March 7, 2022

By Harshini Ramesh, Amylia Mesic, and Aline Coutinho


Tomorrow marks International Women’s Day, a moment to celebrate the impressive achievements of women and their fundamental contribution to culture, politics, economics, and social life. Following the latest IPCC report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, the day is also an opportunity to reflect on the particular risks that a changing climate poses to women in Canada. This blog presents the concept of vulnerability in the context of climate change, reflects on the unique impacts of climate change on women, and explores some of our key takeaways from the IPCC report.


Vulnerability to climate change is, above all, the outcome of societal challenges

Climate change threatens lives and livelihoods, but the risks are distributed unequally across and within communities and social groups. The propensity to be adversely affected by climate change is not inherent to particular social groups. Vulnerability is actually the outcome of cultural, economic, political and social structures and inequities that place women and other social groups in a position of higher risk to be negatively impacted by changing climate. Women’s experiences of climate change vary widely, depending on the communities they live in and the socioeconomic inequalities they face.


Three key takeaways from the IPCC report on vulnerability

The final draft of the latest IPCC report is a 3675 page long document written by 270 authors from 67 countries assessing the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human communities, both at global and regional levels. Following the release of the report, United Nations secretary general António Guterres expressed that, unlike other reports, this was “an atlas of human suffering and damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

The report is dense, providing plenty of evidence on how climate change will impact women across the world. There are, however, 3 key takeaways that deserve consideration:


1. There continues to be sparse evidence on how climate change will impact women in Canada

The IPCC report presents evidence pertaining broadly to the global context, with particular focus given to low- and middle-income countries. Human vulnerability is expected, with a great deal of confidence, to be particularly acute in areas including Central- and East Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and Small Island States.

The evidence that speaks to women’s vulnerability in Canada is quite sparse. For example, the most explicit mention of women in Canada includes information on local women in the Gwich’in community who perceived climate change and extreme weather events as a threat to traditional berry patches. Given that the Arctic has been noted as an area projected to experience temperature increases higher than the global average, there is a need to further understand the gendered impacts in this region.

It is important to continue raising research evidence on the specific risks faced by women in Canada, as North America is and will continue to be affected by climate change, creating or exacerbating risks to food production and security, human health and wellbeing, and economic activities, among other disruptions.


2. Without a better understanding of how climate change impacts women in Canada, we risk designing adaptation responses that can have adverse effects on them

Maladaptation encompasses “current or potential negative consequences of adaptation-related responses that lead to an increase in the climate vulnerability of a system, sector, or group”. Maladaptive responses to climate change could arise if trade-offs are not appropriately accounted for and could create lock-ins of risk or vulnerability, further exacerbating existing inequalities. Without understanding the specific conditions or needs of women in Canada in the context of climate, adaptation solutions risk having adverse impacts or further marginalizing equity-deserving populations.

For example, the implementation of hybrid renewable energy projects in Deer Lake and For Severn, Ontario and in Colville Lake, Northwest Territories successfully reduced reliance on fossil fuels. However, concerns were expressed around maladaptation, including impacts on biomass supply and accessibility. Smart Prosperity Institute has an upcoming report calling attention to the fact that clean fuels and bioenergy development, if not designed with equity, diversity, and inclusion considerations in mind, may disproportionately impact women and low-income groups, who might be particularly vulnerable to associated risks of energy and food price increases.


3. Future climate research and adaptive solutions must increasingly engage with intersectional approaches

The notion of intersectionality must be front and center in research and discussions about the social implications of climate change. The concept originated from Black feminist scholarship, pioneered by Kimberlé Crenshaw. It broadly refers to the fact that social relations and systems of power (e.g., sexism, racism, colonization) privilege or oppress certain identity combinations more than others, shaping peoples’ experiences and opportunities.

Given that Canada has a legacy and ongoing perpetuation of environmental racism and colonialism, the impacts of climate change will not be felt equally among all women. It is laudable that the report includes intersectionality within its discussion of impacts, highlighting the importance of work around intersectionality. However, as it relates to the Canadian context, further research is in dire need.

In addition to race and colonization, the overlapping experiences of gender with other factors like regional location, immigration status, and sexual diversity, play a role in positioning particular groups of women in certain states of vulnerability and has implications for their ability to be resilient or adapt to changing circumstances. The report makes explicit mention of the role decolonization plays in successful adaptation, highlighting an area that also requires further attention and mainstreaming for widespread and just climate adaptation and resilience. 


What is next?

Smart Prosperity Institute is working on a project identifying the nexus between gender and climate change in the Canadian context. Specifically, it is identifying the complex impacts that climate change has on women and gender diverse individuals in Canada, drawing attention not only to diverse experiences but also to the risk of maladaptation to climate hazards if gendered and intersectional considerations are overlooked. Identifying and unpacking the gendered and intersectional impacts of climate change is a crucial first step, essential to designing better resilience frameworks and solutions.

March 8th is a day to celebrate women. But it is also a day to seriously consider the particular risk women face in a changing climate, and to emphasize the need for research that leads to policies that are inclusive and equitable.