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Climate change interventions in Africa: applying a gender lens


A common image of Africa is that of women and girls walking long distances carrying heavy loads of water and fuelwood. Climate Change is forcing women and girls to walk ever longer distances due to water and fuel scarcity – endangering their health and safety – and restricting their educational and income generating opportunities.

Women in Africa rely heavily on environment-related livelihoods and as such they are an under-tapped resource in efforts to adopt to the serious realities of climate change and to contain their impact. They are potentially important partners in promoting and implementing climate-friendly farming and industrial techniques.


Providing the needed funds to improve women’s access to climate-smart technologies could lead to positive impacts on women’s economic and social empowerment, and sustainable development on the continent.


Extreme weather patterns are increasingly becoming the norm, not the exception across Africa. The years from 2013 to 2017 saw severe droughts across the Sahel, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa; floods in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Ghana; and cyclone Enawo in Madagascar.

Such events lay bare Africa’s vulnerability to the negative effects of climate change, and the urgent need for Africa to become more resilient and minimise such effects.

Poverty and environmental degradation are closely interrelated – depleting natural resources deprives already vulnerable communities of income-generating opportunities, while contributing to the burden of unpaid work. For women, this only furthers the distance to accessing equal opportunities.

Africa’s climate finance gap

Like economic development in general, adapting to and minimising the effects of climate change requires money. Today Climate Finance refers to local, national or transnational funds available as public, private and alternative sources of financing climate change interventions.

An African Development Bank (AfDB) study in 2011 concluded that the continent could require US$20-US$30 billion over the next two decades to meet its climate change adaptation needs. While Africa contributes the least to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and accounts for just 13% of the global population, the impact of climate change on the continent is overwhelmingly disproportionate. Africa is poised to bear nearly 50% of estimated global adaptation costs in health, water supply, agriculture and forestry.

Such figures underline the fact that climate change is a phenomenon that does not necessarily bring suffering and consequences on the main culprits in equal measure. These differ according to region – and also, according to age and or sex.

Climate change represents one of the most challenging threats to inclusive and sustainable development on the African continent.

Women and men face different experiences to climate change due to the gender-defined roles they play in society, and their varying levels of access to social, economic and physical resources. In Africa, such gender disparities are exacerbated by climate change effects on the factors that are most important for protecting women’s means of subsistence – water, food, and energy supply.


The global response to climate change

Various financing mechanisms now exist to assist countries adapt to and support their efforts to reduce the adverse effects of climate change. These include the: Climate Investment Funds (CIF); Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA); Green Climate Fund (GCF); Global Environment Facility (GEF); Africa Climate Change Fund (ACCF); and Africa Water Facility (AWF). 

Climate finance disbursement by Multilateral Development Banks hit a record seven-year high of US$35.2 billion in 2017 – a nearly 30% increase on the previous year. Africa was one of three major developing regions receiving funds, but Africa remains the lowest recipient of global climate finance at a mere  3%. Such a lowly figure is due to the lack of capacity on the part of African nations to take the steps needed access such funds and does not match the level of ambition put forward in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of many African countries.

Why should climate change interventions be inclusive?

The nations that signed The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are referred to as Parties. The Conference of Parties (COP) is the supreme body of the UNFCC, whose ultimate aim is preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system.

 COP23, which took place in Berlin in 2017 reinforced the importance of integrating gender into climate change initiatives with the adoption of its first Gender Action Plan (GAP). The GAP seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation, and to promote gender-responsive climate policy.

Addressing the climate challenge depends significantly on the availability of adequate and sustainable climate finance, along with properly designed mechanisms for its smooth provision. Using such mechanisms strategically has the potential to address socio-economic imbalances and political grievances that aggravate the vulnerability of communities and reduce their resilience to the impacts of climate change and extremes.

Implementation requires an inclusive approach – one that takes into account the needs, interests and differential vulnerabilities of women and men – at all phases, from concept and design to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This will ensure resilience, project sustainability and gender equality.

