The 66th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) took place last March, with a theme related to climate change: “Achieving gender equality (…) in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.”

With the choice of this theme, an attempt was made to link the traditional work of the Commission, dedicated to the full implementation of the rights of women, girls and children, to the climate issue, which had not yet been officially addressed by this UN body. The Conclusions Agreed by the Member States will serve as a model for world leaders to promote the full and equal participation and leadership of women and girls in the design and implementation of policies and programs related to climate change, the environment and disaster risk reduction.

Civil society has observed and tried to influence the process to ensure that, as tends to happen at the United Nations climate negotiations (UNFCCC COPs), so-called “false solutions,” i.e., performative measures that do not have a structural impact on the problems being addressed, were not considered. Unfortunately, civil society participation was difficult, and the results of CSW66 suffered as a result.

“CSW66 represented a huge opportunity since it is the first time in the history of the Commission where climate and environment were included in the agenda of the work, the potential to be able to include language on the intersectionality of gender and climate issues in the text of the decisions was huge, but unfortunately the limited participation of civil society did not help in this regard,” commented Emilia Reyez, Director ad Equidad de Genero, who was present during CSW66.

Reyez, moreover, pointed out that civil society participation in the work of the Commission was encouraged in the past, allowing civil society to assist directly in negotiating rooms. Over the past decade, however, this possibility has been limited until this year, when only representatives of state parties were allowed into UN headquarters, excluding civil society from in-person participation, a key element of any lobbying effort, limiting the space for interaction to a few sessions via streaming.

CSW66 recognized with concern the disproportionate impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and disasters on all women and girls, and the need for initiatives related to these areas to have a gender lens but lacked the capacity to include in final decisions forecasts that addressed the structural origins at the global level of these impacts, focusing on solutions at the local and national levels. According to Reyez, the specialists directly involved in the work lacked in-depth expertise on climate-environmental issues, and this is where input from members of civil society engagement on the climate-environmental front would have made a difference.

On the sidelines of the intergovernmental process, civil society contributed to participatory forums that would arrive at recommendations to be submitted in writing to the Commission. Among these was the CSW66 Youth Forum, a stable CSW youth engagement initiative organized by UN Women as part of the Generation Equality program, in which the Italian Climate Network participated by contributing to the Forum’s final recommendations later submitted to the Commission. The CSW66 Global Youth Recommendations: Youth, Gender, and Climate document reported on youth concerns about the interconnections between gender and climate change, environment, and disaster risk reduction, with specific recommendations to CSW66 participating states. 

Ayshka Naijb, Youth Leader of the Coalition of Action on Feminist Action for Climate Justice and one of the people responsible for organizing the Forum, pointed out that one of the sorest points of the CSW66 results was, as at the last UN climate negotiations (UNFCCC COP26), the failure to include structured forecasts on Loss and Damage (Loss and Damage – mentioned superficially in two places in the Agreed Conclusions), i.e., on the creation of a compensation system for those countries most vulnerable to climate change. In addition, mentions of extractivism and colonialism in this area were eventually removed, a disappointing result considering that they had instead been mentioned in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report (IPCC Sixth Assessment Report / Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability – 2022) as historical and contemporary patterns of inequity that contribute to the vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change.

“As we talk about the climate crisis, its impacts and potential solutions, it is critical to understand its origins, we continue to hear how women and less industrialized nations are vulnerable to climate change, but why do they end up being vulnerable? The answer lies in the systems of intersectional oppression and inequality that have been created, for example, by colonialism,” comments Naijb.

Renate Adriaansens and Alma Rondanini, UN Women National Gender Youth Advocates, who were also involved in the organization of the forum, pointed out that there was also an attempt by several groups, including youth groups, to have a reference to the need to curb emissions in order not to exceed 1.5 degrees global average temperature in the text of the decision, but unfortunately, any reference to the climate sphere was diluted in the language and again included a direct reference to the Paris Agreement, where 2 degrees is considered as the upper limit from which not to exceed. 

“We noticed that government delegations did not necessarily have experience regarding climate-environmental issues, some technical aspects were only addressed towards the end of the negotiation process, leading to results that were not sufficiently intersectional and ambitious,” Rondanini confirms.

As is the case with all multilateral processes, we can therefore say that the results of CSW66 are ambivalent. There were, in fact, however, positive results regarding the creation of an interactive dialogue with young people in the CSW’s annual work program starting in 2023 to facilitate exchanges between youth representatives of member states’ delegations, the inclusion of more references to the rights of women and girls with disabilities, sexual and reproductive health, and the rights of women and girls related to this area. In addition, the Commission called on the entire UN system, international financial institutions, and relevant stakeholder groups to continue to support the Member States to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.

Formally linking gender and climate rights within the work of the CSW was certainly an important contribution to the urgent need to find inclusive solutions to reduce emissions and curb the impacts of climate change while ensuring that no one is left behind. There remains the pressure of the ongoing climate crisis that reminds us how little time we must be able to change our societies, making them sustainable and inclusive, and the growing concern at still seeing in international spaces little ambition to intersectionally address the structural causes of these problems.

Chiara Soletti

Published online for Italian Climate Network on the website of the organisation.