“We” have a deal

The disappointing gender aspects of the Paris Agreement can be balanced by feeding evidence and experience into policy.
References to gender were omitted from parts of the Paris Agreement. Pilar Valbuena/CIFOR

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Ursula Rakova is from the Carteret Islands, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. For Rakova and the community of 2700 inhabitants, climate change is already tangible: Rising sea levels are rapidly eroding the shorelines, with drastic impacts on the island’s food security. Rakova and others in her women-led community organization, Tulele Peisa (‘sailing the winds on our own’), are now working to relocate affected communities to safer ground.

A week before the Paris Agreement was finalized, Rakova spoke at the Gender Perspectives Pavilion at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum. When she was asked about her hopes and expectations for the new climate agreement, her answer was simple: “We are going to keep doing what we have been doing, whether there is an agreement or not. The question is: Is the world going to wait for these people to drown or are we going to do something now?”


While the blatant gap between the aggregated effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and the ‘well below 2 degrees’ goal has been noted with grave concern by many commentators, the Paris Agreement has still been hailed largely as a success in the world’s media. The reactions of many civil society groups were less cheerful, however.

The Paris Agreement largely fails to establish compliance and accountability with respect to gender equality.

Markus Ihalainen

A major area of discontent among conference participants lobbying for language on human rights, gender equality and indigenous peoples’ rights was the lack of such references in most sections of the agreement. References to gender, for instance, were omitted from, or never included in, sections on mitigation, finance and technology transfer, among others.

The biggest disappointment was the late removal of human rights language from Article 2.2 in the operative part of the Agreement.

In their press release on 12 December, the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency explained as follows:

“We believe that operational language on gender equality, alongside other fundamental rights, in Article 2, defining the purpose of the agreement, would have gone far to ensure that all forthcoming climate actions take into account the rights, needs and perspectives of women and men and encourage women’s full and equal participation in decision-making. This was the moment to set the right path, the just path for climate action.”

During the two weeks of negotiations in Paris, the rights language in 2.2. was reformulated, omitted by some parties and reinserted again by others, only to finally turn up in the non-legally-binding preamble. Gender also gets a mention in Article 7 on adaptation and Article 11 on capacity-building.


As such, the Paris Agreement largely fails to establish compliance and accountability with respect to gender equality. On a more positive note, as of 18 November, 55 INDCs (39%) include voluntary references to gender. Furthermore, the preamble, in urging parties to “… respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights … gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”, should at the very least encourage parties to consider addressing these issues in the remaining gender-blind INDCs (representing 80–90% of global GHG emissions) when revisiting them in 2020.

Even more positive is that plenty of evidence and experience are available for policy makers on how to best address gender issues in climate policy and action in various contexts and on different levels. This was certainly evident at the Global Landscapes Forum, where sessions on various aspects of gender and climate change were held throughout the day.

The presentations and discussions brought together researchers and practitioners from a wide range of organizations across the world. As demonstrated throughout the sessions, gender issues are transversal to understanding and addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The discussions also revealed that much gender-responsive climate action is already underway, by actors ranging from local indigenous women’s organizations to international NGOs and UN agencies.

The next step is for all this evidence and experience on what works and what doesn’t to be fed into the process of implementing the agreement. Presentations by Houria Djoudi on her work on gender and adaptation in West Africa and by Amy Duchelle on gender and REDD+ demonstrated that CIFOR is well poised to support this process.

Much work, of course, still needs to be done. As we welcome the codified mandate in the Agreement to conserve and enhance forests (“sinks and reservoirs”), discussions at the Global Landscapes Forum outlined especially the lack of quantitative and qualitative evidence on possible co-benefits and trade-offs associated with various mitigation and adaptation options.

The next step is for all this evidence and experience to be fed into the process of implementing the agreement.

Markus Ihalainen

Most crucially, in the absence of a clear mandate in the Agreement, organizations working on gender and climate issues need to ramp up their engagement efforts to make sure policy makers have access to the collective evidence and experience on integrating gender into climate policy. Collaboration and coordination between research institutions, practitioners and advocates on various levels is likely to support this.

Ursula Rakova and Tulele Peisa will keep doing what they’ve been doing despite the somewhat disappointing outcome of the negotiations. But thanks to her active engagement in Paris and elsewhere, many people from all around the world have now heard her voice.

When we return to our offices to begin the next phase of work, ensuring that our findings, expertise and recommendations are heard by climate policy makers should be a top priority for all of us.

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at
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