International climate justice, conflict and gender: scoping study

Scottish Government funded research report with ClimateXChange which concluded in 2022. It identifies areas of opportunity for policy makers to develop a gender responsive approach to international climate justice.

5 Global good practice addressing the climate, gender, conflict nexus

This section considers emerging good practice – much of it very recent – in how states and international organisations are seeking to address the connections between climate, conflict and gender in development programming and wider policy, again using the three levels suggested on page 13. Many of the initiatives described here are restricted to what we term level 1 and level 2: lessening the interconnected gendered impacts of climate change and conflict, and increasing the participation and leadership of women in climate change policy and decision-making. Only a few examples strive for impacts at level 3: structural transformation of the economic system and the promotion of more just, inclusive and sustainable economies. Still, they offer pieces of a roadmap for Scottish Government policy and practice to move toward feminist international climate justice.

The analysis begins with good practice in climate change related programming: how programmes to support climate adaptation or mitigation in other nations have been effectively attuned to the gender/climate/conflict nexus. It then turns to government policy. While the full range of government policies are potentially relevant, it focuses on three key categories: climate policy; peace and security policy; and corporate governance.

5.1 Programming at the triple nexus

5.1.1 Projects and programmes

In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, where the triple gender/conflict/climate nexus is in play, there is some evidence of programming which addresses climate change, promotes gender equality and contributes to conflict prevention and/or peacebuilding. The examples in Boxes 1 and 2 give a flavour of such programmes. Both recognise the gendered impacts of conflict and climate change and enable women's participation. Some begin to take steps in the direction of economic transformation towards more just, inclusive and sustainable economies.

Box 1: Supporting women in Colombia to mediate land disputes

A Mercy Corps project in Colombia supports women peacebuilders to resolve community disputes around land ownership and access to natural resources. Through training in both Alternative Dispute Resolution methods and GIS/GPS technologies and land titling procedures, women have been enabled to mediate title disputes so as to prevent conflict escalation, as well as participate in municipal plans and decisions regarding land use. While this Mercy Corps programme did not explicitly address climate change, improving natural resource management and land tenure systems are important to build resilience to climate shocks.[88] This project recognises the particular impacts of the war in Colombia on women and includes a focus on women's participation, leadership and economic empowerment.

Box 2: Building Sudanese women's capacity to resolve conflicts around natural resources

The UN Joint Programme on Women, Natural Resources and Peace implemented a project in Sudan to test and develop opportunities to strengthen women's political and economic empowerment through natural resource-related interventions. From 2016 to 2018, the programme worked to strengthen women's leadership in resource governance and natural resource conflict resolution.Women were given educational, technical, and financial support in land preparation and crop production, and training in natural resource conflict resolution skills. Gender sensitisation sessions and discussion forums were held with youth, men, and traditional elders, seeking to change the norms around women's role in conflict mediation processes, especially concerning natural resources.Women went from being virtually absent in resource mediation to being involved in three out of four mediation processes. Women mobilised through new forums, committees and projects in their communities – such as planting seedlings for soil conservation.[89]

Gender-responsive climate programming beyond conflict-affected contexts also provides evidence of good practice. Even if not in areas directly affected by conflict, programmes can still contribute to the triple nexus as well-designed programmes can promote human security as well as environmental sustainability and gender equality. An example here is the Quebec Government's International Climate Cooperation Programme, showing that sub-state development actors can be leaders in this regard (see Box 3).

Box 3: Québec's International Climate Cooperation Programme

In 2016, the Canadian province of Québec introduced its International Climate Cooperation Programme, now providing climate finance and support to projects in thirteen African and Caribbean countries, with a budget of some USD 21.5 million. The programming approach has similarities to Scotland's development programming, with its focus on climate justice, or "climate solidarity principles," which emphasise the links between poverty reduction and addressing climate change, and its partnerships approach with NGOs and local counterparts.[90]

The Programme recognises women's distinct vulnerabilities, linked to their roles in food production, and seeks to respond to them by prioritising economic development opportunities for women. It has a strong focus on a participative approach, highlighting the roles of women, and being led by the priorities of the host country.[91] The 2020 round of projects included one in Burkina Faso which seeks to develop leadership among young people and women to advocate for and exert influence to obtain access to land, which exemplifies the sort of activity which could contribute towards the more fundamental shifts of power and resources required for climate and economic justice.[92]

Another area of good practice is projects that encourage gender-inclusive employment in decentralized and green energy. Such projects do not just address gendered vulnerabilities, but include and empower women, and facilitate the required transformation from extractive economies to more just, inclusive and sustainable models (see Box 4).

