Bridging Silos at the Climate-Gender-Conflict Nexus

30 March 2021   ·   Jessica Smith, Lauren Olosky, Jennifer Grosman Fernández

International security agendas must account for the overlapping threats of climate change and conflict, and their unequal impacts on women. Similarly, climate action must integrate a gender and security lens. To accelerate progress, policymakers must harmonize efforts to address conflict and climate change and promote inclusive approaches at domestic and international levels.

The climate crisis is the existential threat of our time. The impacts of climate change inflame underlying political, social, and economic conditions, in some cases leading to forced displacement or provoking violent conflict. This is especially true in fragile states, where climate shocks can overwhelm governments’ limited capacity and further destabilize already tenuous situations. Despite contributing negligibly to global warming, countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Nigeria bear simultaneous political and climate fragility. They face amplified threats that position them as the most likely future epicenters for climate-related violence and forced displacement.

Germany has been a leader in calling attention to the threat climate change poses to peace, security, and justice, especially over the course of its two-year term and presidency of the UN Security Council. However, for all the ways that Germany recognizes how climate change cuts across these issues, like in many other states, gender is not fully integrated into efforts domestically or abroad.

Climate Policy Needs an Integrated Approach

While the European Union’s 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) on combating climate change emphasizes synergies with its gender equality efforts, Germany’s own climate policy is still largely missing a gender lens. According to CEDAW Allianz Deutschland, Germany has not yet integrated an effective gender perspective into its climate policy and action at the national, regional, and local government level. The climate crisis affects women and other marginalized groups differently not only in the Global South, but within Germany’s borders as well.

Further, Germany’s efforts to advance the UN Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda are only beginning to meaningfully link climate and security, representing another missed opportunity to more effectively address these overlapping challenges. Germany made a specific reference to climate change only in its third WPS National Action Plan (NAP) adopted in February 2021. This oversight in previous versions is not unique to Germany – less than 1 in 4 WPS NAPs directly mention climate. However, WPS NAPs represent a tangible entry point to mainstream climate considerations into gender, peace, and security efforts.

Climate-Conflict Risks Intensify Discriminatory Structures

Siloing of work continues to be a significant barrier to accelerating progress on gender-responsive climate and security interventions. Although gender is a cross-cutting issue, peace and security policymakers and practitioners fail to fully account for the threat multiplier of climate change, while those working to address the climate crisis have not fully appreciated how the gendered implications of conflict and peacebuilding map onto their agendas. In order to be gender-responsive, interventions must consider how gender norms – social understandings and expectations that influence perceptions about appropriate roles and behaviors for men and women – shape power and access to resources in a given context.

Recent research from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security shows that climate-conflict risks are not gender-neutral, rather, they exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities and patterns of discrimination against women and girls. A broad range of inequalities – including income and wealth, social and human capital, land rights, and time, due to gendered divisions of labor – are bound up with discriminatory gender norms that further constrain women’s capacity to absorb and recover from climate shocks.

Promoting Representation and Participation at All Levels

The same inequalities that disproportionately expose women to insecurity also exclude them from meaningfully participating in solutions. Women make up just 14 percent of landholders globally. They are less likely to have decision-making power over the management of natural resources if they do not own them. In fact, traditional gender norms can exclude women from male-dominated spaces, especially women from marginalized cultural, political, ethnic, or economic groups. As a result, women are underrepresented in natural resource management and climate-related conflict mediation at community, national, and global levels.

To achieve more peaceful, climate-resilient, and gender-equal communities, policymakers must address barriers to women’s meaningful participation and recognize that women are not just victims of climate change, but also crucial agents of change.

1. Policymakers Should Advocate for Advancing a Climate Security Perspective in the WPS Agenda.

Bridging silos between these areas for action is essential – both within the UN Security Council and in WPS NAPs. Specifically, governments should include concrete targets around climate-related conflict and insecurity in the development, implementation, and monitoring of WPS NAPs and leverage these action plans to promote gender-equitable environmental peacebuilding. Germany can lead the way by expanding and following through on climate considerations in updates to its own WPS NAP. 

