Author : Priya Shah

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Feb 23, 2024
Finding the Untapped Mine of Women’s Leadership in Climate Action

This article is a part of the series - Raisina Files 2024

Climate change is an inevitable consequence of the historical global dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure— an integral part of economic growth since the Industrial Revolution. This infrastructure has been characterised by coal-fired power plants, oil wells, factories, and heavyduty transport powered by internal combustion engines for mobility—which now already produce enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet by an additional 2 degrees Celsius in this century. Today, the world is witnessing record-shattering storms, wildfires, and catastrophic episodes of drought across various regions. By the 2030s, as temperatures rise further, climate hazards are expected to increase as different countries face more crippling heat waves, worsening coastal flooding, and crop failures. At current levels of warming, for instance, food production is starting to come under strain. While the world is still producing more food each year, owing to improvements in farming and crop technology, climate change has slowed the rate of growth as the world’s population soars past eight billion.

Yet, climate change poses more severe risks on countries in the Global South, particularly on poor and marginalised women whose vulnerabilities are exacerbated by preexisting societal inequalities. Across the globe, women are more likely to rely on climate-sensitive sectors for their livelihoods (such as agriculture), and they also often have the least capacity to respond to climate extremes, such as droughts, floods and storms. As a result, women, and the children they care for, are 14 times more likely to die in disasters than men.[1] By 2030, climate change could push 158 million more women and girls into poverty and cause hunger for 236 million more women across the globe.[2] Climaterelated displacement also makes women and girls more vulnerable to gender-based violence, human trafficking, and underemployment.

One of the ways by which women can be equipped with the tools to tackle the effects of climate change, is to build their entrepreneurial capacity. This essay explores the various elements of climate action that would greatly benefit from the leadership of women, particularly from marginalised communities in the developing world: climate finance, climate-smart agriculture, and climate education. With the right training and ecosystem support, innovation can be facilitated and cutting-edge business models developed to both, disrupt traditional energy systems and drive the adoption of clean technology towards a net-zero future.

Women in Climate Finance

‘Climate finance’ comprises “financial flows mobilised by developed nations’ governments and private funds channelled towards climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.”[3] The path to ‘net zero’ by 2050 requires that low-carbon investments grow from US$900 billion in 2020 to US$5 trillion annually by 2030; countries in the Global South will need US$2 trillion annually, a fivefold increase from 2020.[4] If at least 50 percent of this climate finance requirement can be channelled towards gender inclusion, it would help with the much-needed transition to zerocarbon and climate-resilient development while also fostering equitable social policy.

However, even today, the vast majority of women in emerging economies do not have easy, adequate access to funds to cover climate-related losses such as those incurred because of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and soil erosion.[5] They also face challenges in securing access to climate adaptation technologies (which tend to be expensive) such as flood safeguards, weather forecasting mechanisms, insurance tools, sensors, efficient irrigation systems, and water purification, among others. Women's limited access to resources, particularly climate funding, makes it difficult for them to adopt climate-resilient practices.

The reasons for these challenges include cultural and social barriers in education, poor political participation, and lack of voice in decision-making processes. In particular, gender disparities in ownership and access to resources (such as land, credit and technology), compounded by sociocultural barriers, lead to the impoverishment of women, lower their adaptive capacity, and increase their exposure to climatic risk. Because women’s livelihoods tend to be climate-sensitive, climate change endangers their lives more than it does for men. Conversely, women’s unique knowledge of community dynamics and skills in the use and management of natural resources can add tremendous value to the climate effort by enhancing the efficiency and resilience of climate change response efforts.[6]

One way in which climate finance can bridge gender inequalities is by prioritising adaptation and mitigation projects that yield maximum benefits to women as a target group. For example, access to clean energy technologies would reduce their dependency on fossil fuels such as kerosene, the use of which contributes to global carbon emissions. Globally, 3 billion people rely on inefficient, fossil fuelled-powered cookstoves and could benefit from access to their cleaner counterparts. According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, women and girls use 90 percent of their incomes in ways that benefit their families and communities.[7] Start-ups that provide women access and financing to clean cookstoves, as well as employed by cookstoverelated businesses, such as restaurants, catering, and cookstove production and distribution, can reduce the health and safety issues caused by household air pollution and decrease the time women spend collecting cooking fuel. Women can then reallocate this time to education and income-generating activities.

