COP28’s opportunity to empower women-led climate action

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The announcement of Brazil’s accession to the G20 presidency, made during COP28, may be among the most significant announcements to come out of the climate conference. A priority for Brazil should be gender equality in climate action to prepare for COP29, writes Dr. Nicoline de Haan.

This op-ed by CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform Director Dr Nicoline de Haan was first published by the Diplomatic Courier.


Of all the announcements made at COP28, the start of Brazil’s presidency of the G20 may prove to be among the most significant in the near-term. Not only will Brazil set the agenda for the world’s most important economies in the year ahead while preparing to host COP30 in 2025, but the country also has a vital opportunity to build on the work of its predecessor, India.

And India’s stance during its tenure was clear, as expressed in the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration: from participants to leadership, women-led development is critical to tackling climate change.

COP28 demonstrated an increased recognition that integrating gender is central to building resilience to climate change. After all, a climate solution that does not work for women is not a climate solution.

But there is still a way to go, with negotiations related to gender equality coming to a halt last year. It is vital to climate justice that world leaders, including Brazil, help get them back on the table for the technical meetings in Bonn ahead of COP29.

In developing countries especially, women find themselves on the frontline of the climate crisis, with a high proportion involved in and reliant upon small-scale agriculture, a highly climate dependent sector that urgently needs to transform to achieve goals for both climate action and zero hunger.

In agri-food systems, therefore, women are positioned to lead climate action and climate justice from the front as farmers and entrepreneurs.

But too often, tried-and-tested tools, financing and resources fail to reach women at scale and in practical forms to fully equip them to thrive as drivers of resilience and food security.

As Brazil takes its position of leadership on the world stage, this is a pivotal moment to commit to women-led development to unlock the greatest gains for all.

To begin with, this means driving up support for women’s leadership at the community level. We know that women farmers are more likely to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices than men when they are targeted with outreach efforts to share knowledge and best practices.

Women-focused interventions to improve farmers’ knowledge of sustainable practices are therefore key to climate-proofing agriculture and protecting food insecurity in low-income countries.

But to effectively target women with the skills and know-how to navigate the impact of climate change on food systems, it is also critical to break down deep-rooted social and cultural norms and institutional obstacles that disadvantage women and their ability to access training, resources and finance.

Factors such as restrictive gender roles, unequal land ownership, uneven labor demands, restricted mobility, limited access to resources, and exclusion from strategic decision-making hinder women from fully learning about and practicing climate-smart agriculture.

However, comprehensive and inclusive approaches can address these hindrances. The agenda for the G20 in the year ahead should include direct efforts to increase women’s participation in decision-making and leadership at the community level, which includes addressing discriminatory land laws, formalizing women’s land ownership, and raising awareness about gendered norms to increase women’s autonomy.

One tested way to ensure the empowerment of women within rural and agricultural communities is to leverage the power of collective action. In many countries, women’s groups and organizations are key promoters and advocates for transitioning to climate-smart practices.

When engaged as a collective, women farmers gain access to a supportive and likeminded forum for knowledge and information sharing, improving their access to better resources and key markets. For example, CGIAR’s collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other partners, which supported women with limited access to land in the Eastern Gangetic Plains of India, showed that pooling resources allowed women farmers to scale their productivity and increase their harvests, extending these benefits to the greater community.

The second area in which urgent action is needed to empower women is at the business level. Women currently receive less than 10% of available agricultural finance, limiting their capacity to invest in climate adaptation. National government agencies, finance institutes and multilateral climate funds must address this by adopting unified and gender-responsive institutional approaches.

The finalization of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28 is an opportunity to adopt a gender-responsive approach to climate financing. The direct provisioning of funds to women-led initiatives in agriculture allows communities to build resilient and productive food systems that are inclusive of the needs of all people. At least 5% of climate finance should be channeled to women-led organizations.

Meanwhile, the private sector can significantly boost women’s engagement in climate-smart agriculture by providing gender-responsive essential inputs, services and products across the agricultural value chain.

Finally, empowering women at the community and business levels can only be achieved with more research and evidence on the climate solutions and policies that best address gender inequality.

Agricultural research that is attentive to the role that gender plays in how people are affected by climate change and the mitigation and adaptation opportunities available to them shapes institutional policies that elevate and empower women within the agri-food sector.

Currently, available research is limited in its exploration of whether existing solutions to climate change work well for women or if they are primarily designed to cater to men’s use. Without this understanding, researchers, investors and decision-makers can not accurately project the potential gains and barriers to scaling up climate-smart technologies and practices and women farmers will continue to be vulnerable and disproportionately affected by climate change.

Brazil is not only the incoming host of the G20 presidency. The country will also host a pivotal COP30 climate conference in the Amazon rainforest in 2025 when the $100 billion-a-year climate finance commitment will expire and a new financing goal will be adopted.

If the world is to have made progress on fair and just climate action by then, global superpowers, climate finance mechanisms and investors must throw their weight behind women-led development now.

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