“The effects of gender imbalance amongst decision-makers go beyond headline statistics. The lack of power and influence wielded by women in public and political life is undermining progress towards a world where poverty is eradicated and men and women are able to build sustainable and secure futures for themselves and their families.”

- VSO (2015) Women in Power: beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world

Throughout the past several years of the international climate change negotiations, alongside the establishment of a new sustainable development agenda, governments across the world have established and agreed that promoting gender equality and protecting women’s human rights are necessary to effective action on climate change toward peaceful and sustainable societies.

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where negotiations will determine global climate policy, women accounted for around 40% of all national Party delegates and around 30% of the Heads of Delegations in 2018, on average. Research shows that gender imbalances differ across countries and regions. Women’s participation in Eastern and Western Europe, for example, is above 45%, while it is around 35% in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. These differences can also be seen when looking at participation by UNFCCC negotiating blocks, with countries from the African Group, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and OPEC having less representation of women on national delegations.

As the climate negotiations work to implement the Paris Agreement, there is an opportunity to ensure that climate policies and actions are responsive to gender power structures and social constructs, that they recognize and respond to the needs, perspectives, and rights of women and men, and that they enhance and protect women’s human rights. This includes the right for women and men to fully and effectively participate in climate change decision-making at all levels.

Creating Change

The UNFCCC has worked to strengthen women’s leadership in the climate negotiations.

COP18’s Decision 23/CP.18, on promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations, highlighted countries’ recognition of the importance of equitable participation. However, as many governments and CSOs noted in their follow-up submissions on how to achieve the goals of this decision, words on paper will not be enough to truly transform participation levels, particularly as gender imbalance in decision-making is a reflection of larger structural gender equality issues at international, national, and local levels. 

For policies like Decision 23/CP.18 and subsequent other decisions like the Lima Work Programme on Gender, and for participation to be more equal, words on paper must be operationalized through investment in training, capacity building, financial support, and innovative methodologies and processes to create not just a simple balance in numbers, but transformation in who has access and influence in global decision-making spaces.

COP22's Decision 3/CP.23  instigated the establishment of the Gender Action Plan (GAP) under the Lima Work Programme (LWP). It noted the lack of progress that had been made in delegations toward the goal of gender balance, and prompted for the inclusion of gender within climate policy using five priority areas, including capacity building, pursuing meaningful participation, especially among indigenous and grassroots communities and effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms. However, the plan itself lacks clear targets and indicators to adequately evaluate progress. 


The country data highlighted in this section was collected from the official, final UNFCCC participant lists for each meeting during the years 2008-2019, including all intersessional and COP meetings. Data collection is restricted to published information on participants in official government delegations and members of UNFCCC boards and bodies; non-governmental stakeholders have not been taken into account.

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