The Loss and Damage Fund approved at the recently concluded COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt was a landmark achievement.
For decades, developing countries have pushed for the inclusion of loss and damage in the formal agenda of the climate summits to hold the big polluters accountable for climate reparations.
This year’s success can be attributed in part to successive climate induced disasters in developing countries including Pakistan that kept the momentum afloat and also to the impeccable leadership and diplomatic manoeuvring of the country’s representatives.
Women leaders in particular deserve credit for taking the lead on one of the most contentious issues: the creation of a fund to pay for climate reparations. Three women deserve special credit: German Special Climate Envoy Jennifer Morgan and Chilean Environment Minister Maisa Rojas for crafting a deal to get the issue on the summit’s agenda, and Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman for leading the negotiations on the Loss and Damage Fund.
But while we applaud the role of women in climate negotiations, the fact that the climate crisis is not gender neutral and requires gendered responses also holds true.
Women are amongst the most vulnerable groups to the impacts of climate change due to their reliance on natural resources for their livelihood and rigid social norms that exacerbate inequalities.
Agriculture, a highly sensitive sector to climate change, is the largest employer of women in Pakistan, employing roughly 7.7 million women according to the CGIAR report. The sector also contributes 23 per cent to Pakistan’s GDP.
The Rural Women Status Report 2018 presents some bleak statistics about women’s role as unpaid farmers and their undervalued and unpaid work. A staggering 60 per cent of rural women work on farms as unpaid labourers, balancing their role as traditional caregivers and as sources of food for their families, which often leaves them no time to learn new skills. Ownership of land is negligible, with only one per cent of women owning land. This makes access to loans an impossibility as they lack collateral and also deprives them of compensation for crop losses when disaster hits as they do not own the land they toil on.
Along with reliance on agriculture, social and cultural norms that aggravate gender inequality in our part of the world further push women into the vulnerability trap when climate fuelled disasters hit and reinforce the need for engendering the global climate finance regime to build women’s resilience.
Climate-induced instability forces girls to drop out of school and marry earlier, instances of gender-based violence increase, and women take greater risks to secure fuel, food, and water for their families.
Gender has been an important component of international climate conversations and has also remained a part of the agendas at UN climate conferences.
Women’s representation at UN climate summits has traditionally remained low, with the BBC estimating their representation at this year’s summit at below 34 per cent.
On the Loss and Damage Fund, developing countries, represented by Pakistan as chair of the G77 plus China, pressured carbon emitting nations to agree to the establishment of a dedicated fund to pay developed countries for climate reparations.
With details yet to be revealed after the fund is operationalised next year, the time is ripe to discuss the gender component of the fund and how it can be made equally accessible to vulnerable women from countries highly volatile to the climate crisis.
Should a gender needs assessment with regard to loss and damage be conducted by countries categorised as highly vulnerable to climate change? Should the fund have a separate component on gender, a special fund that these women can access without the nitty gritty formalities of documentation? Should there be focal points in each country where women can apply for the fund through a choice of finance mechanisms that most suits them? Who will decide who gets access to the fund; and, lastly, how will finance for the fund be mobilised?
There is a great deal of scepticism with regard to the successful launch and sustainably of the Loss and Damage Fund, considering the failure to disburse the pledged $100 million as new and additional climate finance by developed countries to the developing countries, a decision taken at COP15 in 2009 in Denmark.
In 2020, the year the pledged amount was set to take off, only about $83 billion of the pledged $100 billion was disbursed.
But there is also room for optimism. Women got the ball rolling on an issue that has been contentious since the launch of the UN climate summits in 1995. Shouldn’t that leave us with a glimmer of hope that women can and women will also push for a gender-just loss and damage fund?
The writer is a human rights activist and expert on women and children’s rights who works at the Climate Resourcing Coordination Centre (CRCC).
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