Another large stakeholder in this sector is the Green Climate Fund, a multilateral fund that incorporates gender into its governing instrument and which has a Gender Policy and Action Plan. The Fund maintains a portfolio size of US$13.5 billion, used to deliver transformative climate action in more than 120 countries across the globe. Similarly, the Clean Investment Funds (CIF), a set of financing instruments to support the transition towards climate-smart development in developing countries, has a Gender Action Plan that was approved in 2014.

In addition, in November 2022, the Climate Gender Equity Fund (CGEF) was launched by USAID, Amazon, Reckitt, Visa Foundation, and The UPS Foundation who have committed a combined US$20 million to the fund, with USAID announcing an additional US$5 million during the COP28 climate change conference in December 2023.[8]The funding will be used over the next several years to make additional grants to businesses, investment vehicles, accelerators, incubators, and grassroots organisations that support climate solutions which are led by, and benefit women. While the multilateral funds are only a small subset of private and public climate finance streams, their gender considerations set an example for other funds to tackle deeply rooted structural inequities and maximise the impact of climate finance.

Moreover, at COP28, a number of new gender initiatives were launched, including the Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership in which 68 countries pledged to implement a partnership aimed at driving gender-sensitive energy transitions and strengthening the leadership and participation of women and girls in their climate actions.[9]The Partnership is built on three pillars: better quality data to support decision-making in transition planning; more effective finance flows to regions that bear the worst impacts of climate change; and education, skills and capacity building to support individual engagement in transitions.

The US Government also pledged US$1.4 billion in investments to the Women in the Sustainable Economy (WISE) Initiative, which aims to improve women’s access to employment, training, leadership roles, and financing in green (agriculture) and blue (ocean) industries.[10]

Women in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Significant proportions of populations in the Global South are dependent on the agrarian economy, and driving women’s access to innovative climate-smart tools in agriculture will be a key in closing the climate mitigation gap. It is estimated that women make up 48 percent of the global agricultural workforce—with the proportion reaching as high as 69 percent in South Asia—and dominate the global fish processing sector at 85 percent, although their contributions are often insecure and poorly remunerated.[11] As the ramifications of climate change worsen, the productive potential of these sectors will decline, putting pressure on women workers and leading to lower incomes. Livelihood opportunities will also decline, along with the natural resources upon which local communities depend; this, in turn, threatens global food security.

Closing gender gaps in the agriculture sector to provide access to productive resources could increase farming yields by 20–30 percent.[12] A number of initiatives are currently in place in different parts of the world that could provide best-practice examples of how innovative technologies can be leveraged to integrate climate action in efforts towards gender inclusivity. In India, S4S Technologiesa works to tackle the problem of food wastageb by providing women farmers in the rural regions, through loan financing, a solar-powered dehydration system, with a solar conduction dryer that can process more than 45 food categories.[13]The dehydration system can store produce for a longer period of time as the shelf life is increased to a year, without the need for cold storage. S4S purchases the processed food output from the women farmers, and this output is further refined into ingredients sold to the food and beverage industry.

Meanwhile, in Tanzania, the social enterprise, Alaska Tanzaniad works to support local women farmers in improving their productivity.e Alaska Tanzania sources rice from a pool of more than 60 small-scale farmers, of whom 65 percent are women, and trains them on good agricultural practices that will equip them in coping with climate change impacts; these include water conservation, the effective use of high-quality inputs, and sourcing finance.[14]

Similarly, in Kenya, Aquarechf is striving to reduce the vulnerabilities of women fish farmers by enhancing their economic empowerment through capacity building and financial training. This is a notable effort, as women in Kenya play a substantial role in the fisheries sector yet have historically been denied full participation in economic opportunities and decision-making in the sector.

These three are only some of the current initiatives that illustrate the role of start-ups in developing economies across the agriculture sector to mainstream gender practices, particularly through access to credit for women, capacity building and upskilling of women farmers, and allowing them to earn additional incomes. By framing agriculturerelated climate change activities and policymaking around the aim of gender equity, start-ups can enable rural women to become important agents of change. These efforts allow them to access information and technologies, contribute to low-carbon outcomes, and cultivate entrepreneurial and marketing skills.

Other stakeholders that also play a significant role in inclusivity for gender within agriculture are governments, public policymakers, and philanthropy. For example, with the help of local non-profit Conservation Action Trust (CAT), a group of fisherwomen in the western regions of Maharashtra launched an operation dubbed Mandavi Eco Tourism five years ago—an enterprise that protects the local mangroves while offering eco-friendly boat rides for visitors to the mangrove region. The boats do not run on engines and therefore do not affect the region's biodiversity. The group has also set up an organic farm and is selling homemade pickles and local spices to supplement its members' incomes. It has managed to raise funds from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as the Maharashtra State Government.[15]

Climate Action and Education

Inextricably linked to both climate finance and climate-smart agriculture is the subject of bringing a gender perspective into climate education and skill-building, particularly around enhancing communities’ adaptive capacity to climate change, behavioural transformation, and expansion of coping strategies. Historically, women have developed knowledge and skills related to water harvesting and storage, food preservation and rationing, and natural resources management. In Africa, for example, older women represent wisdom pools with their inherited knowledge and expertise related to early-warning actions and mitigating the impacts of climate disasters.[16]

It begins with early education—investing in green skills for girls in the Global South, which allows them to increase climate resilience such as consequential thinking and communication skills to understand and explain risks to others; systems thinking skills, such as understanding how human activities like deforestation may contribute to landslides and flooding; and leadership skills for organising collective action and systems change toward sustainability. There is a strong need for knowledge on climate change—the science, ideas for mitigation and adaptation, what might happen in the future; skills for critical thinking, problem-solving, team collaboration, communication, dialogue; as well as habits and behaviours to live more sustainably, reduce carbon emissions, ensure a just transition, and instil respect for nature. These practices, when ingrained in girls at an early age, also pave a role in helping them address the onset of healthcare challenges in the face of climate change, such as worsening air quality, changes in the spread of infectious diseases, and threats to food and water quality.

There is an opportunity for start-ups to bridge the gap on climate education and channel more young professionals, particularly women, into climate-specific jobs. Start-ups can leverage software platforms and the marketplace approach to connect talented individuals to jobs across climate finance, non-profits, government and large corporations. For example,, a start-up founded in 2020, is a global platform for climate learning and careers, which hosts green skills-based courses featuring expert speakers, for students who want to learn about climate action. The start-up has also launched a ‘jobs board’ that allows candidates to explore open roles and engage directly with hiring managers from climate organisations, thus creating a community of dedicated climate enthusiasts.

With respect to labour force participation, an example of Global South programmes that are implementing this inclusivity is IFC’s Powered by Women initiative, which works with hydropower companies in Nepal to identify women’s employment gaps, reduce gender-based violence, and advance women’s position as employees and leaders. The World Bank’s RENEW MENA programme, for its part, works to increase women’s economic participation in clean energy jobs, create better workplace conditions, and combat discrimination and biases that impede women’s entry to, and growth in the STEM domains.

In the United Kingdom, it is forecast that the green skills shortage gap will be resolved largely by women who have historically taken on more people-oriented roles within companies.[17] As the need for climate skills grows and new green jobs emerge, women are best placed to step up into leadership positions across companies. Women’s participation and leadership in climate action is associated with better resource governance, conservation outcomes, and disaster readiness. In the private sector, more gender-diverse corporate boardrooms have been shown to lead their organisations to more sustainable policies.[18] Similarly, a study by the European Investment Fund, quoted in Balke and Thomas Östros (2023), shows that women-led firms have higher environmental, social, and governance scores than other companies, and that businesses with greater representation of women in leadership positions have better track records of adopting environment-friendly practices.[19] Similarly, women leaders are more likely to invest in renewable energy, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved environmental outcomes, and women-owned businesses are more likely to pursue greater energy efficiency and practices such as recycling.


