Accelerating access to climate finance for women in Kenya

On 8th March 2024, the world marked International Women’s Day with a call to ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’. Despite growing recognition of the differential vulnerabilities as well as the unique experiences and skills women and men bring to development and environmental sustainability efforts, women still have fewer economic, political and legal opportunities. As a result, women are less able to cope with and are more exposed to the adverse effects of climate change.1 It is important to reflect on the progress made in climate-responsive implementation which is a key focus area of the Gender Action Plan, with attention on gendered access to climate finance. This is with a view to demystifying systemic barriers to women’s access to climate finance, escalating calls for accelerating progress towards equitable access to climate finance in advancing just and equitable climate action.


Understanding the Climate Change Gender Action Plan (GAP)

The GAP is an avenue through which gender-responsive climate action could be collectively addressed globally and cascaded to the national and local levels. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also a core sustainable development objective. At the global level, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began recognising the link between gender and climate in 2001, which focused on formally addressing the representation and participation of women. This has evolved into the agreement on a five-year Enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) and its gender action plan, agreed upon at COP 25 in 2019. Furthermore, the recognises gender equality and women’s empowerment as guiding principles for climate action. At COP 28, parties agreed that the final review of the implementation of the enhanced Lima work programme and its GAP would be initiated in June 2024. It would be interesting to understand the outcome of this review in tracking progress, lessons, and priorities in implementing the GAP.2

A recent report published in 2021 by IUCN on Gender integration in the revised Nationally Determined Contributions ( NDCs), provides insights on how gender inclusion in climate policy has grown through revised nationally-defined climate action plans. The research showed that countries around the world increasingly recognise women as vital stakeholders and agents of change in advancing urgent climate action.3 Out of the 89 reviewed NDCs, 78% were found to have mentioned gender, with 18 out of 19 NDCs in Africa including gender considerations. A majority of NDCs included at least one gender-responsive component with less than 17% mainstreaming gender in specific mitigation and adaptation interventions. More alarming is that the integration of women in specific sectors is also very low. With women being at the frontlines of climate change, these findings speak volumes of gender blindness in addressing climate change.


Vulnerability of women to the impacts of climate change

Women comprise half the population of the world and are often disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change, a fact that, in turn, can exacerbate gender-based disparities. Research indicates that by 2050, climate change will push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty and lead to 236 million more women into hunger.4 For instance, the findings of the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have indicated that the globe is not on track in keeping with the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris and that global emissions must be cut by 45% in this decade.

The conclusion of the Global Stocktake during COP28 also revealed slow progress across all areas of climate action. The vulnerability of Africa, especially women, to the impacts of climate change is compounded by the fact that 95% Sub-Saharan Africa depends on rain-fed agriculture and that a large share of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment is dependent on climate-sensitive agricultural sectors. In Kenya, women account for 75% of the labour force in smallholder agriculture and manage 40% of small farms.5 Since 2010, Kenya has suffered from over four major droughts. Between 2019 and 2023, more than 2 million people have been displaced due to drought in the Horn of Africa with women being largely affected.6

Kenya’s climate finance landscape

Access to climate finance remains crucial in empowering communities to address the monumental challenges posed by climate change. The current climate finance architecture is complex and involves numerous private and public players. There are currently over 50 international public funds, 45 carbon markets and 6,000 private equity funds providing climate change finance. Nevertheless, given various barriers and limitations, including low institutional and technological capacity constraints, much of Africa has challenges accessing these climate finance structures.7 Thus, many existing mitigation and adaptation financing schemes have yet to systematically account for gender and effectively link climate finance to social development and gender equality.

Kenya’s green finance landscape mostly comprises government, private sector, development institutions and international conservation organisations. Over the past five years, considerable efforts have been made to mainstream gender and climate change considerations into the country’s plans, policies, strategies, projects and programmes. These include Vision 2030; the National Climate Change Response Strategy, 2010; the National Climate Change Framework Policy; the National Policy on Climate Finance; the Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan; and the Climate Change Act, 2016. These provide a regulatory framework for an enhanced response to climate change and mechanisms and measures to achieve low-carbon, climate-resilient development.

In 2018, KES 243.3 billion (USD 2.4 billion) of public and private capital was invested in climate-related activities.8 Slightly more than 79% of climate finance in Kenya was directed to the implementation of climate mitigation with a focus on the renewable energy sector, while other key sectors which are strongly linked to women like agriculture, forestry and land use, and water management were dramatically underfunded. This locks out women as they often lack sufficient resources to contribute to large-scale renewable energy projects.

Women play a major decision-making role on matters of energy in their households, yet most of the finance programs and strategies tend to overlook typical women’s activities that could count as adaptation and mitigation in many African countries. This systemic marginalisation limits the participation of women in climate mitigation opportunities. Financing strategies must target climate change mitigation and adaptation activities that benefit those most in need, including women, who often lack sufficient resources and capacities to engage with and contribute to more large-scale climate change responses.


Pathways towards equitable access to climate finance

The disproportionate burden of climate change on women can be countered by empowering women and recognizing them as the important actors of change that they are. Women have essential roles as primary land, water, and natural resources managers and are powerful agents of change in formulating responses to climate change. They are part of the solution. Thus, through their leadership, coping strategies for adaptation are developed and implemented.

There is a need to better understand by tracking which sectors are receiving climate finance and whether it is enough to meet the ambitions of Kenya’s gender transformative climate goals. Gendered climate finance tracking is therefore essential to provide this understanding. This information is vital for more targeted policy-making and distribution of climate finance as well as informing the scale-up of investment for equitable and transformational impact. This would also ensure that small-scale projects particularly those involving women are supported and targeted for funding. It would also ensure gender responsive reporting on climate action as Kenya reports on the implementation of the GAP.

Gender disparities in ownership and access to resources such as land, credit and technology, coupled with socio-cultural barriers lower adaptive capacity and increase women’s exposure to climatic risk. This is because in countries such as Kenya where women own less than 2% of land, they are barred from accessing financial resources and participation in mitigation and adaptation measures. It is therefore important to address the question of inequitable ownership of land to guarantee their meaningful participation and access to climate finance to cover weather-related losses, avail themselves of adaptation technologies and implement relevant projects.

While Kenya has made great progress in mainstreaming gender into climate change sectoral policies and plans, now it is time to switch gears and target gender transformational financing models at a scale to enable a true transformation that will move the country closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement.