Deputy Secretary-General, Delivering Lecture to Christian Aid, Urges Greater Action, Funding to Bolster Women’s Key Role in Climate, Gender Justice
Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s 2023 Christian Aid Lecture “Here I Stand: Women’s Advancement and Role in Tackling Climate Change” at St. Martins-in-the-Field, in London today:
It is a pleasure to be here with you at “the church of the open door”. A church that has welcomed people of diverse faiths, nationalities and walks of life. A church that has, over the years, been a steadfast companion in the fight for justice.
Justice — or perhaps injustice — is at the heart of the topic we are discussing this evening.
Let me pause here to remember that as we speak, we have the suffering of those in Gaza that continues. And in Israel, by those who lost family and friends on 7 October in the terrorist attack by Hamas, and by those who were taken hostage whose friends and family live in hope for their return. But, also the 4,000 children that have lost their lives in the efforts of Israel to defend itself.
For the discussion we have tonight, we are confronting two egregious wrongs.
The first: climate. Humanity is destroying the only home we have. In full knowledge of what we are doing. And with the tools at our disposal to take a different path.
When you think about that, it is mind-boggling. A small number of countries, largely the wealthiest, have overwhelmingly caused the problem. Intentional or otherwise, it has become an existential threat to us all. One half of our world has grown rich from guzzling fossil fuels, attaining a standard of living that remains a remote dream for the other half of the world. Analysis from Oxfam in 2020 found that someone in the United Kingdom will take just five days to emit the same carbon as someone in Rwanda does in an entire year.
But, as our climate becomes less stable and more dangerous, causing fires, floods and droughts that can wipe out development gains in a moment, who suffers most? The poor and the vulnerable. Those that have done the very least to cause the crisis. Vulnerable countries such as small island States risk being overrun by rising seas. Over 40,000 people were killed in recent droughts in Somalia — a country that emits a tiny fraction of global emissions.
The economic damage resulting from climate disasters is mounting. Not to mention the lives lost, and communities destroyed as climate change pushes people from their homes.
Meanwhile, a debt crisis is engulfing much of the Global South. Africa now spends more on servicing its debts than it does on health care and education. And developing countries are paying far more for capital than developed ones, even in cases where they have better macroeconomic fundamentals. That creates huge obstacles to investing in green solutions like clean energy or protecting people from escalating climate extremes.
I ask you to imagine what this looks like from the lens of the Global South. It looks like what it is: a horrific injustice on a global scale, with women taking the brunt. As a woman from Africa, I experienced first hand this suffering in Lake Chad, Nigeria, where climate change has hit hard.
The second great injustice we are considering is the status of women. We live in a male-dominated patriarchal world, from Heads of State and Government to board rooms. It is worth being explicit about what this means because something we are so used to seeing can become invisible. This is a world in which women have been slaves and chattel and continue to be trafficked.
A world in which women are beaten and raped in war or conflict, as we see in Darfur, Sudan, as we speak. As I saw in Chad. A world where women face harassment, threats and abuse on social media. A world where women are denied power, property and even the right to learn, as we see in Afghanistan.
Globally, for every dollar earned by men, women earn just 51 cents. Despite making up more than half the world’s population, women make up just over a quarter of parliamentary representatives. And nearly half of married women are unable to make their own choices about their sexual and reproductive health, denying them their rights.
This is not to say womanhood equals victimhood. Rather, it is to say that we have marginalized and excluded the experiences of half of humanity. And the consequences are being felt by all. The political and economic models around which we have organized have been informed by only a few.
And when we place a zero-dollar value on the hours of work that sustain families and communities, as well as on the planet and natural resources that sustain us, it has both a common root cause and a common outcome. That outcome is inequality, it’s imbalance and it’s exploitation.
But, while women have throughout history had their voices, agency and experiences marginalized, wherever women are today, they are claiming their space. We see women taking the lead across the globe, fighting for their rights and creating change.
Examples such as Nobel Peace Prize laureates Malala Yousafzai and Narges Mohammadi, and young climate activists like Greta Thurnberg and Vanessa Nakate; they dedicate their lives and stand at the vanguard of the global fight for human rights, human dignity, and climate change.
Leaders like Prime Minister Mia Mottely of Barbados, whose leadership led to the Bridgetown Initiative and a first mover to unlocking the Resilience and Sustainability Trust of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in record time. And we also have the exemplary courage of the late Wangari Maathai, demonstrating the power of local solutions to the nexus issues of nature, climate and poverty.
Gender equality is the foundation of a just society. And integral to meeting the commitments countries made in each of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the decades, there has been undeniable progress. More women than ever hold political decision-making posts worldwide. Nearly 90 million women of working age have gained legal equality in the last decade. But, we need to move much faster to achieve gender equality around the world to meet the promises we made for 2030.
These two wrongs magnify one another. While the climate crisis affects everyone, it does not affect everyone equally. Climate chaos can make women and girls poorer, more unequal and less safe. Women are 14 times more susceptible to death or injury during climate-related natural disasters compared to men. And, as 2023 is set to become the warmest on record, the 2023 UN-Women/DESA [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women/Department of Economic and Social Affairs] Gender Snapshot warns us that hundreds of millions more women and girls are at risk of poverty and food insecurity.
Researchers have found that child marriage is more common when water is scarce — as lower crop yields and higher food prices put families under pressure as they fall into abject poverty. We also know that the drivers of violence against women are complex. And that climate-induced stresses of displacement, insecurity and poverty can play a role.
The question we must ask ourselves is why? Women experience these stresses as, or even more, acutely. But, it is not women who respond to them with violence.
This means that we have to start today by calling out this violence for what it is, shifting attitudes, behavior and mindsets. We must start to prevent cycles of ongoing violence, exacerbated in many cases by climate.
Many women work disproportionately in industries vulnerable to climate disasters where their livelihoods face significant risks. For example, a quarter of women around the world work in agriculture, exposing them to the impacts of extreme weather events and shifting conditions, and therefore, the loss of their livelihoods. So, it is no wonder that runaway climate change is projected to push more women than men into poverty.
Already, on average, women and girls do three times as much unpaid care work as men and boys globally. But as temperatures rise, those hours do, too. Our changing climate can make water and firewood scarce, for example. Exacerbating unpaid work for women and girls or walking longer hours to find these resources.
That means less time for education, paid work, and involvement in climate action. In fact, in times of stress, girls are often forced to abandon their schooling and their aspirations. That’s a blow to gender equality now and in the future.
How should we respond to these interrelated wrongs? First and foremost, we need to get a grip on the climate crisis. And to right some of the injustices inherent within it. Big emitters like the United Kingdom need to lead, including at the next UN climate conference, which starts in just a few weeks.
We need all countries to put into practice the Acceleration Agenda proposed by the UN Secretary-General. It’s based on the evidence, on what the experts and the scientists tell us the world must do to avoid the very worst of climate change by limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C. It calls on Governments to accelerate their net-zero timelines so that they get there as soon as possible to 2040 in developed countries and 2050 in emerging economies. It urges them to deal with the root cause of this crisis: fossil fuels.
The Acceleration Agenda calls on Governments to: commit to no new coal, end licensing or funding of new oil and gas, stop the expansion of existing oil and gas reserves, and shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables and a just energy transition.
The United Kingdom has shown climate leadership in the past. So, we urge everyone to build on that, including at COP28 [twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], by helping to secure an agreement that signals the end of the fossil fuel age around the world.
We can’t rely on murky trading schemes and unproven technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Fossil fuels themselves need to go. And that means a just but equitable transition for everyone. That means a COP28 agreement to boost renewables and energy efficiency and bring power to all by 2030, as well as a commitment to phase out, not phase down fossil fuels.
The United Kingdom also needs to play its part in addressing climate injustice at COP28, lending its leadership to the Global Stocktake. Developing countries need support to protect themselves from the damages being wrought by climate chaos. These are important meetings, and women will play a critical role in the movements that will come from civil society, governments, small island states, and science and technology.
Two years ago, here in the United Kingdom, at COP26 in Glasgow, countries committed to double the finance provided for climate adaptation. At COP28, we need to see a clear plan for how that will be achieved. Last year, countries agreed to a new Loss and Damage Fund to help deal with the destruction caused by extreme weather. Countries recently agreed on the design and operation of this fund — which is excellent news. Now, we need generous, early pledges from developed countries and those with the means to get it off to a strong start.
We must focus on women as we tackle the climate crisis. Climate action can reinforce gender injustice. Or it can address it. It can overlook women and girls. Or it can consider their needs, ensure they benefit equally, and bring them into the heart of decision-making. And of course, it can support the fantastic work women around the world are already doing to respond to the climate crisis.
Taking the latter path is not a favour to women. Or even solely a matter of obvious justice, it’s a basic right for women. It is simply more effective and delivers more to society.
Research shows that women’s participation in climate action and leadership leads to better results — better conservation outcomes and greater preparedness for disasters. Around the world, there are numerous examples of women leading emissions reductions and boosting their communities and resilience.
Yet, only 55 of the world’s national climate action plans include gender-specific adaptation measures, and only 23 recognize the vital role of women as change agents in the fight against climate change.
Women are powerful agents of change. Increasing women’s representation in national parliaments is shown to lead to more stringent climate change policies. It is, therefore, imperative to support women’s participation in climate action and decision-making. And to reflect their needs in programming.
A good starting point is to build the capacity of women’s organizations to lead, advocate and participate in climate action, including policy-making and resilience-building.
Currently, they struggle for funds. Between 2018 and 2019, $19 billion of climate finance from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee members addressed gender equality. But, just $43 million went to feminist and women’s rights organizations, a mere 0.25 per cent. And often these groups find it difficult to access multilateral climate finance mechanisms, which are orientated towards large, multi-million-dollar projects.
We also need to ensure women and girls benefit equally from a just transition away from fossil fuels to clean economies. This is essential to making progress towards gender equality at work. But, it is not assured.
Currently, 80 per cent of jobs created by decarbonization will be in sectors dominated by men. Women make up just 14 per cent of senior managers in the renewables sector and 5 per cent of top posts, such as CEOs. Unless we are proactive in advancing gender justice as we make the clean transition, we risk reproducing the same old divides.
What does all this look like in practice? First, we need countries’ climate action plans and policies to consider gender equality, particularly in their plans for a just transition. Currently, only ten of the 65 countries that reference a just transition in their national climate action plans link it to gender.
Second, we need to tackle gender inequality in work to support a just transition. That means supporting women and girls’ access to training and skills building so they can make the most of the new jobs available as we move to clean economies. It means improving the terms and conditions of women’s care work, promoting decent work and social protection for women and girls.
Third, we need to expand gender-responsive financing for climate action. That includes increasing direct access for women’s organizations, and prioritising funding for women and girls most affected by climate change.
The Women’s Climate Fund, being developed by UN-Women aims to galvanise gender-responsive financing and support just transitions to clean economies — including by providing fast and flexible funding for women’s civil society, grass-roots and feminist organizations.
Next year, the Group of Twenty (G20) presidency moves to Brazil. As COP30 and G20 Chair, Brazil will host the first meeting of the G20 Working Group on Empowerment of Women, which aims to support countries as they continue to address gender inequality. The creation of the Working Group in New Delhi this past September signified a strong commitment from G20 leaders to advancing women’s rights on a global scale. However, it is up to all of us to hold our leaders accountable.
Faith organizations and civil society can play vital roles in advancing these aims and tackling the joint injustices of gender and climate. We know your power. Much of the climate action we have seen to date is due to civil society’s sustained campaigning.
Just down the road from here, in Parliament Square, Millicent Fawcett declares that “courage calls to courage everywhere” — reminding us of the strength of women’s leadership in the fight for equality.
And faith organizations have often been at the heart of development and poverty reduction. Indeed, for many of us, this is at the core of our faith. Jesus taught his followers to seek justice for the oppressed. Zakat is a central pillar of my own faith, Islam.
Around the world, faith organizations are putting their beliefs into action, fighting for a more just and equal world. We see that with Christian Aid. And we see it with groups such as Musawah, Sisters in Islam and Women Living Under Muslim Laws — organizations advocating for gender equality.
Faith organizations can help to combat stigma, transmit vital information, advocate peace and build social cohesion, often in the most difficult circumstances. That role is critical when it comes to gender and climate.
Faith organizations can help to galvanize action locally and nationally with all stakeholders. They can use their voice to hold the powerful to account. They bring messages on climate justice and gender equality to communities around the world.
They can support women’s action, create spaces for their voices to be heard, and help protect them from violence and discrimination. They can reach some of the most vulnerable people hit by the climate crisis and support communities devastated by violent extremes of weather. And in times of danger and difficulty, they can provide solace and hope.
The injustices we face are stark. But, by tackling climate and gender justice together, we can build a better world for us all. And so, here I stand, calling you all to action so that we may shape a better future where all women can live a life of dignity.