Climate and cities: Towards a gender inclusive climate action plan

Vidya Bhamidi, Saket Sarraf, Surabhi Joshi

Artwork: Dr Cécile Girardin

The dual forces of urbanisation and climate change require cities to upgrade and adapt their physical and social infrastructure. Cities are preparing climate action plans along with their urban development plans to respond to the climate crisis. The aim is to mitigate the climate impacts, adapt to the new reality, and evolve as resilient cities, providing a safe and sustainable living environment for its residents.

The residents, however, experience differentiated impacts of climate change based on their gender. They are differently positioned to contribute to, benefit from, or be disadvantaged by the climate crisis and the climate action plans. We argue that these plans should seek to understand, and factor in every gender’s vulnerabilities, opportunities, roles, and needs.

A person’s health, livelihood, and education affect how they experience urban life and their exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Similarly, the level of access to financial resources, information and technology, as well as decision-making power determines an individual’s ability to improve their quality of life and prepare for or adapt to climate change. Multiple intersecting social, political, and economic structures lead to some individuals experiencing reduced agency and access to resources. The resulting inequalities are highly correlated with gender in most cities.

Extreme climate events exacerbate existing inequalities and further worsen how people are affected by, and respond to, the next climate crisis. We argue that gender-blind urban climate action plans will sustain and possibly reinforce the existing inequalities.

Cities have realised that focusing on only one factor, climate change or urbanisation may risk underestimating their combined impact. However, they have mostly ignored gender inclusivity in the process. From our review of over 25 urban climate action plans spread over six continents, we find that gender-sensitive perspective is missing from this “climate urbanism”. While some urban development plans are including gender sensitivity to address prevailing physical, cultural, and social barriers, the efforts to embed these into climate action are still at a very nascent stage.

Our research is rooted at the intersection of Cities, Climate and Gender. We assess interdependencies between social, physical, and governance systems in our cities in face of climate change. We explore Climate Action Plans (CAPs) as an instrument for cities to leverage the potential co-benefits of gender mainstreaming and achieve greater alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The cities selected for the analyses cover a mix of coastal and inland cities, different levels of economic development, and a wide spectrum of climate response initiatives. We found that the specific focus ­– mitigation, adaptation, or resilience — of the plans varied based on local context. Although we didn’t find the technology-centered myths of “gender-neutral” interventions being perpetuated, we only found a handful of cities that are truly trying to integrate gender in their CAPs or situate women as agents of change.

We looked for innovations and gaps in their efforts towards gender inclusiveness. Learning from their efforts, we propose the following eight-point framework towards creating a gender-inclusive Urban Climate action plan. You may know more about the framework from our presentation at Climate Exp0.

  1. Drivers and coalitions
  2. Vision and Goals
  3. Process
  4. Attributes
  5. Scope and approach
  6. Components
  7. Implementing, monitoring, and updating
  8. Governance

We strongly believe in the value that can be unlocked at the intersection of Cities, Climate and Gender. This has largely been ignored in most of the urban climate action plans so far. Our work focuses on the cross-over research from these three areas to inform local and national governments, civil society, and advocacy groups, as well as experts, engaged in the preparation of Urban Climate Action Plans.

We argue that mainstreaming gender sensitivity in the planning process will not only reduce the gender-based disproportionate vulnerability and enhance adaptive capacity, but also tangibly improve mitigation, adaptation, and resilience efforts of the city as a whole. Cities that will prioritise gender-inclusive climate action today, stand to reap significant gains both in terms of intra and intergenerational benefits.

Did you miss Climate Exp0? You can watch the highlight videos from all five days of the conference here. All conference content and sessions will be freely and permanently available on Cambridge Open Engage from mid-June. For those who attended Climate Exp0, you can view all sessions from Climate Exp0 now via the Climate Exp0 homepage, using your conference login.

Climate Exp0 is the first virtual conference from the COP26 Universities Network and the Italian University Network for Sustainable Development (RUS).

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