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Report of High-level Roundtable:
How a changing climate impacts women

The Council of Women World Leaders, Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), The Heinrich Bцll Foundation

21 September 2007

SARPN acknowledges the Heinrich Boll Foundation as a source of this document:
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The Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL), the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) and the Heinrich Bцll Foundation North America organized a high-level roundtable entitled “How a Changing Climate Impacts Women” on September 21, 2007 at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations. The roundtable was a landmark event, one of the first high-level sessions to focus on the linkages between gender equality and climate change.

The roundtable was organized in anticipation of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Climate Change Event and was successful in putting gender equality and women's participation on the agenda of the Secretary-General’s climate change team. The Secretary-General’s event brought together 80 heads of state, as well as numerous ministers, with the intent of sending a message of political support for the negotiation of a stronger international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Policy recommendations on gender and climate change were distributed at the roundtable and endorsed by over 40 organizations globally (see policy recommendations on page 11).

The roundtable convened a diverse group of over 60 government, UN, and NGO representatives (see Annex for full participation list). The featured speakers included:

  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change;
  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and Chair of Council of Women World Leaders;
  • Lorena Aguilar, Senior Gender Advisor, World Conservation Union (IUCN) and Board member of Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO);
  • Irene Dankelman, Board Vice Chair, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO);
  • Laura Liswood, Secretary General, Council of Women World Leaders; and
  • June Zeitlin, Executive Director, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
Roundtable participants recognized that while there are no references to gender in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate change is not gender neutral. The gender aspects of climate change are a matter of justice, human rights, and human security. Progress on achieving the MDGs has been slowed or reversed to due to climate change, including gender equality goals. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers at the country level do not address the linkages between gender equality and climate change. It is not an oversight that gender isn’t being addressed, but instead part of a systemic problem of societies and governments marginalizing women.

Participants shared experiences from Honduras, Senegal, Uganda, Thailand, Suriname, and the US (New Orleans) showing the gender dimensions of climate change and how women’s participation is critical. Women have been adapting to environmental change for generations, long before scientists gave it a name. Women are agents of change, inherent problem-solvers, long-time leaders on poverty eradication and sustainability, and the best poised to contribute to climate solutions. Women have already made a visible difference in disaster responses. Poor women are the most affected by climate change, but the gender and climate change dialogue should not be limited to a focus on women as victims. The roundtable also touched briefly on the linkages between gender and mitigation, specifically a study from Sweden indicating gender differences in contributions to greenhouse gases.

The roundtable was also a call to action on gender and climate change. Gender equality is a critical component of responses to climate change at all levels—rather than isolating gender equality from other core development issues, it should be integrated in all aspects of climate change planning and decision-making. National and global policies should incorporate the gender aspects of climate change, guided by the many global agreements on gender mainstreaming and human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This will require improved international environmental governance structures, cohesion between UN agencies, as well as tools such as gender-specific indicators to guide national reporting to the UNFCCC.

Participants outlined specific steps to ensure that climate change responses incorporate gender equality, including the importance of empowering women to take a seat at the decision-making table. Women’s organizations should play a central role in the post-2012 agreement process and gender experts should be part of UNFCCC delegations. The roundtable called for the accessibility of data and documentation chronicling women’s unique skills in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Further research needs to be conducted on gender-specific resource patterns and other aspects of gender and climate change. In addition, carbon facilities and renewable energy technologies need to be modified to ensure they reach the poorest populations, particularly women. Finally, roundtable participants committed themselves to establishing partnerships between governments, UN agencies, and civil society to address the critical issue of gender and climate change and agreed to carry the roundtable’s policy recommendations to the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Climate Change Event.

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