Image by UN Women/Ryan Brown
  • Blog
  • 11 March 2024

Gender equality and climate adaptation: closing the data gap

New analysis from Development Initiatives shows there are challenges tracking investment in gender-responsive climate finance, with only 0.1% of total bilateral DAC ODA going to projects specifically targeting climate adaptation and gender.

This month, the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), will address a critical issue: strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective. This could not be timelier. We face a global climate crisis that is exacerbating gender inequality, but the data we use to track this is not fit for purpose. That’s why I will be at CSW, advocating for the data so desperately needed to establish gender-sensitive adaptation strategies.

Climate inequality

Climate change affects everyone, but not equally. It compounds the structural discrimination that women and girls already face across the globe. Women are more likely than men to live in poverty, limiting their access to basic services like education, sanitation and food security. In rural settings, women’s livelihoods are often highly dependent on natural resources threatened by climate change, as they are burdened with tasks such as collecting water and firewood. Women are therefore often particularly susceptible to the increasing frequency of droughts, floods, unpredictable weather patterns and habitat destruction that can make these resources scarcer. Increased desertification in semi-arid drylands means that women who tend cattle or sell agricultural products are often disproportionately threatened. In addition, women are less likely to be included in decisions about adapting to climate change, and less able to flee when disaster hits.

Making women’s voices heard

To build lasting resilience in the face of climate change, we need to dismantle gender inequalities and establish gender-sensitive adaptation strategies at all levels. Women must be at the heart of these efforts, but there is still a long way to go. The Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) has shown that despite an increase in attendance at meetings of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (conference of the parties, or COP), women’s attendance has remained at 34% for a decade.

Climate adaptation must strengthen women's decision-making power, provide better access to resources and tailor solutions to their specific needs. For instance, there are powerful potential ripple effects in training women in climate-smart agriculture, providing them with microfinance, and supporting their leadership. Creating the capacity to adapt to climate change enables individuals and communities to gain more control over their lives and to shape the systems around them. By empowering women, we equip them to become agents of transformation, from local communities to the global stage, contributing to building a more just and sustainable future for all.

The role of ODA

Reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and financing loss and damage will require trillions. Much of this will be public finance, including official development assistance (ODA). ODA plays a critical role, particularly in countries facing the biggest challenges ‒ where domestic resources are scarce and access to international markets is difficult. Low-income countries are particularly dependent on ODA for investments in gender equality and, increasingly, climate change adaptation. However, as far as we can tell, very little ODA is clearly focused on both.

Donors from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) report aid spending on cross-cutting issues including gender and climate adaptation. An initial look at the data shows a positive trend, that climate adaptation aid has more than tripled over the last decade, from US$7.8 billion to US$23.4 billion.

However, that’s not the whole story. When reporting on activities funded by ODA, donors can indicate whether gender or climate are 'principal’ objectives, ‘significant’ objectives, or if they are ‘not targeted’ at all. Some proportion of funding for projects marked as climate significant may address crucial climate adaptation elements. The same is true for gender. The challenge is that, without knowing how this is broken down, it is impossible to know for sure how much.

According to DAC donor reporting, ODA with a significant climate adaptation objective contributed most of the growth (nearly quadrupling), while ODA with a principal climate adaptation objective grew at a lower rate (19%) and only made up 2.2 % of total bilateral allocable ODA in 2022.

The data on gender tells a similar story. While gender-related ODA nearly doubled over the last decade from US$27.8 billion to US$50.1 billion, ODA with a principal gender objective grew at a lower rate (20%) and made up a much smaller share of the 2022 total (3.9%) than ODA with a significant gender objective (33%). Disappointingly, the proportion of activities with gender equality as their principal objective has stagnated and even slightly decreased in recent years.

Taken together, the data is even starker, with just 0.1% of total bilateral allocable ODA going to projects with both climate adaptation and gender as principal objectives. In 2022, this was US$0.13 billion of the total US135.9 billion disbursed.

Figure 1: Just 0.1% of total bilateral DAC ODA goes to projects specifically targeting climate adaptation and gender (2022)

Figure 1: Just 0.1% of total bilateral DAC ODA goes to projects specifically targeting climate adaptation and gender (2022)

Bar chart showing that just 0.1% of total bilateral DAC ODA goes to projects specifically targeting climate adaptation and gender (2022)

Source: OECD CRS

Notes: Policy marked ODA is bilateral allocable aid only from DAC donors

Despite these challenges, many women’s organisations are leading the way on climate adaptation, and many others have more to contribute. Donors should be providing women's organisations with much more resources, but the data shows that funding has decreased in recent years. Average annual commitments to women’s rights organisations, movements and institutions fell from US$891 million in 2019‒2020 to US$631 million in 2021‒2022 ‒ less than 1% of total ODA.

Closing the data gap

While there is clear political support for advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls, and climate finance is now also the focus of much public financing to meet this global challenge, current funding has failed to match the ambition. Without better data, what funding there is is difficult to track, and its impact is difficult to assess, as I’ve argued elsewhere. It’s clear that more funding is needed to ensure that women’s voices are central to climate adaptation efforts, but it is impossible to hold donors to account if progress cannot be measured. To achieve the laudable aims of CSW, we need to close the data gap.