04/04/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2014

Missing in Discussions of Climate Change: Women

Rigorous global discussions about climate change are critical as we face one of the greatest threats our planet has ever faced. So the release of the second of a four-part report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this week was welcomed eagerly by those of us who work on climate change on a daily basis. The report concluded that climate change poses a risk to everything from our food supply to public health. And it touches all of us whether we live in the wealthiest cities or the poorest villages. The latest report is by far one of the most complete scientific documents on climate change. It will guide and serve as a reference in the consolidation of the new framework agreement that should be produced by the end of 2015.

But a review of both the report and media coverage of it shows a glaring omission: Where are the women? To be fair, they are mentioned as victims of these dire changes. But why are they not included as major actors and agents of change in one of the largest threats humanity has faced in modern times?

The fact is that from Africa to Latin America to Asia and North America, women refuse to be passive actors in the face of climate change. Unfortunately, as is clear in the IPPC report and media coverage, that fact is rarely acknowledged.

Women have and are playing an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation, and new studies have uncovered a positive correlation between the level of women's representation and a country's efforts toward sustainability. Women's contributions to addressing climate change are frequently overlooked, primarily due to such challenges as: obstructed access to markets, capital, training, and technologies; insecure land and tenure rights. The result is a lost opportunity to achieve multiple benefits -- gender equality and women's empowerment could open the door to greater strides to better overall development outcomes, including reducing greenhouse gases and building resilience to climate change impacts.

In partnership with IUCN and thanks to visionary support from Finland, 13 countries and regions have developed ccGAPs -- climate change gender action plans -- that are anchored in existing national climate change processes. Ministries and regional bodies have chosen to establish ccGAPs when there is limited understanding of gender inequalities in the climate change context and when they need to establish avenues to address these inequalities. Countries with ccGAPs are making greater strides toward equitable climate change responses. Among the many examples of how this momentum is leading to change:

Mozambique -- The ccGAP was the catalyst for the inclusion of gender equality measures in the development of the country's Investment Program for the Strategic Program for Climate Resilience under the Climate Investment Funds.

Jordan -- In response to the ccGAP, the Jordanian government signaled that gender mainstreaming is a national priority in the context of climate change and pledged to make gender a primary consideration in the country's third National Communication.

Nepal -- Components of the ccGAP were slated for implementation in the context of the Annual Programs of seven climate change-related ministries and the government's Three Year Program.

Last year, IUCN developed the first-ever tool to monitor government progress toward gender equality and women's empowerment in the environmental arena. The Environment and Gender Index (EGI) provides the first quantitative data on governments' performance translating the gender and environment mandates in the three Rio Conventions and CEDAW into national policy and planning. The resulting information helps policymakers, civil society, and others evaluate progress and identify where the gaps lie in achieving gender equality in the environmental context.

With tools including ccGAPs and the Environment and Gender Index as well as the clear mandates given by the Parties to the United Nation Framework Climate Change in relation to gender, it is inconceivable that gender is entirely missing from the latest IPCC report and the resulting coverage. Climate change is looming way too large for us to address it in anything but a comprehensive way. I urge all those in the IPCC community to embrace one of the most innovative ways to both adapt to and mitigate climate change: Ensuring that gender equality is a key component in achieving climate change goals.