Box 4: Women-led transition to decentralised energy [93]

In Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania, non-profit organization Solar Sister trains and supports women to deliver clean energy to homes in rural areas. Solar Sister has trained over 4,000 women in business, technology and leadership skills and supported them to sell durable and affordable solar-powered products and clean cookstoves in off-grid communities.

In South Africa, the non-profit GenderCC: Women for Climate Justice Southern Africa runs a similar project in an urban setting. Since 2016, GenderCC has worked in informal settlements and peri-urban areas in Johannesburg and Tshwane to train women to sell sustainable products such as smokeless stoves, solar chargers and cookers. The initiative also provides training in business skills and mentoring.

Programmes oriented to support women human rights and environmental defenders are a further model for good programming because, as well as supporting women's empowerment and leadership, they highlight and begin to address the power of extractive corporations. Box 5 is an example.

Box 5: Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay: Strengthening women environmental defenders through a digital and advocacy network[94]

'Defensoras Ambianales' empowers women environmental rights defenders from indigenous peoples and local groups in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, with a gender justice perspective. A network of over 1,200 women has been built, and an innovative mobile phone application launched to inform, connect, protect and communicate efficiently. This supports the protection of territories damaged by extractivism, agrochemical contamination and restriction of local actors' civic space. A Feminist School for Climate Action was established in 2021 to strengthen local knowledge, technical and advocacy skills for climate adaptation and mitigation, to improve the groups' resilience and amplify their demands. It aims to strengthen the political participation of women environmental leaders in international human rights and SDG frameworks.

This project is a partnership with Fondo de Mujeres del Sur, a fund that mobilises financial resources and provides technical and political support to grassroots initiatives that promote women's and LBTIQ+ people's rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Women and Gender Constituency's annual Gender Just Climate Solutions Award provides many more excellent examples of other programs which recognise gendered impacts, recognise the need for women's participation and leadership, including the importance of transferring power, wealth and resources to women, and in some cases, also include level 3, the encouragement of more just, inclusive and sustainable local economies.[95] Annex 3 on page 35 provides a selection.

5.1.2 Dedicated and pooled funding for women's organisations

One of the key demands of women's advocates in the climate space is for direct access to finance for community, youth, feminist and women's rights organizations and movements.[96] To enable this, some states assign funding to a gender/climate/security portfolio. The UK Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, for example, established a Gender, Peace and Security Portfolio in 2021, earmarking a tranche of funding for "gender-transformative interventions in climate-conflict programming" and seeking projects emphasising challenging root causes of gender inequalities and support for women's rights organisations [97] USAID has a global grant programme dedicated to the innovative application in environmental programming of approaches to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.[98]

An alternative model is to establish or contribute to pooled Women's Funds, many of which have been building and adapting their portfolios and funding approaches and developing new partnerships to address the climate crisis. In Women's Funds, vs. traditional government development programmes, grants are administrated closer to the grassroots, shifting funding more directly to women's organizations and feminist movements. Canada has moved to supporting Women's Funds, through providing the bulk of funding for the Equality Fund, the largest self-sustaining fund for gender equality in the world, constructed around principles of feminist grant making, investment, philanthropy, and governance and accountability. The Catalan Agency of Development Cooperation (ACCD)[99], offers a further example of feminist financing mechanisms: see Box 6.

Such funding mechanisms recognise the gendered impacts of climate change and conflict and, in delivering finance to women's organizations, represent a strong endorsement of women's participation and leadership and the importance of shifting power and resources to women. They tend not to involve explicit analysis of the transformations to the economy which would be required to address the root causes of climate change, conflict and gender inequalities, but they might facilitate such work by enabling women's organisations to set their own priorities.

Box 6: Catalan Agency of Development Cooperation

The ACCD provides a progressive model for development cooperation committed to "transformative economies" including feminist economies. It applies a gender and human rights-based approach across all its programmes, including attention to women's economic empowerment and support for women-led development initiatives. In its climate programming, it looks for "ecofeminist practices" that empower women and their organizations.

One way through which it concretely does this is by financing "women's funds" – currently in Colombia, Mozambique, Senegal and Morocco. Funds are granted to larger local feminist organizations, which then disperse them with technical and financial support, through grassroots women's movements. Smaller organisations formulate, implement, and execute their own "microprojects". This is hailed as a model for feminist and transformative cooperation,[100] albeit restricted to a fairly micro level. Some of the women's organisations' projects in Colombia focus on initiatives supporting climate action, such as recycling and manufacturing from waste agricultural materials.[101] ACCD also contributes to a pan-African Women's Fund that supports a series of programmes to support women climate defenders. [102]

5.2 Climate policy

5.2.1 Gender-responsive Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaption Plans

Increasingly Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaption Plans (NAPs) refer to gender, with provisions on supporting gender equality as a principle (and pointing to legislation, for example, ensuring women's rights), or making a commitment to gender-responsiveness in the design of policies, programmes, and practices. NDCs most commonly recognise the gendered impacts of climate change by positioning women as a vulnerable group – omitting guarantees of women's participation and leadership or the need for transforming economies. Even at the level of addressing impacts, many do not articulate specific gender strategies or actions, including gender outcomes in monitoring or allocating budget toward gender goals.[103]

From the perspective of developed states, Norway stands out as one of the few to include a reference, albeit short, to women or gender in its NDC: the section on planning processes refers to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act.[104]WEDO argues that this speaks to gender being rarely perceived as a relevant consideration in the context of mitigation strategies.[105] Annex 4 presents a range of examples of gender language in NDCs and NAPs. None of these are "ideal" models; ideally, NDCs and NAPs would engage meaningfully with addressing shared root causes of climate change and gender inequality through economic transformation. For fragile or conflict-affected states, their climate adaptation strategies and policies would take account of conflict and fragility risks, and consider the role of economic transformation and just, inclusive and sustainable economies in building peace.

5.2.2 Gender-responsive climate financing

The importance of strengthening gender integration in climate finance projects in developing countries is widely recognised. Attention is primarily focused on gender mainstreaming the four primary multilateral climate funds—the Adaptation Fund, Climate Investment Funds, Global Environment Facility and Green Climate Fund. These funds do have gender policies, yet much needs to be done to ensure they are comprehensively implemented, including that gender quantitative and qualitative results are monitored and reported.[106] Early analysis of the Green Climate Fund's gender integration highlights the need to ensure that all projects treat gender equality as a core determinant for successful implementation outcomes and avoid 'sidelining' gender considerations (for example, assigning gender components to specialized consultants not connected with the main project/program). In less than half the Green Climate Fund projects evaluated could women's groups/local groups/grassroots women access project/programme funding.[107]

Consolidated analysis of the extent to which bilateral development aid to address climate change integrates gender equality is available only up to 2014. Of the USD 26 billion of bilateral Official Development Assistance provided by OECD DAC members to address climate change in 2014, only 3% targeted gender equality as a principal objective, and 28% targeted gender equality as a secondary objective.Leading donors providing aid to climate change targeting gender equality were in overall sums, Germany, Japan and the United States; and in terms of proportion of gender-sensitive aid in climate focused aid, Sweden and Belgium.[108]

Almost none of the donor aid to the energy and transport sectors – which receive the greatest share – was reported as targeting gender equality as a principal objective.A key conclusion was that more needs to be done to improve opportunities for women to participate in the green economy, including development projects focusing on clean technology and renewable energy. The Solar Sister project described above in Box 4 was identified as a good model in this regard.

Political support for just and equitable climate financing is critical for the transformative change required to address the nexus of climate, conflict and inequalities, including gender inequality. This implies support for the 'polluter pays principle' in terms of developed countries' responsibility for historical emissions, and for loss and damage funding, with robust financial mechanisms to compensate communities for climatic impacts and avert future crises. Few states show systematic and sustained attention to these aspects of climate justice, or demonstrate acknowledgement of the ways in which they would contribute not just to addressing climate change but also to progressing human security and gender equality.

