Relevance of gender in the policy area

Environment is a cross-cutting issue. It encompasses issues relating to:

  • water, air and soil quality
  • waste management and the use of chemicals
  • environmental assessment
  • green public procurement, sustainable development and the urban environment
  • the environmental impact of industry, land use
  • the marine environment and the coast
  • nature and biodiversity.

At EU level environment and climate change, although two separate issues, are increasingly associated and interlinked. Environmental change and climate change are increasingly caused by developments taking place at global level, including those relating to demographics, patterns of production and trade, and rapid technological progress. Such developments may offer significant opportunities for economic growth and societal well-being but nevertheless pose challenges and uncertainties for the EU’s economy and society, as well as causing environmental degradation worldwide. Coupled with current wasteful production and consumption systems in the world economy, rising global demand for goods and services and the depletion of resources are increasing the cost of essential raw materials, minerals and energy, generating more pollution and waste, increasing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and making land degradation, deforestation and biodiversity loss worse.

The gender perspective is relevant in all the different areas of environment policy. Gender relations between women and men, and girls and boys, play a key role in the access to and control of environmental resources, as well as the goods and services they provide. The relevance of gender to environmental issues has been discussed since the early 1970s, when the growing debate on environmental changes intersected with the emergence of studies on women’s roles in development and development policy strategies within the international women’s rights movement.

In this context, the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) identified environment as one of 12 cri­tical areas for women. Area K of the Bei­jing Platform for Action (BPfA), on women and the environment, asserted that ‘women have an essential role to play in the development of sustainable and ecologically sound consump­tion and production patterns, and approaches to natural resource management’.

Gender is considered particularly relevant in climate protection policies, specifically in the design and implementation of adaptation and mitigation strategies as responses to climate change. When considering climate change from a gender equality perspective, various aspects should be taken into account. One consideration relates to the very low participation of women in decision-making in the sector. Secondly, to be effective climate policies should consider various gender-related aspects of climate change: the impact of climate change on women and men; their different contributions to and perceptions of climate change; and the solutions that women and men are perceived to prefer in terms of mitigation and adaptation. For example, measures intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and emissions from transport in the EU have led to increased demand for biofuels, a demand that can be met only by importing the latter from developing countries. This leads to land use changes, which are often gendered since the land used for biofuels production is most likely to be marginal land farmed by women for household subsistence rather than the prime agricultural land farmed by men for export .

Monitoring the gendered outcomes of climate change policy responses is thus important in pinpointing reforms to the climate protection system so that adaptation and mitigation responses promote gender equality, poverty eradication and sustainable development. As the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) notes:

Various research data show that gender differentials with regard to the impacts of climate change mean more casualties among women during extreme weather events and an increased burden from care work. There is also evidence of gender-specific consumption patterns that affect contributions to GHG emissions, and thus to climate change. For example, women spend more time at home due to care duties, and thus depend on domestic heating to a greater extent. For mobility, women depend on access to public transport to a larger degree due to lower levels of car ownership, but also because of their preferences for the use of environmentally-friendly solutions (public transport). Due to their lower average income, women are at greater risk of energy poverty than men, and have fewer options for investing in low-carbon options such as energy efficiency and renewable energies. Perceptions and attitudes towards climate change and climate policy options also vary substantially according to gender. Women are, on average, more concerned about climate change than men.

Environment and climate change is still an area influenced by a set of gender inequalities, which are as follows:

  • women’s under-representation in environment decision-making institutions
  • gender differences in adaptation and mitigation strategies
  • gender differences in the effects of climate change.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main issues 

Existing gender-equality policy objectives at EU and international level 

The gender dimension in environmental policies has begun to be addressed in policy initiatives and debates at the European and international levels only very recently. Gender equality and environmental sustainability have been mainstreamed into EU and international development policies in parallel processes.

Policy cycle in environment and climate change

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Environment and Climate Change integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into environment and climate change policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in environment and climate change


The key milestones of the EU environment and climate change policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

The overarching policy priorities of EU policy for environment and climate are clearly identified in the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) will be guiding European environment policy until 2020. 

In particular, it identifies 3 key objectives:
  • To protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital: in this field the EAP commits the EU and its Member States to speed up the implementation of existing strategies, fill gaps where legislation doesn't yet exist, and improve existing legislation.
  • To turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy: the EAP sets out the conditions that will help transform the EU into a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. There is a special focus on turning waste into a resource and to move towards more efficient use of our water resources. This requires:
    • full delivery of the Climate and Energy Package to achieve the 20-20-20 targets and agreement on the next steps for climate policy beyond 2020
    • significant improvements to the environmental performance of products over their life cycle
    • reductions in the environmental impact of consumption, including issues such as cutting food waste and using biomass in a sustainable way.
  • To safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and well-being: this third key action area covers challenges to human health and well-being, such as air and water pollution, excessive noise and chemicals. Europe needs to be sufficiently resilient to challenges posed by new and emerging risks, including the impacts of climate change. Thus it is necessary to:
    • update air quality and noise legislation
    • improve implementation of legislation relating to drinking and bathing water
    • tackle hazardous chemicals, including nanomaterials, chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system and chemicals in combination, as part of a broader, strategic approach for a non-toxic environment.
A set of 4 so-called ‘enablers’ will help Europe deliver on these goals:
  • Better implementation of legislation, that would save €72 billion a year; increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion; and create over 400,000 new jobs by 2020.
  • Better information by improving the knowledge base, in order to improve the way data and other information is collected, managed and used across the EU; invest in research to fill knowledge gaps; develop a more systematic approach to new and emerging risks.
  • More and wiser investment for environment and climate policy, that can be effective only if impacts on the environment are properly accounted for and if market signals also reflect the true costs to the environment. This involves applying the polluter-pays principle more systematically; phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies; shifting taxation from labour towards pollution.
  • Full integration of environmental requirements and considerations into other policies such as regional policy, agriculture, fisheries, energy and transport will ensure better decision-making and coherent policy approaches that deliver multiple benefits.
Two additional horizontal priority objectives complete the programme:
  • To make the Union's cities more sustainable, promoting and expanding initiatives that support innovation and best practice sharing in cities; ensuring that by 2020, most cities in the EU are implementing policies for sustainable urban planning and design, and are using the EU funding available for this purpose.
  • To help the Union address international environmental and climate challenges more effectively, many of the priority objectives in the EAP can only be achieved in cooperation with partner countries or as part of a global approach.

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