The AfDB – Building today, a better Africa tomorrow


The AfDB’s Inclusive Climate Action Initiative is a response to the need for African countries to each adopt transformational changes towards low-emission, climate resilient, inclusive, and sustainable development. The Bank is committed to this urgent need and to positioning itself as the leading African financial institution on gender and climate change on the continent. It is guiding countries on the fast track to achieve green, inclusive and sustainable development, and to deliver on their goals for climate action.


The work of the Bank can be summarized into seven themes: (i) Policy Dialogue; (ii) Resource Mobilization; (iii) Financing for Women in Climate Change Initiatives; (iv) Prioritizing Gender in Climate Change Operations; (v) Partnerships Building; (vi) Data and Knowledge Management; and (vii) Capacity Building.


The Bank’s Second Climate Change Action Plan (2016-2020)

stresses that the link between gender and climate change must be an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and investment plans. It notes the growing body of knowledge on gender and climate change, and emphasizes that this should continuously be reflected when preparing Bank policies, strategies, and investment projects.


Mobilising Resources

The AfDB Gender, Women and Civil Society department (AHGC) has been proactively working to mobilise resources for gender-focused programs for implementation of the Inclusive Climate Action Initiative. So far, over US$2 million has been raised from sources including the Climate Investment Funds, Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Trust Fund (KOAFEC), and the NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD-IPPF) Special Fund. The coming years will yield a strategic approach targeting climate finance funds including the GCF, SEFA, and ACCF to scale-up existing regional projects across the continent.


Building capacity

With thanks to funding from KOAFEC, the Inclusive Climate Change Adaptation for a Sustainable Africa (ICCASA) program works on building the capacity of policymakers and climate negotiators to integrate gender into national climate change policy, and promote women’s climate change adaptation for sustainable natural resource management. Funding provided by the CIF supports the AfDB’s work on strengthening capacity and understanding around the  gender-climate change nexus of its staff and development partners, in order to better capture gender outcomes in future projects.


Policy dialogue and advocacy

The AfDB is leading the campaign to ensure that women are given prominent roles alongside men, including at decision-making level, in all efforts to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change.  The AfDB uses the platform of international Climate Change organizations in which it is an active participant. It will be using this year’s COP24 to further advocate for and identify possible areas intervention to ensure an inclusive approach to addressing Climate Change on the continent.


Building partnerships

The AfDB continues to identify, build and strengthen its relationship with development partners, the private sector and civil society organisations to ensure maximum impact on the continent. Partnerships include the ongoing regional feasibility study on ‘Business Opportunities for Women in a Changing Energy Value Chain in West Africa’. The AfDB partnered with the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), and the NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD IPPF) with a focus on improving regional renewable energy infrastructure development and business opportunities for 16 women businesses in the ECOWAS region.


Other partners include: the African Working Group on Gender and Climate Change (AWGGCC), World University Service of Canada (WUSC), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and Women in Global Science and Technology (WISAT).


Making a case and sharing best practices

The AfDB is developing a range of new, responsive knowledge products on gender, NDCs, and other national policies. The Bank is also developing indicators, mapping and creating a database of gender vulnerability hotspots across the continent to highlight the reality that women and men experience climate change differently, and to tap the resources of women in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The AfDB is collating case studies that highlight best practices for integrating women into climate change initiatives – including clean cooking solutions, clean lighting, heating and fuel value chains. The Bank recognizes that there are indeed successful training and implementation models worldwide that involve women in central roles across the various value chains. Additionally, we will test new innovative ideas through pilot projects that involve women in design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, consumer finance and after-sale services.

A call to action

Actions to manage and contain Climate Change would be far more effective if they address rather than reinforce gender inequalities that increase the vulnerability of all communities, particularly women. Such an approach would provide broader benefits, and positively affect the ability of the most vulnerable populations to contribute to mitigation and adaptation efforts. The ball is now in the court of governments and development partners to ensure that their climate change actions reach those most in need.

Sohna Aminatta Ngum is a Gender Specialist in the department of Gender, Women and Civil Society at the African Development Bank Group.


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