Last week, international leaders signed a statement at COP26 calling for the role of women to be advanced in addressing climate change, jointly-sponsored by the Scottish Government and UN Women. The Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change recognises that women and girls are creating innovative climate solutions but are also “disproportionately affected by climate change and face greater risks and burdens from its impacts, particularly in situations of poverty”. The Statement calls for all climate actions to recognise differentiated impacts by factors such as age, gender, disability and location, and ensure women’s and girls’ participation and leadership in decision-making.
The UN Development Programme states that as climate change impacts are not gender-neutral, climate action also cannot be approached in a gender-neutral way. However, questions around gender and climate are perhaps less often discussed in a developed country context.
The importance of tackling climate change in a way that addresses inequalities is recognised in Scots law in the ‘just transition’ principles in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. On 9 November 2021 (gender day at COP26), the First Minister said the Scottish Government will become a “Commitment Maker” as part of the Feminist Action for Climate Justice global coalition. The commitment includes:
- enabling women and girls to lead a just transition to a green economy
- increasing access to climate finance that promotes gender equality
- building the resilience of women and girls to climate impacts.
This extended blogpost explores what gender equality could mean in relation to climate action in Scotland, across some selected areas.
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Leadership and participation – who is making the decisions?
The UN states that women’s inclusion at leadership level has led to improved climate outcomes. Conversely, policies implemented without women’s participation can increase inequalities. Studies have confirmed this – female political representation in parliaments has been found to be associated with more stringent climate change policies and lower emissions. Female political representation has been described as “an underutilized tool for addressing climate change”. On this basis, the She Changes Climate Coalition is calling for minimum 50% representation of women in future climate delegations.
How is Scotland doing in this regard? A record 58 women were elected to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, 45% of 129 MSPs. Comparatively, the 2019 UK General Election also returned the most female MPs ever, but only 34% of MPs are women. Moving to local government level, trends of women’s participation are increasing but further from gender equality; 29% of Scottish councillors are women, up from 24% in previous elections.
Decision-making power at public body and company level (e.g. how women feature in board rooms) could also be relevant – as organisations make decisions about climate ambitions and exert spending power. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 set the first statutory targets in Scotland for representation on public boards, requiring boards to be 50% women. The target has been met ahead of time, but only applies to selected public bodies.
In 2016, the First Minister challenged all organisations, public and private, to act on gender inequality including seeking to achieve a balance on boards. Lack of women on boards is not unique to Scotland. Of Scottish-based companies in the FTSE 100, 25% of board positions were held by women in 2015. 2021 figures for the whole of the UK indicated that more than a third of FTSE 350 board positions are now held by women, a 50% increase over five years, although further issues persist such as underrepresentation of women of colour.
Transport, climate and gender
The 2019 book Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez, is an account of how failing to consider gender in formulating public policy, designing technology or research, can result in perverse outcomes. The book kicks off by describing a town in Sweden that sought to evaluate its policies for gender impact. Reportedly, it started with a public official joking that at least snow-clearing couldn’t be sexist. The town then assessed its policy of clearing snow on main traffic arteries first, prioritising this over pedestrians and active travel routes. When explored from a gender-perspective, it was concluded that this policy was designed around the typical male user. Men were more likely to drive than women and tended to commute directly, whereas women were more likely to use public transport or walk, and to make multiple shorter trips. The town reversed the policy and began to prioritise pedestrians, active and public transport. The change was not driven by environmental considerations but did save money by reducing hospital admissions and loss of productivity – and through pursuing a more gender-balanced policy, the town inadvertently pursued policies that were more supportive of active travel.
This example begs the question, could designing transport systems through a gender-lens complement the transition to net zero? Transport Scotland collect gender disaggregated data. In Scotland, men drive cars more than women and use public transport less. Forty nine percent of males drive every day compared to 38% of females. Females are more likely to use bus travel, but there is less of a difference in relation to walking as a means of travel. Scotland’s National Transport Strategy recognises that transport policy has a role in reducing inequalities. It states that women in Scotland are more likely to be in low-paid work, therefore “it is vital to consider transport poverty with gender in mind”. It notes that “promoting gender equality will also likely have a positive impact on tackling child poverty”. Policy-makers may also wish to explore whether promoting gender analysis of transport policy supports climate benefits. There is significant pressure on the transport sector, as the single largest source of Scotland’s Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Climate, women’s safety and greenspace
Greenspace e.g. parks, urban trees and woodlands can be used to promote active travel, store carbon, manage flood risk and support wildlife. It can also support physical and mental health through better air quality, access to nature and recreational space. The provision of greenspace is a climate issue.
