It has been an unprecedented week in Kigali. Rwanda has hosted the first in-person Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in five years. CHOGM is the biennial summit meeting of all heads of government of the 54 de facto Commonwealth Nations. The theme was, “Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming.” The CHOGM’s Women’s Forum held a solutions-focused panel, “Gender and Climate Change: Interactions and Opportunities for Progress,” which I had the honor of moderating.

The three speakers discussed gender mainstreaming in climate financing, the intersectional vulnerabilities of women and girls to natural disasters and climate-driven poverty in the Global South, and the particular challenges faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The video above is full coverage of the panel and the text below is my opening remarks.

Good morning to everyone, and my boundless thanks today for your participation during this session, ‘Gender and Climate Change: Interactions and Opportunities for Progress.’ This will be a platform to highlight how, for the fight against climate change to be successful, it is necessary to include and promote women as vital changemakers and ensure their seat at the policy and decision-making table. Before we arrive at that content, I’d like to take a moment to consider how we got to this point today in the climate change battle, which is a battle for our continued existence on this planet.

There is a compelling body of literature from psychology and economics on why it is so difficult to take action against climate change. The many economists in the room might be able to do these explanations more justice, but I will try.

First, climate change mitigation requires us to put short-term, immediate benefits aside instead of long-term benefits. However, research shows we overvalue short-term benefits relative to long-term ones. Economists call this temporal discounting. With climate change, long-term benefits of mitigation may not be desperately needed in the lifetimes of the very people in this room; those long-term benefits will not be realized during the administrations of politicians currently in office (which is one reason climate action is challenging). However, when we privilege the immediate short-term over and over again for long enough, suddenly what was the long-term becomes the now.

My second point is about the individual versus the collective. Climate change action today, a joint problem, can feel like a burden on single individuals and single organizations. Inaction means one person doesn’t have to change the car they drive, and one company doesn’t need to spend money on lower-carbon emissions in their manufacturing. One government can save money by continuing to use combustion-based energy rather than green energy.

The third explanation economists can give for climate inaction draws on the idea of discounting the future. What discounting the future means is that the future is always more uncertain than the present, and thus, people value the present more than the abstract future. It is one of the reasons that it can sometimes be hard for us to put enough money into a savings account, right? We have financial needs today that feel very pressing.

However, at this point, in June 2022, the long-term is no longer the long-term. It is now. Individual actions are no longer individual, they now affect collective societies and the globe, and our climate change savings account at the bank is below the minimum required balance.  

And no one will feel these impacts of climate change inaction more acutely than vulnerable women and girls.

However, employing a gender-responsive approach to climate policy and planning is separate from, and cannot be guaranteed through, just the improved representation of women in climate dialogue. Instead, we must examine the quality of and support for that representation.

In delivering a call to action, this session will highlight the impacts of climate change on women and girls, particularly the initiatives and measures being delivered, gender-mainstreamed funding options, and the importance of more inclusive leadership to ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are addressed.

This morning, we have two solutions-oriented objectives that we will explore in a problem-solution format. First, we will look at the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls to the effects of climate change and adaptation at the grassroots level. Then, we will examine women and girls as empowered agents of change at both the micro and macro levels and the need for their inclusion in gender-responsive climate planning, funding, and implementation to improve efficiency. The session will emphasize the provision of actual, real-world initiatives, which have already seen impacts and successes in the fight against climate change.

Following the Q&A, all those in attendance will be asked to provide one commitment they will undertake to improve the lives of those in their respective communities. The speakers and presenters will also undertake SMART commitments to scale up their endeavors, which may be measured over the next 1-2 years. They will make recommendations on how the Commonwealth can better support the needs of women and girls in addressing climate change and other major global disasters.

Expected outcomes of the session

  • We are interrogating the scalability of ideas at the grassroots level to the broader national/international/supranational level.
  • We seek consensus on the importance of women’s involvement in disaster risk management and resilience demonstrated through the provision of clear case studies at multiple levels.
  • We elicit clear recommendations for institutions at all levels, including the Commonwealth, on what they should do to strengthen gendered inclusion and support women-led innovations in combatting climate change.
  • We hope to garner commitment to continued innovation and modernization at all levels and a commitment amongst attending legislators and policymakers to identify and eradicate discriminatory laws.