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Gender equality crucial to address climate change

A new study published today in Nature Communications highlights the importance of overcoming gender inequality for climate change adaptation and explores future pathways of gender equality for sustainable development

Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change differs on a wide range of factors including socio-economic status, education, ethnicity and gender. As such, building capacity to adapt to climate change urgently requires eradicating inequalities of many sorts, including those in terms of gender.

In their new study, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from from Humboldt University in Berlin, IIASA, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and Climate Analytics explored the specific linkages between gender inequality and adaptive capacity to climate change.

“Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, not because there’s something inherently vulnerable about women, but because of different social and cultural structures that stand in their way,” explains study lead author Marina Andrijevic, a researcher from IRI THESys, Humboldt University and Climate Analytics, Berlin, Germany. “Disempowerment comes in many forms, from the lack of access to financial resources, education, and information, to social norms or expectations that affect, for example, women’s mobility. These considerations have to be taken into account when thinking about what challenges to adaptation a society might face.”

The study used an established Gender Inequality Index of the United Nations Development Programme which measures whether women are disadvantaged in comparison to men in health, education, as well as labour market and political participation. The researchers found that though improving women’s access to resources such as maternal health, eradicating inequalities could support resilience to the effects of climate change. It provided the first ever quantified scenarios of gender inequality over the 21st century, using the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). The pathways, which are used throughout climate research, is significant to understand societies’ adaptive capacity to climate change.

Through projections of trajectories of gender inequality, combined with existing scenarios for population growth, education and income, the study highlighted the challenges faced by future societies in their efforts to foster sustainable development. It underscored the importance of accounting for future gender inequalities in both analyses of future challenges to climate change adaptation, and in climate mitigation policies. In addition, women’s representation in politics has been shown to lead to more rigorous climate action, thus affecting mitigation policies as well.

“Our projections provide an evidence-based assessment of future trajectories of gender inequality that can be used as an input to guide policymaking at the global level,” notes coauthor Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, an IIASA researcher and professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. “While achieving gender equality does not automatically ensure the resilience of societies to the impacts of climate change, especially at low levels of socioeconomic development, it is an important factor for improving adaptive capacity globally.”

Further projections of future socioeconomic dynamics and gender inequality show that faster societal progress in areas such as education could improve the lives of millions of girls around the world by 2030. The ’What-if’ scenarios defined by the SSPs are also useful for the assessment of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and can be used to monitor the fulfillment of the objective of achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls by 2030.

“We hope that our work will help streamline considerations of gender inequality in our analyses of current and future challenges for adaptation to climate change, and what they mean for the world with the increasing impacts of climate change,” says Andrijevic.


Andrijevic M, Crespo Cuaresma J, Lissner T, Thomas A, & Schleussner C-F. (2020). Overcoming gender inequality for climate resilient development. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19856


Marina Andrijevic

Phone: +49 176 20411478 (Germany)

Carl Schleussner

Phone: +49 177 5141559 (Germany)

Jesus Crespo Cuaresma

Phone: +43 1 313364530 (Austria)

Tabea Lissner

Adelle Thomas