Cop28 an opportunity to amplify women's role in climate action, experts say

Abu Dhabi expert panel emphasises the importance of female leadership in climate negotiations

Dena Assaf, UN resident co-ordinator in the UAE, speaks on the role women can play in climate talks during a panel discussion in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Women should be at the centre of climate action as they remain the most vulnerable to it, an expert panel heard in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

The Arab region faces the heightened impact of climate change, made worse by a gender parity gap, making it important for women to play a pivotal role in climate negotiations and decision making, the panel heard.

Dena Assaf, the UN's resident co-ordinator in the UAE, said the twin problem painted a bleak picture.

“When we talk about impact of climate change in the Arab region, it is much greater than we probably have realised. Now, on top of that, the Arab region is not doing so well on the whole gender equality index,” said Ms Assaf.

The average temperature rise in the Arab region has been forecast at 4ºC, against the global average of 2ºC, she said.

The risks are even higher considering that 73 per cent of arable land in the Arab region faces the threat of desertification, with an economic impact of Dh33 billion ($9 billion), she said.

Extreme conditions

According to studies, the Arab region is more susceptible to higher temperature increases due to its large expanses of desert and lower groundwater levels.

Dangerous weather such as the deadly flash floods in Fujairah and Oman, as well as flooding in Qatar are examples of how climate change is affecting the Gulf region, a study by The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre said.

Ms Assaf said the economic viability of women was in danger, especially as the agriculture sector is the second-largest employer of women in the Arab region, where female-run households are increasing daily due to protracted conflicts.

Climate change can also have a devastating effect on the region’s water supplies and food production systems, which experts believe could have a direct link to terrorism and extremism.

Against this backdrop, Ms Assaf said the existing gap in gender parity exacerbated the problem.

Although the UAE ranks first in the Arab world and 68th globally among the 146 countries in the 2022 Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, Ms Assaf said its neighbours were still struggling.

“Three Arab countries are at the bottom of the index. So, we're not doing that great, [the] UAE being the best of the countries in the region and leading the way. We have a lot to improve upon.”

However, she said there was hope that the region had the potential and opportunity to move forward.

“We have already shown progress in many areas,” Ms Assaf said.

Hafsa Halawa, an independent consultant and Middle East analyst, said the Mena region, as a whole, was responding “poorly” to gender considerations within climate policies.

“Part of the problem stems from the very genuine governance challenges and socioeconomic challenges that a number of middle-income countries in the region face.”

Cop28 'an opportunity'

The panel, consisting of diplomats, academics, analysts and private sector representatives, discussed how Cop28 was an opportunity to push for women’s full and meaningful participation and address the most pressing issue of climate change.

Titled “The role of women leadership in advancing the climate agenda”, the panel was held at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy.

It was organised by the EU Delegation to the UAE, the Swedish embassy in Abu Dhabi, the Swedish Dialogue Institute for the Middle East and North Africa, and the academy.

Women remain underrepresented in climate forums and even fewer participate in negotiations on key climate issues such as climate funding, carbon emissions and measures to limit the use of fossil fuels, said ambassador Andrea Fontana from the EU mission in the UAE.

However, Cop28 has shown a commitment to advance their leadership, with the EU impressed by the appointment of Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of Community Development, and Razan Al Mubarak, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as Youth Climate Champion and UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, respectively, he said.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this [commitment] is followed up after the Cop by concrete actions so that women voices are represented in decision-making at the Cop and also in the UAE, EU and globally,” Mr Fontana said.

Emphasising the importance of promoting female leadership in efforts to address the climate crisis, Malak Abdullah, a UAE Cop28 youth delegate, highlighted the results of a survey conducted by a youth programme on climate change.

The survey found that women tend to be more engaged in climate activism than men, with 58 per cent of climate activists being female and the statistics showing “the significant role women play in driving action”.

Laila Abdullatif from Emirates Nature-WWF, said since eight in 10 people who are either displaced or affected by climate change are women, they had a unique perspective to offer.

“And hence, they should be involved in the co-creation of solutions,” she said.

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Updated: June 16, 2023, 8:59 AM