Knowledge for a sustainable world

Lora Forsythe, Valerie Nelson

“Earth to COP. For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen, and for those who have a heart to feel. 1.5 degrees is what we need to survive”. This quote is from an arresting speech from Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados at the COP26 opening. Her address brought a needed sense of urgency to the summit, especially highlighting just how serious climate change is for humanity and particularly for low- and middle-income countries. It also reminds us how important female voices are, and often how few are heard, especially on the global stage.

This is an important week for social justice and equity: 9th November is ‘Gender Day’ at COP26 and 7–10th of November is the alternative People’s Summit for Climate Justice – an effort to provide greater voice and build momentum for change amongst indigenous peoples, social movements and civil society. Many of us in the Gender and Social Difference programme at NRI will be analysing how gender equity and social inclusion feature in the COP26 summit overall, within the specific Gender Day, and in the actions of the People’s Summit participants. A successful COP26 would involve agreement to urgently implement effective and concrete actions that serve both gender and climate justice. This means greater representation of women, indigenous and other marginalised voices at all levels of decision making; recognition of their different vulnerabilities to climate change impacts due to inequalities, and also their diverse experience and knowledge to better inform policy and practice decision making. How far this will happen through the UNFCCC process is still to be seen, but there are clear indications that not enough is being done –the organisers of the People’s Summit argue that system change has to come from somewhere else – with more radical collective action.

Following COP 26, it will be essential to assess how far the commitments and agreements made are likely to achieve concrete equitable change. Our attention will be on aspects including:

  • How have national governments progressed on the Gender Action Plan agreed at the Madrid COP in 2019? Today, 9th November, a series of talks are planned on advancing gender equality in climate action, including discussion of progress on the Gender Action Plan.
  • How well did COP26 enable representation and participation of women, indigenous people and marginalised social groups in politics, science and media?
  • How far will governments commit to the Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice’s Call for Action? Representing the views of over 120 grassroots Indigenous, Black, Brown, and frontline women leaders, global advocates, and policymakers, this Call to Action includes important demands to end fossil fuel expansion and move to 100% renewable energy, increasing women’s leadership and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, addressing food insecurity, recognising a human right to water, and protection of forests, oceans, and other ecosystems [1]
  • COP26 is being called the ‘finance COP’, as private sector presence has been so significant. How far will COP26 agreements lead to higher flows of funding to indigenous and local community organisations, and will this further entrench the burden of natural resource management with these groups? At least $1.7 billion has been committed to indigenous and local communities [2], which is welcome after only 0.017% of all previous climate cooperation funds mention an indigenous organization in the implementation and less than 1% of climate cooperation funds were allocated to forest management or the legalisation of indigenous territories [3].

In analysing progress, NRI researchers can draw on over two decades of experience on unpacking and raising attention to gender equity in relation to climate variability and change, especially in agriculture and food systems. This began with pioneering work in 2002 which highlighted uncertainty in climate science, the likely differences in how women and men will be affected by climate change, the invisibility of those impacts to date and the importance of mainstreaming gender in climate adaptation. This was followed by diverse studies building understanding on how gender relations and climate change are intimately interlinked in smallholder agricultural development. An extensive study for UNDP in 2015 [4], explored how discriminations affecting pastoralist dryland societies intersect with gender, and the options for strengthening land rights, environmental resilience, and governance.

Most recently, in 2021, the NRI team conducted a review, commissioned by the CGIAR Gender Platform [5], of practical resources for addressing gender equality in climate resilient agriculture, with the aim of strengthening researcher capacity in gender transformative approaches to climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. On-going collaborations with civil society land rights platforms (International LandCollaborative) includes attention to issues of gender and diversity. Future work will explore how climate change, interacting with other factors, will exacerbate gender-based violence and potential responses in food systems. In the recent ‘Cultivating Equality’ Conference [6], also organised by the CGIAR Gender Platform , several NRI staff gave presentations, ranging from a keynote speech from Tania Eulalia Martinez-Cruz, presenting reflections and lessons on food sovereignty from Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, to work on women’s empowerment and farmland allocations in Bangladesh by Alessandro De Pinto, to a panel exploring critical feminist approaches in food systems research, by Lora Forsythe, June Po, Fiorella Pichionni, Gwen Varley, and Valerie Nelson.

Our work, and that of many other organisations, especially women's and indigenous people's organisations, have highlighted the importance of understanding how systemic inequalities impact on women’s ability to cope with environmental crises and the need to improve gender justice, through action on representation, participation, and redistribution of resources [7] including with respect to climate justice.

Read the other articles in our COP26 series here.


[3] Rainforest Foundation Norway (2021) FALLING SHORT: Donor funding for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to secure tenure rights and manage forests in tropical countries (2011–2020).
[4] Gender and Drylands Development - Empowering Women for Change Series: Nelson, V., Forsythe, L., and Morton, J. (2015) Synthesis of thematic papers from the series 'Women's empowerment in the drylands. UNCCD and UNDP, Greenwich.

[5] CGIAR Gender Platform:
[6] CGIAR Gender Platform Cultivating Equality Conference
[7] Fraser, N. (2008) Scales of Justice. Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. New York: Columbia University Press.