5.3 Peace and security policy

5.3.1 Women, Peace and Security

The most significant international normative framework connecting gender, peace and security is the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. The UN Security Council first linked climate change to the WPS Agenda in 2015, mentioning it within UNSCR 2242 as part of the changing global context of peace and security. The UN Secretary General's 2021 report on WPS called for greater efforts to address the linkages between gender, climate and security, and the participation of women and marginalised groups in natural resources policymaking and planning. It calls for support for the advocacy efforts of women's organisations and networks to address climate-related security risks, and for the protection of women environmental defenders, and highlights the importance of a gender perspective in climate financing.[109]

For development donor states, WPS National Action Plans often play an important role in setting priorities for development assistance related to women's participation and empowerment, gender justice and gender-based violence, especially in fragile and conflict-affected states. Nations' WPS National Action Plans are increasingly making mention of climate change. [110] Annex 5 provides some examples of this language. The US's 2016 National Action Plan, for example, had a stand-alone section on integrating climate change into the WPS Agenda. One of its outcome-level commitments for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), State Department and Department of Commerce was that gender issues be systematically integrated and evaluated as part of responses to climate change. It specifically committed to 'Promote the active participation of women in climate change negotiations […] including equal land tenure rights for women and men; and the capacity and empowerment of women to fully participate in the energy sector, including women working in energy policy and as clean energy entrepreneurs".[112] This type of policy language is useful at the level of promoting women's participation in climate processes, and where it includes also such issues as economic empowerment and land rights, can lend support to economic transformation.

5.3.2 Feminist Foreign Policy

Feminist Foreign Policy provides openings to address the climate/conflict/gender nexus in ways that advance climate justice. Sweden and Canada have taken some early steps in this regard.

Sweden's Feminist Foreign Policy has over the last two years gradually increased its focus on climate change. Its 2019-2022 Action Plan[112] commits inter alia to:

  • promote gender mainstreaming, the participation of women and girls, and women's and girls' full enjoyment of human rights (including sexual and reproductive health rights) in climate and environment action;
  • work to ensure that international and national climate adaptation strategies combat discrimination against women and girls and that the national action plans (nationally determined contributions) are prepared and implemented in dialogue with women and girls;
  • support women climate and environmental activists, including working to ensure their strengthened security and protection;
  • highlight the links between climate change, conflicts, human security, and the role of women and girls in sustainable development; and
  • push for gender equality work in the multilateral climate and environmental funds, and in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and work to ensure that women and girls are reached by climate adaptation fund initiatives.

Correspondingly, Sweden's 2018-2022 strategy for development cooperation for global gender equality and women's and girls' rights emphasizes the vital roles of women and girls as environmental human rights defenders and in promoting sustainable use of natural resources and food security.[113]

Canada's feminist development policy likewise makes links with climate change, identifying it as one of its five areas for action: "environment and climate action focusing on adaptation and mitigation, as well as on water management". Canada makes three broad commitments, as follows.

  • To support women's leadership and decision-making in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, resilience-building and sustainable natural resource management. Specifically, it commits to requiring that women participate actively in the design and implementation of any climate adaptation or mitigation initiatives that are funded wholly or in part by the Government of Canada.
  • To ensure that Canada's climate-related planning, policy-making and financing acknowledge the particular challenges faced by women and girls.
  • To support employment and business opportunities for women in the renewable energy sector, and to help ensure that climate financing is equally accessible to woman-led initiatives and enterprises.[114]

In tandem, Canada's climate policy sets out a range of measures to promote the transition toward climate-resilient economies, enhancing livelihoods - including for women and vulnerable people - in low-carbon, clean-growth sectors.[115]

Both Canadian and Swedish policy, thus, make commitments at all three of our analytical levels – recognising gendered impacts; supporting women's participation; and, to a certain, limited, extent (women's access to climate finance and business opportunities in the renewable energy sector), economic justice and transformation.

