Mary Robinson: There is no climate justice without gender equality

When it comes to climate crisis, we ignore half the world’s population at our peril

Just a few days after the close of climate Cop27, we can describe the outcome as a contrast of light and shadows. The establishment of a special fund for “loss and damage” in response to the devastating effects of climate-related disasters was a hard-fought-for silver lining.

However, the loss and damage we see now are only a foreshadowing of what is to come if we do not take the immediate and urgent action needed to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The omission of language in the Cop27 outcome on the need to phase out fossil fuels is of huge concern. We must cut emissions by 43 per cent before 2030, and achieve net zero by 2050, but the biggest emitters are failing to do what is needed to reach these critical milestones. If inertia on the climate crisis persists, we will see countries disappear from the map and others face increasingly extreme weather events. One of the gravest injustices of this crisis is that the majority of the communities most affected by the impact of climate change are those already living with a litany of other disadvantages.

Cop27: What was agreed and what difference will it make?

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In considering climate justice we must recognise that the climate crisis is multifaceted and exacerbates other entrenched inequalities. The phrase, “the climate crisis is not gender neutral”, has become a mantra in climate and women’s rights spaces in recent years, acknowledging the unprecedented impact that women and girls experience. Climate change poses a real threat to women’s livelihoods, health, and safety. In many parts of the world fuel, water and food security largely depend on the activities and access of women and girls. At the same time, women should not be seen merely as victims — they are the farmers, entrepreneurs and custodians of natural resources as well as the carers of the young and the old. Women are also innovators in finding solutions and building resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

A coherent, proactive approach to gender-just climate action should be a crucial component of the work of climate Cop [Conference of the Parties] negations. At Cop27, the final outcome for ensuring gender equality is fully integrated into climate action at all levels is also a case of both light and shadow.


During Cop20 in Lima, Peru, the first gender work programme was established through a formal decision of the conference. The decision called for gender-responsive climate policy and action, three years later, during Cop23, a Gender Action Plan (Gap) was established. Progress was reviewed during Cop25 in Madrid and at Cop26 in Glasgow, all parties agreed to the strengthened implementation of the Gap. Progressing the multilateral agenda on women, gender and climate justice has historically been a combination of ensuring a formal space in intergovernmental negotiations and the vibrant participation of civil society and the gender equality and women’s rights movement.

The final text calls for the need for gender-disaggregated data and greater gender parity in climate-related negotiations and decision-making

Despite these efforts, progress on climate and gender-related decisions remains largely insufficient: underrepresentation of women in the bodies established under the UN Climate Convention persists; there is a painful lack of gender-disaggregated climate data; as well as weak evidence on gender and climate budgeting, financing and capacity building.

At Cop27, there were strained negotiations regarding progress made on the Gap. There was some headway made in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh on the explicit connection between gender-responsive climate action and a just transition to low carbon economies. The final text calls for the need for gender-disaggregated data and greater gender parity in climate-related negotiations and decision-making. However, the flip side is that the conference only “takes note” of the budgetary requirements for the implementation of the plan. When it comes to the means of implementation, the decision is impervious and non-committal.

As Chair of The Elders, and a member of GWL Voices [Global Women Leaders Voices for Change and Inclusion], I strongly believe there must be concrete, urgent actions undertaken to ensure climate action and solutions put women centre stage by:

  • Improving the representation of women in national delegations of climate negotiations and all other climate-related public, private and civil society-driven processes and agreements. The voices of women must be heard;
  • Encouraging the participation of, and investment in, indigenous and rural women who are key agents and knowledge holders for nature-based solutions, resilience building and the stewardship of critical ecosystems;
  • Including gender-sensitive disaggregated data when countries report on progress in their emissions reduction reports and adaptation commitments;
  • Ensuring all efforts to transition to low carbon economies fully include women at all stages: from decision-making to capacity building, from investment to policy design and implementation;
  • Guaranteeing climate finance and investment is gender and women’s rights sensitive, including the recently established fund for loss and damage.

We know that there will not be climate justice, nor the solutions and innovations we need for a safe future, without gender equality: we ignore half the world’s population at our peril. Too many women and girls still live in the shadow of the climate crisis, with numerous barriers preventing them from stepping into the light.

While some outcomes of Cop27 provided a sorely needed reminder that change is possible when co-operation and solidarity come before self-interest and nationalism, as young Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti said: “Cop27 may be over, but the fight for a safe future is not.”

  • Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland