Gender, indigenous peoples and poverty in Latin American NDCs

Gender, indigenous peoples and poverty in Latin American NDCs

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Date: 27th June 2019
Author: CDKN Global
Type: Feature
Tags: adaptation, forests, indigenous peoples, Nationally Determined Contributions, poverty

Gender, poverty and indigenous peoples are key pillars of global climate policy goals. Signatories to the Paris Agreement recognise the importance of including these three pillars in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and also in their public policies on climate change. So, how far advanced are Latin American countries in including women and indigenous people in climate policies? How much have they done to ensure that climate policies also tackle poverty? Paz González and Yanina Nemirovsky of Fundación Avina-ActionLac provide a brief overview of progress in the region.

Guardians of nature

Indigenous perspectives are important to the design and implementation of climate policies and here’s why. Indigenous people contribute to the conservation of 80% of the world’s biodiversity – according to the United Nations. This is because they possess invaluable local knowledge which helps ecosystems and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, they are among those most affected by climate change and have been historically excluded from current development paradigms.

The inclusion of the indigenous perspective in climate policies is patchy across the region. Some countries are doing relatively well. Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth and Comprehensive Development for Wellbeing (Desarrollo Integral para el Buen Vivir) 2012, highlights the importance of indigenous, inter-cultural and Afro-Bolivian wisdom, knowledge and experience in achieving climate change adaptation.

For its part, Guatemala has a Forest, Biodiversity and Climate Change Group (Grupo de Bosque, Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático) that aims to promote dialogue and interaction among various parties. This group has a working commission on climate change adaptation that seeks to prioritise themes linked with indigenous groups and gender.

In Costa Rica, the Program of Intercultural Mediators (Programa de Mediadores Interculturales) is an example of the participation and integration of native peoples in public policies. This programme incorporates ancestral knowledge in the National Strategy of REDD+ and forest management policies.

In Colombia, a similar process has unfolded with the Visión Amazonia initiative, which seeks to integrate indigenous wisdom in forest management.

Gender equity as climate action

Women suffer different impacts from men due to climate change and there is much evidence for this. Discrimination based on gender, violence and sexual division of labour are some factors that contribute to increasing vulnerability. For example, women, girls and boys are 14 times more likely to die than men during disasters and are more vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse during humanitarian crises and natural disasters (see CDKN’s report on Gender and Climate Change in Latin America (Spanish) for more).

As those in charge of caring for the family, particularly in rural areas, women often work more unpaid hours in domestic activities than men. Carrying water is an example of how climate change impacts women: they are in charge of providing water for their families and, through lack of access to water, which is exacerbated by climate change, they are forced to invest more and more time in the task. However, despite these factors, women are the foundation of self-sufficiency in economies: filling vital roles in maintaining communities and passing on ancestral wisdom.

The Paris Agreement mentions that the states must promote gender equity in adaptation measures. Despite this, many countries in the region, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador and Guatemala, present little or no gender perspective in their NDCs.

Conversely, other countries include this perspective, not only in their NDCs, but also in their public policies. Examples of this are Costa Rica, Mexico and Ecuador, who acknowledge in their NDCs the transformational role that women play in climate action.

Beyond NDCs and in terms of climate policies in the region more broadly, the inclusion of gender perspectives is varied. Not all policies mention the need for this lens, and many of the policies that recognise gender issues do not specify action plans to guarantee their inclusion.

Mexico offers examples of integration of the gender issue in public policies on climate change, with its Special Climate Change Programme (Programa Especial de Cambio Climático) 2014 –2018 (Government of Mexico, 2016). This programme contains a section on women and climate change with specific action lines: one for heads of household and another for promoting self-construction and property deeds programmes for women in poverty.

Countries like Paraguay and Chile have incorporated the gender perspective in policies, such as the Reduction of Emissions and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and the creation of the Agenda for Energy and Gender respectively (Government of Chile, 2018).

In Colombia, the Project of Sustainable Agriculture Adapted to Climate aims to develop climate-resilient plans and reduce gender inequality in Popayán, Cauca. This project is carried out by state bodies in collaboration with civil society groups. To implement it, officials sought to link scientific and local knowledge.

Poverty: the great pending debt

Poverty is a factor that exacerbates vulnerability in the face of climate change. People in situations of poverty suffer the greatest impacts: they live in highly vulnerable areas, they don’t possess resources in order to adapt and they have difficulty accessing infrastructure and basic services.

In Latin America, there are few countries that have made advances in the incorporation of measures and objectives specifically related to the reduction of poverty. Nicaragua and Peru have included these objectives in their NDCs.

If we look to specific policies and programmes, we can see examples of good practice that could inform future efforts.

For example, the Socio-Environmental and Forest Development Programme in Nicaragua has poverty reduction as a main objective. Programme activities include water harvesting, the development of hydraulic works and the provision of environmental education. These measures should decrease risks in the face of future extreme weather events.

Peru, for its part, has the Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (Mesa de Concertación para la Lucha contra la Pobreza), one of whose functions is “to serve as consultation for the formulation of national, departmental and local plans”.

A long way to go

Latin America has significant challenges ahead in the integration of perspectives on gender, poverty and native peoples in its NDCs and public policies. If progress has indeed been made in the region, it is still insufficient. If the NDCs are taken into account, there is still significant work ahead, to incorporate these themes as a framework for climate action.

Despite this, the best practice advances cited above – and elsewhere – have yielded satisfactory results. Cases such as these have the potential to generate knowledge and learning that can inform countries lagging farthest behind.

Little by little we will see that the vision of the inclusion of gender perspectives, the fight against poverty and the inclusion of indigenous peoples’ knowledge are necessary and indispensable aspects in achieving forceful and transformational climate action.


Photo: Indigenous woman, Bolivia, credit Szymon Kochański

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