2. Governments Should Track the Progress of Gender Equality in Climate and Security Agendas.

Germany and other EU states should wield their influence within the EU to further integrate gender into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While the EU’s NDC makes linkages to gender equality commitments, it lacks specific tools, such as gender-disaggregated data or gender-responsive budgeting, outlined in Paris Agreement submissions by other countries. For example, Cambodia’s NDC prioritizes reducing gender inequalities and frames women as agents of change; this commitment is backed by gender-sensitive strategies for sectors such as energy and agriculture, along with metrics to evaluate gender impact in mitigation strategies.

Germany and other EU states should push for a gender-sensitive implementation of the EU’s NDC to further both climate and gender equality goals. This could be done in different ways: for example, the European Green Deal is a key mechanism for the EU to meet NDC targets, but it lacks a gender-responsive approach. Moving forward, Germany and others could advocate for gender-sensitive financing to ensure the allocation of limited resources benefits all European citizens in the transition to a net-zero economy. Germany could also set an example for other states by monitoring and reporting on gender equality outcomes within domestic and international climate interventions. 

3. Commitments Must Back Rhetoric With Funding.

Political will and awareness raising will not be enough to move the needle. While women are on the frontlines of climate impacts, they are also leading efforts to address these challenges. Germany could scale-up its support for women-led grassroots efforts to mitigate climate-conflict risks and increase contributions to initiatives like the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund. Fast, flexible funding is best suited to amplify the work of women on the ground operating in unstable and ever-shifting contexts.

Moreover, the G7 should push for gender-sensitive climate financing at the upcoming G7 Summit in June 2021. The UK, holding the G7 presidency in 2021, has called for centering the climate crisis in this year’s Finance Agenda – gender must be a key consideration in these efforts.

4. Germany Should Link the Nexus to International Development Cooperation.

In the context of international development projects, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) could build on its strong foundation of gender equality work by mainstreaming climate and security considerations. In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, advancing access to quality healthcare, education, and financial resources enhances women’s adaptive capacity to climate shocks and can increase women’s capacity to meaningfully participate in solutions. GIZ should continue to target women in the development of climate-adaptive livelihoods to strengthen their economic empowerment. Investing not only in individual but also community resilience to climate change will buffer against future risks of instability. 

5. Interventions at the Climate-Gender-Conflict Nexus Must Be Intersectional and Inclusive.

An intersectional gender analysis, which accounts for overlapping forms of disadvantage, can promote inclusive response and improve both top-down and bottom-up interventions to address climate change. At the institutional level, inclusivity can be advanced through the promotion of women’s political leadership, which has been linked to more ambitious climate action.

Unfortunately, the persistence of discriminatory gender norms remains a key obstacle to women’s inclusion. Gender quotas, legal reforms that address gender discrimination, and dismantling institutional barriers can increase the meaningful participation of a diverse range of women and make action at the nexus more effective. Other promising practices include leveraging media platforms to promote gender equality, boosting women’s capacity to challenge harmful gender norms, and engaging traditional authorities, men, and boys in promoting women’s inclusion.

Governments should therefore build an intersectional gender-analysis into interventions to identify and address barriers to women’s engagement and ensure those most affected by the climate-gender-conflict nexus can meaningfully participate in the solutions.

Gender Female Power Climate

Jessica Smith

Dr. Jessica Smith is the Research and Policy Manager at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), focusing on women’s experiences of agency in conflict-affected contexts. @JessicaSmithPhD

Lauren Olosky

Lauren Olosky is a GIWPS researcher focused primarily on climate change, conflict, and gender issues. @lauren_olosky

Jennifer Grosman Fernández

Jennifer Grosman Fernández is a GIWPS researcher who specializes in the connections between climate change and gender. @JenGrosman