Supporting more than equal numbers in international climate debates

For International Women’s Day, Brianna Craft and Samantha McCraine detail efforts to bring more women to the UN climate change negotiations, and describe how mentoring can help women influence decisions made during these global forums.

Brianna Craft's picture Samantha McCraine's picture
Brianna Craft is a senior researcher with IIED's Climate Change research group; Samantha McCraine is the independent monitor for the ecbi training and support programme
08 March 2020
Smiling women gather in front of a climate change conference sign and give a thumbs up

Mentoring junior negotiators offered them a greater chance of making connections, and opportunity to gain advice (Photo: Brianna Craft)

#EachforEqual is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. It recognises that equality requires everyone’s support and that, when we all support each other, we are stronger.

The UN climate negotiations are crucial summits where global decisions on climate action are made. However, more men than women continue to represent their countries in this space. Men do most of the speaking and the deal making. 

The climate negotiations need more women, but achieving equal numbers isn’t enough. Women negotiators must also be trained and supported so they can influence decisions at these high-level meetings.  

This International Women’s Day, we’re reviewing our support to women in the international climate negotiations and assessing what we can do to ensure that women have an even greater impact.

Helping to forge equality at the climate negotiations

Under the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi), IIED trains officials from vulnerable developing countries to maximise their influence in the UN climate change negotiations.

Through ecbi we encourage governments to send equal numbers of women and men to our training sessions, with the hope that each delegate will go on to represent their country at the talks. A review of our work last year showed promising results: we trained the same number of women and men, and equal numbers also went on to join their country delegations.

But – given that more men than women shape the discussions in these debates – more must be done to rectify the imbalance.

In October 2019, we launched a call for applications. We would bring as many female representatives to the UN climate change conference in Santiago, Chile (COP25) as we could. And while they were there, we would use tools, new and old, to increase their engagement.

We wanted to support the women who needed it most. We opened the call to women from the least developed countries (LDCs) who had participated in relatively few UN climate negotiations. These 'junior negotiators’ would attend the ecbi pre-COP training workshop and join their peers for daily check-ins – learning from the trainers and from one another about the often bewildering process of international climate decision making.

We would also put the junior negotiators in direct contact with senior negotiators from a range of countries. This approach to mentoring was new for us. Together with our partner, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) we matched each of the junior team with an experienced climate negotiator – who could help them make connections, offer advice and introduce them to new ways of working.

We hoped to attract a high number of women applicants and received an overwhelming response. Thirty-six women applied and their applications demonstrated their competence and passion to speak on behalf of their countries. From the pool of applicants, we were able to support five dynamic women from the LDCs to attend COP25.

Why this matters: imbalance at the climate negotiations

Our analysis from last year showed that from 2013-18, across all 197 countries party to the UN climate negotiations, women represented only 37% of delegates. Updated 2019 figures showed a 3% increase: at COP25 (which ultimately took place in Madrid, Spain), 40% of all delegates were women.

This is movement in the right direction, but without women empowered and equipped to take the floor, climate policy decisions will still be shaped primarily by male voices.

How do figures from the LDC delegations compare? 

As a group, the 47 LDCs continue to lag behind in achieving gender balance – with their 2019 delegations only consisting, on average, of 29% women.

The group’s average can downplay gains by individual countries within the bloc. In six LDCs — Gabon, Sudan, Tuvalu, Mozambique, Kiribati, and Myanmar — 40% or more of their delegates were women.

The most gender balanced LDC delegations at the UN climate negotiations

The delegations of the five women we supported had a marked gender imbalance. Among the group was Danise Love Dennis from Liberia, who writes about her year-long learning journey – from the ecbi training to negotiating for her country at COP25 — in her diary.

Working for change, together

We were thrilled that our efforts to introduce junior negotiators to mentors was furthered by initiatives, launched at COP25, of the Chilean presidency.

Over the next few months, we will continue to work with WEDO to understand more about how we can increase support to women negotiators. We will combine lessons learned from the mentoring scheme and from our respective training programmes. We will also jointly develop new, more rigorous indicators for monitoring and evaluating the support we provide.

Achieving equality in the international climate negotiations will require supporting negotiators on an ongoing basis – training and action shouldn’t end when the talks do.

We’re looking for support to continue our work with all our junior negotiators in preparing them for the next round of talks. If you would like to learn more about the ecbi programme or offer support, please contact Brianna Craft.

About the author

Brianna Craft ([email protected]) is a senior researcher with IIED's Climate Change research group

Samantha McCraine is the independent monitor for the ecbi training and support programme and a consultant at the World Wildlife Fund

Brianna Craft's picture Samantha McCraine's picture