The importance of gender inclusion in climate action has never been more pronounced than it is today, when the world sits at a crucial juncture along the path to accelerate the global transition to net-zero. As we attempt to develop ground-breaking, climatepositive technologies in laboratories, green organisational supply chains, and educate the next generation in new climate-friendly practices, there is a need to equip more women not only in policymaking roles but in private enterprise as well—in corporations, as scientists, technicians, and investors, and particularly as start-up entrepreneurs to move the needle in the transition away from fossil fuels. In terms of best practice, startups can help leverage the right mix of talent and technology to develop agile ways in which a market solution can be effectively harnessed to address a large problem statement such as decarbonisation along the gender axis.

Many initiatives across the areas of climate finance, climate-smart agriculture, and climate education are taking centrestage in global forums and are showing promise. However, there is so much more that can be implemented at scale, particularly in countries of the Global South, to increase women’s participation in the green transition. Governments can also do their part by offering affordable, high-quality childcare to parents; increasing support for women-owned enterprises; expanding the financial and networking opportunities available to businesses managed and owned by women; and pursuing measures to eliminate the gender gap across multiple industries.


[1] Asako Osai, “Women are Hit Hardest in Disasters, So Why are Responses Too Often Gender-Blind?” United Nations Development Programme, March 2022

[2] Evelyn Smail, “Gender Equality at COP28: Advancing Climate Justice for Women and Girls,” Climate Impacts Tracker Asia, December 2023

[3] Simon Black, Florence Jaumotte, and Prasad Ananthakrishnan, “World Needs More Policy Ambition, Private Funds, and Innovation to Meet Climate Goals,” IMF Blog, November 2023

[4] Black, Jaumotte, and Ananthakrishnan, “World Needs More Policy Ambition”

[5] "Youth Are Key to Accelerate Innovative Climate Technologies,” United Nations Climate Change News, January 2022

[6] United Nations Development Programme, Gender and Climate Finance, UNDP, 2016

[7] “Improving Women’s Empowerment with Clean Cookstoves,” Global Impact Investing Network

[8] “Highlights from USAID’s Contributions to COP28,” USAID, December 2023

[9] “COP28 Launches Partnership to Support Women’s Economic Empowerment and Ensure a Gender-Responsive Just Transition at COP28 Gender Equality Day,” COP28 News, December 2023

[10] “At COP28, A WISE Investment: Advancing Women’s Participation in Climate Efforts,” COP28 News, December 2023

[11] Franziska Deiningerana and Ana Gren, “Green Jobs for Women Can Combat the Climate Crisis and Boost Equality,” World Bank, November 2022

[12] Food and Agriculture Organization, The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA): Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development, 2011

[13] Rekha Balakrishnan, “This Startup’s Foodtech Solution is Helping Women Farmers Become Micro-Entrepreneurs,” YourStory, February 2023

[14] Stella Kimani et al., “The Role of Climate-Smart Agriculture Enterprises in Women’s Empowerment,” Climate Knowledge and Development Network, March 2023

[15] Naila Khan, “The Unlikely Guardians of an Indian Mangrove Forest,” Fair Planet, November 2022

[16] Balgis Osman-Elasha, “Women... In The Shadow of Climate Change,” United Nations UN Chronicle, 2009

[17] Maya Derrick, “Climate Action to Propel Energy Sector Globally in 2024,” Energy Digital, December 2023

[18] Hana Brix and Jennifer J. Saramary Porter Peschka, “People and Planet Together: Why Women and Girls are at the Heart of Climate Action,” World Bank Blogs, November 13, 2022

[19] Barbara Balke and Thomas Östros, “The Business Case for Women’s Climate Leadership,” Project Syndicate, March 2023

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