Overrepresentation of men in UN climate process persists


New reports published ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November show that decision-making and technical panels under UN Climate Change (known as “constituted bodies”) are increasingly integrating a gender perspective into their work, but that male overrepresentation on constituted bodies and on government delegations still remains an issue of concern.

Equal and meaningful participation and leadership of women is vital to achieve climate goals. While women and girls around the world are demanding more climate action at the national and international level and have received increasing recognition for their leadership, in the international climate decision-making process, women’s voices are not yet equally represented.

The 2021 Gender Composition report published by UN Climate Change highlights the lack of consistent progress towards gender balance on constituted bodies and government delegations under the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

At the same time, a synthesis report on the integration of a gender perspective into constituted bodies processes shows some positive developments, with constituted bodies reporting on their progress doubling from six to twelve in the period 2017-2020.

Women government delegates occupied, on average, 33 per cent of all constituted body positions in 2021, as was the case in 2020 and 2019. This denotes a lack of significant progress on female representation on constituted bodies.

Apart from change being slow, it is also inconsistent. While some constituted bodies’ membership has shifted towards greater gender balance, for some there was a decrease in female membership and for many this has changed throughout the years.

In 2021, three constituted bodies reached gender balance. The highest representation of women is seen on the Adaptation Committee with 63% and the lowest on the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board with 10%.

Gender balance in Party delegations

Held from 31 May to 17 June 2021, the virtual May/June Subsidiary Body meetings saw equal registrations of female and male government delegates. At the last in-person climate change conference, COP25 in Madrid, 60 per cent of government delegates and 73 per cent heads and deputy heads of delegations were men. It is noteworthy that taking into account age, female representation during the May/June Subsidiary Body meetings dropped as age increased.

The older the members of a delegation, which is likely to correlate with their experience and seniority in their role, the higher the chance for the delegation being predominantly composed by men. In light of the absence of much needed progress towards reaching the goal of gender balance first established at the UN Climate Change Conference COP18 in 2012, countries recently reinforced the importance of women’s equal and meaningful participation and leadership of women under the UNFCCC process as well as in national- and local-level climate.

Under the enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender and its GAP, UN Climate Change has therefore strengthened its reporting by including two case studies in the gender composition report. One shows that while men accounted for 51 per cent of registered government delegates, they were 60 per cent of active speakers in the plenary – those meeting attended by all Parties – and spoke for 74 per cent of the time.

Applying a gender lens to constituted bodies’ work

While the Gender Composition report shows a lack of significant progress in addressing male overrepresentation in the constituted bodies, the 2021 synthesis report on the progress in integrating a gender perspective into constituted body processes shows a positive trend.

Not only has the number of constituted bodies that included references to gender in their reports doubled since 2017 but some also increased the depth of information reported including for instance concrete plans, goals and indicators for gender integration. This positive trend is mirrored in how countries are considering gender in their National Climate Plans. The recent NDC synthesis report showed that 85 per cent of countries included references to gender in their updated or new Nationally Determined Contributions (national climate action plans under the Paris Agreement).

Gender at COP 26 showcased on 14 October

Both reports will be introduced at an “Update on Gender@COP26” event on 14 October. This offers an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to learn about progress on the implementation of the UN Climate Change gender action plan and to discuss key issues. The event will include live interpretation in Spanish and French and discussions will be held in all six UN languages.