Finishing our IWD 2023 series, Emily Taylor explains why gender equity is critical to climate action.
The recent IPCC report only reinforced women’s key role in the climate economy.
On Monday morning, headlines ricocheted between scientists' “final warning” on climate change and reassurances that more can still be done to avoid the worst of climate collapse. Sobering findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s AR6 Report reiterated impacts already felt by extreme weather events, many of which adversely affect women. An increase in deaths from heat waves in all regions, homes and lives equally displaced by droughts and floods, crop failure leading to widespread hunger and the extinction of species in vital ecosystems are all current, real impacts of climate change.
Predictably, climate sceptics claimed fear mongering. Unfortunately, it’s not fear mongering if it’s fact.
When looking at progress made since 2018, one thing hasn’t changed: how we engage with women on matters of climate impact. Even among 700 IPCC authors that contributed to the reports, only 30 per cent were women, with 40 per cent of those representing the Global South. The synergy between women’s climate-positive impact in developed and developing economies is clear; elevating gender equity across all regions is essential to realising global sustainability goals.
Leading by example: women represent $20tn in buying power, but receive less than 1% of VC funding
While the summary report found that there is “sufficient global capital and liquidity” in circulation to meet Paris Agreement efforts to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C, there are barriers to seeing this come to fruition, “including a stronger alignment of public sector finance and policy”. Financial flows are three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030, and, when considering UK rhetoric on increasing investment to compete with the Biden Administration’s climate-heavy Inflation Reduction Act, there is plenty of opportunity for climate startups to vie for funding.
But the financial models themselves are broken: a report by non-profit CDP found that GHG emissions associated with financial institutions’ investing globally are on average 700 times higher than their direct emissions. Just in the UK, WWF found that financial institutions alone produced nearly 1.8 times the UK’s domestically produced emissions.
Additionally, women’s access to capital in the developed world is hindered across the board. TechCrunch found that women-founded startups raised 1.9% of all VC funds in 2022, a drop from 2021, representing only $4.5bn out of the $238.3bn total venture capital allocated. When we look specifically at climate technology: BloombergNEF estimates $755bn was invested in energy-transition technologies in 2021 across private equity (PE) and VC funding. Of PE investment, businesses founded by men accounted for $10bn, compared to $26.1m raised by female founders. Similarly, only 15% of climate-related VC funding went to startups with at least one female founder.
Could increasing women’s access to capital potentially reduce financial sector emissions, moving us closer to net zero by 2050? It’s possible. In an analysis of 11,700 global companies, BloombergNEF found that companies with 30% or more women at boardroom level typically score better on environmental disclosures, are more likely to set clear climate governance strategies and show greater transparency on climate data, including emissions, overall.
Outside of the boardroom: most eco-friendly products are marketed towards women, two popular zero-waste online retailers note that 90% of their consumer base are women, and in the UK, 71% of women have noted their commitment to ethical and sustainable living as top priority, compared to 59% of men. Overall, women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, as cited in a landmark report by Women+ in Climate Tech.
It’s echoed across the supply chain: women represent considerably more economic buying power than men, but see restricted access to capital with impact. Similarly in developing economies, women show incredible ability to apply sustainable solutions with greater impact, but are seldom given equal access to these resources.
When supporting developing economies, gender equity must come first
It’s critical we not only fix problems for women at home, but understand how this impacts supporting climate change abroad. As highlighted in the IPCC report, developing economies are absolutely essential to solving climate change. Recommendations include scaling up grants for vulnerable regions and investing time and resources in scaling up local capital markets.
It’s an opportunity to create green economies at scale, and elevate the voices of women who play critical roles in the supply chain. “If you look at the farm level [in developing economies], you will find more often than not it is women running the business of farming,” says Ciara Jackson, Food Agribusiness and Beverage Industry Leader at Aon.
Across the entire labour force, women represent nearly half of agricultural workers in developing countries. When provided equal access to resources, women consistently increase agricultural yields by 20 to 30 per cent, improving total agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 per cent. Applied at scale, these results could reduce world hunger by up to 17 per cent, according to the UN.
Further empowering these women will only further the adoption of critical climate technologies that will support sustainable farming and conservation practices. Recently, gender and sustainable energy leader ENERGIA instituted a program of more than 4000 women-led clean energy businesses in seven countries to deliver clean energy products and services to more than 2.9 million consumers, mostly in rural areas and low-income communities.
Women are the front line of climate action
The significant gains in sustainable agriculture and consumer preference for eco-friendly products are just two examples of how women can drive Paris Agreement goals. Research draws parallels between the natural alignment of green attitudes and femininity, noting that women have a “greater tendency to be prosocial, altruistic and empathetic; to display a stronger ethic of care; and to assume a future-focused perspective,” all critical attributes needed to drive climate change forward.
To view IPCC AR6 report recommendations as a “final warning” is only part of the picture. Net Zero by 2050 is an opportunity to reallocate capital to voices with a proven track record of measurable sustainable impact, from farm to finance. It’s clear that gender equity and sustainable economies should not be looked at in silo, rather, they should be built in tandem. Green economies at scale can be built faster and more efficiently by involving women in the process. Gender equity is a proven climate solutions multiplier, and solutions are needed at all points in the supply chain—from entrepreneurs to farmers—to build resilience for communities worldwide.
Of course, there are only so many blog posts one can write, articles one can read, research to be produced, before we must ask: when will policymakers step up to take women’s equity—and therefore climate impact—seriously?
As Director of Market Research for Antenna Group, Emily brings disruptive climate technology companies the critical market insight needed to inform business and communications strategy. She is Vice Chair of Women+ in Climate Tech's London Chapter, a mentor for Labour in Communications IMPACT scheme and active member of the Fabian Society.
Emily has ghost-written content for The New Yorker, TechCrunch, Forbes, Cleantechnica, Smart Cities Dive and Automotive News. In her spare time, Emily volunteers with St. Mungo’s charity in London, gets involved with local politics, enjoys creative writing in all its forms and co-hosts a podcast with close friends.