Equality of access to greenspace is also a gender issue. Many women feel unsafe in greenspaces. It has been suggested that more involvement of women in planning greenspaces could help to address these concerns. Scotland’s National Transport Strategy also recognises that fears around safety can shape women’s travel behaviours and that this should be considered in policies. The Scottish Government considers provision of greenspace as part of its Environment Strategy, stating:
- If individuals feel that greenspace is unsafe then people may be less likely to make use of it.
- Use of greenspace varies with the level of deprivation. In the most deprived areas of Scotland, 45% of adults visited the outdoors at least once a week in 2018, compared to 68% of adults in least deprived areas.
Could designing greenspace for equality of access therefore intersect with climate policy? Forthcoming opportunities in Scotland to explore this could include scrutiny of the forthcoming fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), or of how safe greenspace features in Scottish Government policy commitments such as 20-minute neighbourhoods or Local Nature Networks. The Scottish Government published a statement on NPF4 in 2020:
“People living in the most deprived areas and neighbourhoods are more exposed to environmental conditions and other factors that negatively affect health and access to opportunities – including those relating to transport, access to green space, pollution effects, housing quality, fuel poverty, community participation, and social isolation. Our future places and spaces need to be considered through the lens of gender, ethnicity, age and disability to ensure they are inclusive.”
Gender equality as a feature of climate justice
When communities experience climate impacts such as floods and droughts, leading to a loss of livelihoods or increased competition for resources – these disproportionately impact on women. People face higher climate risks when in poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women. Natural disasters can also impact men and women differently.
What, then, could Scotland’s role be in reducing global impacts of climate change on women? As an industrialised country that has historically contributed more to climate change, reducing our emissions is clearly the key way of reducing that global vulnerability. In a more targeted vein, women could be supported through climate justice funding. Empowering women and girls in developing countries through education has been, in itself, suggested to be an important part of tackling climate change.
The Scottish Government states that its climate justice approach “tackles embedded inequalities”, particularly through its Climate Justice Fund. Its recently published international development review principles state that advancement of rights of women and girls should be prioritised.
Gender equality and sustainable consumption
Reducing Scotland’s domestic emissions to net zero will not end Scotland’s contribution to climate change. A significant proportion of Scotland’s ‘carbon footprint’ is related to the consumption of imported goods and services. These ‘consumption emissions’ are not currently included in climate targets. However, a holistic consideration of Scotland’s climate impact should include the impacts of our consumption, which could in turn have implications for gender impacts.
One significant outcome of COP26 so far is the agreement by world leaders to end deforestation. As with climate impacts, deforestation can impact on women disproportionately, particularly indigenous women, due to reliance on forest-based livelihoods and for food and fuel. What can the Scottish Government do to contribute to ending deforestation?
Scotland’s Environment Strategy recognises that consumption in Scotland is part of this picture:
“We have a significant carbon footprint, including emissions produced in Scotland, and emissions in other countries making goods which we import… Some of the commodities we import are associated with deforestation, water stress and other ecological pressures in different parts of the world.
… we will strive to ensure that Scotland lives within the sustainable limits of our single, shared planet; and, where we can, take actions which help to make the impact of our consumption and production on other countries sustainable.”
This provokes a question of how Scotland might act to reduce consumption-related impacts on vulnerable people abroad as part of the broader transition to a circular economy – what are the devolved levers to tackle consumption impacts?
In the last session, the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Climate Change and Land Reform Committee recognised potential for scrutiny in this area in its legacy report:
“While some powers in relation to tackling impacts of imported products and services are reserved, there may be devolved policy levers which could be explored in future – such as in environmental fiscal reform, the ability to influence supply chains through procurement and supporting sustainable business models in Scotland.”
There are multiple areas of public policy where considering gender-based impacts might boost the impact of climate policies, and conversely areas where climate policy could be designed to reduce gender inequalities. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of gender equality in various key strategies. However, seeing climate policy as something that is ‘not gender neutral’, is perhaps only recently making its way into mainstream discussion of climate policy.
Alexa Morrison, Senior Researcher, SPICe