Will rights and gender be at the heart of World Bank’s climate response?

10 July 2009

Initially flagged as a global environmental problem, increasing attention is being drawn to the impacts climate change has on human rights and equity related issues such as gender, as well as the World Bank’s role in tackling them.

In an address at the World Bank’s spring meetings in April, Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland highlighted the human rights dimension of climate change. She said that those who are most at risk from its impacts are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, creating power struggles and the need for access to justice. She also emphasised that climate change will undermine progress on almost all of the rights enshrined in international human rights instruments, just as it will undermine achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. As such, she called for considerable care to be taken in the design and implementation of the wide range of adaptation projects that the World Bank is set to finance in the coming years and drew attention to its role in mitigation.

“The World Bank is often the target of criticism because its energy portfolio is still heavily weighted toward carbon-producing projects,” said Robinson. “Both the authority and the power of the Bank are enormous, and I would urge you to reconsider this portfolio.” The World Bank is increasing fossil fuel investments and a new report by the Environmental Defense Fund highlights that the Bank has contributed $5.3 billion in coal fired power plants alone since 1994.

Robinson also emphasised the importance of technological leap-frogging and appropriate technology, highlighting the need for the Bank to provide support and resources to developing countries to meet their right to development and energy needs in ways which are sustainable, primarily through scaling up of renewable technologies.

A recent report by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Gender and Climate Finance: Double Mainstreaming for Sustainable Development, focusses on issues of equity, primarily gender.

It highlights that women are least considered by environmental financing mechanisms. This is linked to broader impediments for women in development and include lack of access to capital and markets; lack of legal protections and ownership over land and other resources; and cultural biases against women’s engagement in learning, political participation and decision-making processes. Among issues raised are the differentiated impacts on women of adapting to climate change because of their different roles in use and management of natural resources. Due to gender roles dictating economic activities and livelihoods, transport and travel needs it is estimated that women’s carbon emissions are generally lower than men’s. However, few if any studies have looked at the issue.

While there has been a proliferation of instruments for climate financing, many housed under the World Bank, none have integrated gender according to the Böll report. “There can be no fair and equitable global climate agreement without a comprehensive global climate finance understanding. And this understanding can only be fair, equitable and comprehensive when it incorporates gender awareness and strives toward gender equitable climate financing solutions.”

The World Bank has repeatedly highlighted that poverty reduction and development can only be achieved together with women’s equality (see Update 54). However, these conclusions have not been carried forward into the development of the Bank’s controversial Climate Investment Funds (CIFs, see Update 60). According to a report by Gender Action, Doubling the Damage, the Bank documents establishing the CIFs never mention gender or women in relation to the funds’ objectives, governance, project criteria, evaluation measures or budget targets with one exception. The only reference arises in the criteria for selecting adaptation expert group members under the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience.

While a gender lens is also lacking from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and facilities such as the Global Environment Fund, the climate financing which has already been dedicated to the Bank as well as its ongoing work on gender, necessitate the Bank’s leadership on this and broader human rights and equity issues. Anna Rooke of Gender Action stated, “The Bank must abandon its policy-based lending and loan requirements that often push women out of formal sector employment, increase their care burdens at home, and deepen the feminisation of poverty.”