Advancing gender equality in NDCs: progress and higher ambitions

Around the world the impacts of the climate crisis are accelerating. The impacts disproportionately burden the poorest and the most vulnerable, especially poor women.

While the impacts threaten development globally, on the other hand, massive economic and social gains can come from reducing emissions and building climate resilience. In fact, both mitigation and adaptation can accelerate progress across each and every one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some of the most important benefits are towards gender equality and women’s empowerment and leadership. 

The question is, how can countries best engineer the solutions?

Keeping a promise

Under the Paris Agreement, all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must submit national climate action pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, every five years. These cut across mitigation and adaptation, involve multiple actors and sectors of the economy, and offer unique opportunities to integrate gender equality in climate action at scale.

Working with countries to raise the ambition of these pledges, including in advancing gender equality, is the purpose of UNDP’s Climate Promise, the world’s largest offer of support in this space.

As of 22 of September 2022, 102 of 120 Climate Promise-supported countries and territories submitted more robust NDCs. Promisingly, 97 integrated gender equality considerations, up from 49 in the initial round of NDCs.   

This second generation of NDCs demonstrates both greater attention to issues of gender equality and higher aspirations for action, with strong potential to contribute to national goals and international policy frameworks, for example the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its Gender Action Plan – helping ensure no-one is left behind in the push for a low-carbon, sustainable future.

While there is a clear shift in the right direction, much remains to be done.

Making plans that accelerate change

In the first generation of NDCs submitted in 2015, most countries faced challenges in integrating gender. One common and crucial gap was a lack of gender-disaggregated data, which limited understanding of how climate change impacts women and men and other groups differently. A second shortcoming was that environment ministries and national climate change units rarely engaged with gender institutions, and women’s and civil society organizations had little involvement in climate-related policymaking.   

To address these issues and establish a stronger foundation for progress, UNDP developed a three-pronged approach, building on existing efforts towards a more systematic consideration of gender in countries’ NDCs. The approach, central to the Climate Promise, has focused on three areas: effective governance, inclusive planning, and integrated policy frameworks.

Encouragingly, the second generation of NDCs show progress in each of these areas. 

Effective governance

UNDP supports strong coordination mechanisms linking climate and gender equality actors as well as the strengthening of institutional capacity. Key is making gender-climate connections in policies and decisions in both areas, and regular exchanges with non-state actors, particularly grassroots women’s groups.

There are positive signs of change. The strengthening of climate change governance including through improved coordination between and within Ministries of Environment and gender institutions, has led to greater recognition of women in decision-making and engagement of women’s groups in climate action.

Inclusive planning

Inclusive planning is an ongoing project. While it requires consulting with a diversity of stakeholders and maximizing political buy-in, as well as careful analyses to identify capacity gaps and planning priorities, it also requires attention to keep progress on track and incorporating gender into decision-making on an ongoing basis. UNDP is supporting countries to do just this. 

Inclusive consultations, in which stakeholders co-define gender and climate priorities, accelerate the agency of women and marginalized groups, enabling them to adapt and build their own resilience and contribute to reducing emissions. In turn, steering a just transition to economies that are both more sustainable and equitable.

Expanding access to climate finance, training, and skills is also key to women’s economic empowerment and their participation in a low-carbon economy. Yet experience shows that a substantial bottleneck to realizing gender and climate pledges occurs in budgeting and implementing planned activities. With only 21 countries having agreed to include gender in their climate finance strategies that helps keep gender-climate links visible and funded and the same number of countries highlighting the importance of women’s access to finance, there is considerable room for improvement.

It is a sign of progress, however, that the second generation of NDCs contain much greater commitment to equipping women with training and resources at the decision-making and grassroots levels. The effect is exponential – for example, with enhanced advocacy skills, women in leadership positions can better press for gender equality in climate policies and mobilize change in their communities.

Integrated policy

Around the world, UNDP supports countries to better articulate issues related to gender in their climate policy instruments, helping ensure that policies work together to close gender gaps, not widen them.

By connecting the dots between gender equality, climate action and sustainable development, integrated policy approaches help unlock more opportunities for education and employment, including green jobs for women.

Ambition to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment

Ambition to advance gender equality needs clear intentions that must be followed by concrete actions and measurement to keep progress on track. A few countries are leading the way, having set ambitious goals to advance gender equality, but also adopting measures and indicators to track problems as well as potential solutions.

8

countries recognized men’s and women’s contributions to emissions reductions and proposed related targets or indicators.

12

countries noted different contributions to resilience and agreed on targets or indicators to support these.

25

countries recognized gendered vulnerabilities and stipulated targets or indicators to reduce them.

11

countries included gender inclusive climate targets and adopted indicators to track change.

Progress by sector

Many NDCs have not only recognized the gendered dimensions of climate change and climate action, but also have begun to make explicit references across sectors of the economy. For instance, many countries are increasingly acknowledging women’s influential roles across energy, agriculture, and waste management.

Gender analyses of different sectors have identified women’s positions across value chains and employment types, particular vulnerabilities, gender-responsive targets or measures, and the importance of women in decision-making and leadership.

In the second generation, 72% of NDCs refer to women or gender in specific sectors, up from 16% in the first generation.

From pledge to impact

NDCs represent a critical first step in climate action, defining a path to transform economies and societies, documenting commitments, and signalling political support for sustainable development.

But they are just the beginning of a journey. Countries must move rapidly from pledge to action, cutting emissions, securing a just and equitable transition, and preparing people, infrastructure, and services for the future.

In the next few pivotal years, the second phase of the Climate Promise will champion a global call for moving from pledge to impact. It will scale up support and rally more partnerships so that countries committed to gender equality in their NDCs have the means to realize their goals.

One primary drive will be to support countries to strengthen inclusive and gender-responsive governance, policy, and financing frameworks, thereby helping propel progress across the NDCs and SDGs.

By engaging civil society and women’s organizations and leaders, who have been involved in NDCs as never before, countries will keep a laser focus on ambition and action.

Progress has been made. But there is still work to do.