5.4 Governance of corporate activities, in particular, extractive industries

A key national and international policy dimension for international climate justice, and an important aspect of our level three, is for governments to reverse the negative impacts of corporate power on the environment, human security and gender equality.

There is a range of donor initiatives to support civil society in demanding corporate compliance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in contexts where extractive industries are implicated in human rights abuses (see Box 7 for examples). These tend to be focused only at levels 1, and perhaps 2, of our framework: addressing gendered impacts and women's participation; they mitigate the ills of extraction rather than transform them.[116]

There is, additionally, a range of policy initiatives that pro-climate justice governments can champion to hold polluting corporations to account, and to incentivise radical shifts away from climate- and community-destroying practices. Special attention is needed to ensure that post-war countries are not targeted by corporations taking advantage of weak institutions to embark on a "natural resource rush".

Feminist climate activists and others advocating for a global Just Transition identify the following as key to challenging the power and impunity of private sector actors that contribute to climate damage, whether at home or in foreign countries: [117]

  • a public duty on the extractive and fossil fuel sectors to tackle inequality and contribute a 'fair share' of the effort to prevent a breach of 1.5°C;
  • stronger international legal frameworks for corporate accountability, such as through the proposed UN Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights;
  • a legal duty on all companies to prevent human rights abuses – enforceable also against parent companies (as exists with bribery in some states);
  • obligations on companies operating in the global south to drastically reduce emissions, stop land clearing, deforestation and environmental pollution;
  • termination of the use of investor/state dispute settlement courts by corporations to sue countries for pushing environmental and financial regulation that endanger their (projected) profit;
  • measures to make manufacturers responsible for the afterlife of their products; and
  • withdrawal of diplomatic and other support to companies that cause ecological and climate harm.

Box 7: Multi-donor Security and Human Rights Implementation Mechanism strengthens gender-responsive oversight of the extractive sector[118]

The Security and Human Rights Implementation Mechanism (SHRIM) is a trust fund managed by Swiss organisation DCAF, committed to supporting the on-the-ground implementation of security and human rights good practice. It is supported by Switzerland, UK, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. Two of its recent projects connect women's inclusion, gender analysis and corporate accountability.

In many countries, including Guatemala, private security companies working for extractive companies commit human rights abuses.[119] Guatemala NGO Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarrollo Sostenible (IEPADES) conducted a gender analysis of the functioning of private security sector. From this, it developed a guidance document for extractive companies to use to assess the quality of the gender and human rights practices of its contractor private security companies. IEPADES presented the guidelines to members of the Guatemalan Voluntary Principles Working Group, which brings together NGOs, state and industry representatives to strengthen human rights compliance in the corporate sector.

Timorese NGO Fundasaun Mahein worked to foster a multistakeholder dialogue on the security and human rights risks for women of the Tasi Mane Petroleum Infrastructure Project (in the Timor Sea between Timor-Leste's south coast and Australia). They brought women together with government and security actors to discuss their concerns and engaged with public officials, including the Human Rights Ombudsman, and the wider public. For communities, the project improved their understanding of how to participate in grievance mechanisms and claims processes concerning the Tasi Mane project. As a result of Fundasaun Mahein's research and advocacy, the Police General Commander requested the Government to undertake a further review of the draft legislation concerning the Tasi Mane and consult the Council of Ministers to examine the issues they had identified.

The UN Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights is championed by Ecuador and South Africa, and supported by many governments and coalitions including the Global Inter-Parliamentary Network, [120] and a number of countries are beginning to challenge the ISDS regime (Ecuador and South African again, and also Brazil, India, Morocco and Nigeria),[121] but progress towards constraining corporate power in these ways has been piecemeal.

Renewed calls to make 'ecocide,' or extensive destruction of ecosystems, a crime before the International Criminal Court speak to the need for individual criminal responsibility for environmental damage.[122] This proposal is reportedly supported already by the Belgian Parliament, France, island states including Vanuatu and the Maldives, and the European Parliament, and has been debated in the UK Parliament.[123] Whilst a new international crime of ecocide may have positive symbolic value, it should be remembered that the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is secondary to that of states. It is already the responsibility of national courts to hold its companies and those operating within its territory responsible for environmental and climate damage.



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