Current efforts to combat climate change leave women behind. But drawing women fully into the fight is a win-win—accelerating climate progress and advancing gender equity.
It is no secret that climate change is likely to have a disproportionate impact on women. For example, women are more at risk in climate-induced disasters. Research also suggests that women’s livelihoods and education will take a harder hit than men’s as the planet warms. Less widely recognized, however, is the fact that the current approach to combating climate change could leave women behind, too.
If current trends in areas such as education and employment continue, BCG analysis indicates, climate mitigation and adaptation strategies as designed today could delay the attainment of gender equity by 15 to 20 years. This is largely because women are underrepresented in the fast-growth green economy and therefore are at a disadvantage in garnering new jobs, participating in reskilling, and gaining access to funding for green tech startups.
The good news is that this outcome is not inevitable. Applying a gender lens to climate action will not only address the inequity issue, but also accelerate progress in mitigating climate change and adapting to it. We do not have to decide which pressing challenge to address and which to ignore. Rather, with the right approach, moves to combat one can fuel progress in the other.
On the basis of our work with private- and public-sector organizations to drive progress on climate and gender equity, we see two primary areas for action:
Embed a gender lens in climate investments. We expect global investment in efforts to achieve net zero to total $100 trillion to $150 trillion by 2050. Players in the public, private, and social sectors should work to ensure that women participate fully in that effort, including by supporting female entrepreneurs in the green economy.
Ensure equity in green economy jobs. Governments and companies must take steps to increase the share of women who are educated and trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and sustainability-related fields, and they must ensure equal representation of women in reskilling efforts in major sectors of the global economy.
Concerted action in both areas will create a win-win—advancing gender equity and accelerating the global effort to reach net zero.
THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF CLIMATE ACTION
To understand the impact of climate action on gender equality we use the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index. This instrument measures the gap as an index (ranging from 0 to 1), with 0 representing complete inequity and 1 representing parity between men and women. The index has four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In view of the current level of progress and the recent outsize negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women, the WEF estimates that it will take roughly 135 years to close the global gender gap. The actual duration of the gap is difficult to project with precision, but evidence indicates that it is likely to persist for a significant period of time.
As numerous studies and reports have detailed, climate change alone could extend that period further. That’s because women are likely to face reduced access to education and employment and to experience greater negative health and safety impacts from climate-induced natural disasters. BCG estimates that climate change could reverse gender progress and push the attainment of gender equity out another 20 years. In other words, if the impact of climate change on women goes unaddressed, gender equity in 2030 will be back to where it was in 2010. (See “Quantifying the Impact of a Warming Planet on Gender Equity.”) READ MORE
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