Interview with Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Ms. Patricia Espinosa is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Additionally, she is a member of the High-Level Consultative Group, the governing body of the InsuResilience Global Partnership.

The UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP), created under the Lima work programme on gender and adopted at COP23, calls for a gender-responsive approach to mitigation actions and adaptive responses to climate change. At the UN Climate Conference, COP25 in 2019, a comprehensive enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender and Gender Action Plan was adopted.
What does this enhancement entail and why was it necessary?

The enhanced Lima work programme on gender (LWPG) and its gender action plan (GAP) provides a framework with long-term, open-ended actions, as well as objectives and specific, time-bound activities to accelerate the development and implementation of gender-responsive climate policy and action.

The enhanced LWPG and GAP reflects the growing understanding by Parties to the UNFCCC of the benefits and necessity of integrating gender considerations in all aspects of climate policy and action. Achieving gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment is undoubtedly a rights issue. It is also critical to meeting the ambitious 1.5 °C target and limit warming to well below 2°C. The transition to low-carbon, resilient economies and societies require us to move rapidly away from business-as-usual, and this necessarily includes addressing existing gender inequalities that limit the potential of many women and girls to respond to and contribute solutions to the climate emergency.

The enhanced gender action plan includes 20 activities under five priority areas that have been identified as key elements for achieving the goal of gender-responsive climate policy and action. It focuses on implementation and aims to build capacities and advance knowledge and understanding of gender-responsive climate action and its coherent mainstreaming in the implementation of the UNFCCC and the work of Parties, the secretariat, United Nations entities and all stakeholders at all levels, as well as women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the UNFCCC process.

Why it is important

Evidence is building on the differing impacts of climate change on women and men, including concerning vulnerabilities, the benefits flowing from responses to climate change and who are participating in decision-making on the climate crisis.

A report prepared by the secretariat in 2019, based on submissions from Parties and observers to the UNFCCC process, highlighted that differences were due to existing gender inequalities caused by unequal power relations, unequal access to and control of resources and discriminatory laws and customs, rather than any inherent qualities of women and men. It recognized that differences also arise from other inequalities, such as age, ethnicity, disability, or socioeconomic status. In circumstances of such inequalities, women and men are often in very different positions when facing climate change, resulting in unequal exposure, vulnerability and capacity to respond when climate hazards strike. As an example, it is reported that during crises and times of scarcity and price escalation, women are often the first to skip meals or reduce consumption affecting their food security and nutrition substantially.

Effective climate action requires 100% of the population to be engaged to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 °C. To do that, we need to lower CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. The LWPG and GAP provide countries and other stakeholders with a framework and tools to work collaboratively to raise ambition and build capacities for the design and implementation of climate policies, strategies, plans and activities in a way that empowers those more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and thereby leave no one behind.


Gender-responsive disaster risk financing schemes, such as insurance, can provide risk protection that addresses differences in women and men’s vulnerability to both climate risks, and disaster-induced loss of wellbeing. The GAP plays a vital role in facilitating gender mainstreaming in climate action.
Which role does the intersection of the integration of gender considerations with disaster risk financing play for UNFCCC?

At the beginning of 2020, the Global Risks Report, prepared by the World Economic Forum, revealed that climate-related issues dominated the top-five long-term risks in terms of likelihood. UNFCCC, as the UN entity supporting the global response to the threat of climate change, is working with the international community to ensure an integrated approach to disaster risk management.

In the area of gender and climate finance, UNFCCC, through the enhanced LWPG and GAP, has an overarching mandate to increase the gender-responsiveness of climate finance to strengthen the capacity of women. As well as the objective of ensuring the consistent implementation of gender-related mandates and activities among the countries and other stakeholders.

First, is the recognition that closing the inequalities gap and empowering vulnerable communities will enhance the national response to climate change. In both documents, the general approach to these inequalities has a holistic and multidimensional view, as not only women and men are considered in the objectives, but also the intertwined layers of inequality, such as ethnicity, age, religion, that affect the vulnerability of the population.

Second, the Conference of the Parties, through the enhanced LWPG and GAP recognized the importance of public and private climate finance in achieving the gender goals under the UNFCCC including through an invitation to relevant public and private entities to increase the gender-responsiveness of climate finance to strengthen the capacity of women to both respond to the climate emergency and contribute to solutions.

In 2019, the InsuResilience Global Partnership adopted its Vision 2025. The vision determines objectives and activities of the Partnership until 2025 and sets out gender mainstreaming as cross-cutting objective throughout all activities of the Partnership.
As a member of the Partnership’s High-Level Consultative Group, what could be the UNFCCC contribution to the Vision 2025 regarding this cross-cutting element and how do you see synergies between the Partnership and UNFCCC to establish a coherent gender-responsive approach?

Since climate risk insurance instruments help to close a global equity gap and scale financial protection for poor, marginalized and vulnerable populations, many entry points are connecting the Vision 2025 and the enhanced LWPG and GAP. Furthermore, several relevant activities allow the secretariat to liaise with the Partnership and strengthen each other’s efforts and advances. The combination of these three aspects, makes the UNFCCC secretariat a key ally of the Partnership, specifically providing support in:

  • Providing a platform of communication and dialogue with governmental and non-governmental practitioners to raise awareness of the existing tools to provide gender-responsive climate and disaster risk finance and insurance solutions,
  • Providing a space for discussion with international gender experts for further advancement of gender integration in the risk management sector,
  • Facilitating dialogue with the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency to enhance the participation of grass-roots women’s organizations,
  • Embracing the advances of the Platform, through workshops and submissions, and including the learnings in official reports to be prepared by the secretariat.

What way forward would you like to see in the area of gender-responsive climate risk financing, especially linked to activities within the InsuResilience Global Partnership?

Natural disasters, slow-onset disasters caused by climate change affect women and men in many different ways, including health, food security, livelihoods and income. Although some individual women may be less vulnerable to climate change than some men, the global perpetuation of discrimination, inequality, patriarchal structures and systemic barriers, as well as the different views, experiences and needs of men and women, contribute to an overall higher risk of women experiencing harmful effects of climate change.

Yet women are also key to implementing sustainable solutions. According to FAO, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, potentially reducing global hunger by 12 to 17 percent. Therefore, the financial inclusion of vulnerable women and their meaningful participation in the design and implementation of climate risk financing are also vital steps to achieve resilience and protect the lives of those that are left behind.

Therefore, gender-responsive climate risk financing must ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women. Inclusive multilateralism, bringing together different actors with different views that enriches the development of innovative solutions to reach poor and vulnerable women and men, and build on lessons and experiences, is needed to complement and boost national and local solutions.

Interview conducted by the InsuResilience Secretariat
Photo credit: © UN Climate Change, James Dowson