting.