Mitigating climate change

The ultimate objective of the Convention is the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. To this end, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) will have to be reduced massively, by 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century. Indeed, in Cancun in 2010, Parties agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature below 2 °C, or below 1.5 °C, above pre-industrial levels.

Mtigation needs to particularly address the energy sector as the primary source of the most important greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide – including energy supply and energy use in all sectors. The reduction of emissions from deforestation is also a major issue in the negotiations.

Under the Convention (Article 4.1 b), all Parties are required to undertake efforts to mitigate climate change. Recognising that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR).

The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, therefore committed industrialised country Parties listed in Annex B to binding quantified emissions reduction targets. Following the first commitment period, which lasted until 2012, Parties agreed upon a second commitment period until December 2020.
While progress under the Kyoto Protocol has arguably been limited, negotiations are currently underway to develop a follow up instrument – a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention” – which will be applicable to all Parties.  They are taking place in under the framework of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which is expected to result in an outcome by COP21 in Paris at the end of 2015.

Gender dimensions

Usually, analysis and debates on greenhouse gas emissions revolve around the North-South divide, based on national average per capita emissions, without looking at differentials in per capita emissions within countries. Although there is a lack of sex-disaggregated data and information, there is evidence – for instance, from studies on single-person households in Europe – that the sources and level of emissions of women and men differ substantially, independently of their age and income. This difference stems from factors such as car use and food preferences.

As for policies to mitigate climate change, the under-representation of women in planning, decision-making and implementation in relevant areas, such as energy and transport, is striking. Yet, according to various surveys, women tend to be more concerned about climate change and would prefer more ambitious efforts to reduce GHG emissions than men. Some polls indicate, for instance, that women are more likely to support policies and measures that would restrict the use of private motor vehicles.

Women remain the main providers of family and community care in most parts of the world, resulting in different needs in terms of energy and mobility compared to men. On the other hand, they can make specific contributions to mitigation, given their role as household and community managers.

Other differences that have been observed are:

  • Women are often more willing than men to change their behaviour in order to save energy and purchase low-carbon emitting products; however, they often know less about their own energy consumption and they reject measures that would burden them with extra work.
  • Women and men have different preferences in terms of technologies to reduce greenhouse gases – a majority of women rejects risky technologies such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.
  • A majority of women prefers to rely on lifestyle changes rather than on technological progress only.

Gendered impacts of climate policy are an issue that deserves more attention. As yet, research has hardly looked at these impacts systematically. However, there are indications that various policies and measures will affect women and men differently. Given that women, on average, have lower incomes than men, measures leading to higher energy prices for end users – such as carbon trading and carbon taxes – are more likely to negatively affect women. Moreover, without policy interventions, women and men serve to not benefit equally from the positive effects of climate policy, for example, from job creation in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors.


In order to be effective and just, mitigation responses must take gender differentials into account. First of all, the participation of women in decision-making must be improved at all levels. However, this does not necessarily guarantee that gender issues are addressed. In contrast to adaptation, awareness of the gender dimensions of mitigation is still largely lacking, both in the global North and the global South.

In order to address consumption as the root cause of greenhouse gas emissions, it is vitally important to learn more about gender differences in consumption and readiness to change behaviour. Approaches which consider the role of masculinity and status and seek to challenge gender binaries and tackle structural inequality prove particularly insightful.

Current needs, attitudes and priorities of women and men need to be taken into consideration in order to develop gender-sensitive policies and measures. As a consequence, mitigation strategies should not only rely on technologies and markets, but should rather include wide-ranging structural and lifestyle changes. In particular, energy poverty and lack of transport options need more attention. Moreover, the impacts of policies on women and men must be investigated, applying methods and tools such as Gender Impact Assessments.

Research on climate policy should look more into the social and gender dimensions of mitigation. More research needs to be done to close the data gap and improve knowledge about issues such as the gendered effects of various policy instruments, interventions to address poverty and affluence, and decision-making at household level.