Rethinking the Climate Grant: Mobilizing Climate Finance for Women-led Adaptation Work

Women show their agricultural products
Teaser Image Caption
Women show their agricultural products


A 2011 report from Climate Policy Institute (CPI) estimates that up to now 95 percent (or US$ 92.5 billion) of global financial flows earmarked for climate up were flowing toward renewable-intensive mitigation activities, while only five percent (or US$ 4.4 billion) were directed toward adaptation work under the current financial architecture. Moreover, the current global climate finance architecture, as described in the same report, does not include any non-state channel or practically accessible instrument through which climate funds can be accessed directly by grassroots actors, as most existing channels climate finance require NGOs and civil society actors to access climate funds through government agencies, or Development Assistance Committees (DACs). With adaptation loosely characterizing the bulk of grassroots initiatives led by women and vulnerable communities, limited resources and restricted financing instruments reduce the potential for important initiatives on a range of social and policy agendas to be ‘scaled up.’ This includes some of the most effective, bottom-up processes to make national adaptation plans more inclusive and responsive to the most urgent needs of local communities that are being affected by climate change. National agro-policy reform to regulate the use of high risk pesticides as a way to ensure crop diversity and local food security is one example of adaptation work that grassroots, women-led initiatives could scale up with a medium size climate grant – if it were made available to them.

Across the continents, women are taking a stand against climate change; not simply as activists but also as mediators and negotiators, activity planners, agenda setters, informed policy advocates, and as mobilizing forces in the communities most affected by climate change. Women-led responses to climate change range significantly in terms of scale, type of activity, issues and desired impact. This lack of uniformity presents an ongoing challenge for climate policy architects. Women-led initiatives often fail to fit comfortably within the existing conceptual and practical approaches to climate action, which focus on incentivizing climate technology transfers for public infrastructures and development policymaking that lower carbon emissions at the national and regional levels. Emphasis on efficient emissions-reductions, technologies transfer and opportunities for leverage leaves little conceptual room and few practical resources for other types of work that address climate.  Getting grassroots, women-led adaptation initiatives taken seriously and funded within the purview of climate action writ large thus requires a two-pronged approach: first, expanding and diversifying the issues that fall within popular and policy understandings of “climate”; and second, operationalizing new initiatives that will benefit from climate financing.

Reframing climate action to include grassroots adaptation initiatives will enable policymakers to implement the most comprehensive mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) instead of only focusing on the most capital intensive aspects. As the 2010 Cancun UNFCCC decision set forth, issues ranging from biodiversity, food security, agriculture, water and forest protection, to varied land use practices can and should all be considered within the rubric of ‘climate.’  Women-led initiatives tend to reflect a mix of issues, sectors and communities. As such, they require access to funds which do not restrict them from working on different issues relating to climate as important social, gender and environmental co-benefits, such as land, biodiversity, food security and others. Hence a second prong of the approach is to work within the existing architecture to operationalize new channels and instruments through which women’s grassroots initiatives can receive climate funds based on their needs and that recognize their contributions as part of the global effort to adapt to climate change, including work that changes social behaviors and climate-related policies from the ground up.

Women’s funds and human rights funds play an important role in advancing both objectives. These funds offer a high-capacity, highly networked global infrastructure through which small and medium sized climate grants (up to 50,000 €/US$) can be directed to support grassroots initiatives. In addition to financial grants earmarked for women-led initiatives and their work on climate, women’s funds offer varied possibilities for “accompaniment” support—extra-financial forms of support that focus on enabling strategic partnerships between grassroots initiatives in different communities and sectors, giving feedback on strategic planning and direction, building visibility and identifying spaces where structural decisions on key issues are being negotiated.

Mama Cash is one example of a women’s fund providing accompaniment support and medium-sized financial grants for women-led initiatives that are focused on structural change at different levels of society—from social practices surrounding water use and access in the community to inheritance and ownership laws relating to land and agriculture. The shift toward medium sized grants reinforces the fund’s commitment to groups that think beyond “the project,” and conceptualize change as a longer term commitment to making structures more inclusive and responsive from the bottom up.

Women’s funds and human rights funds are similarly well-positioned to engage with and absorb funds from existing channels of climate finance, including funds channeled via bilateral development agencies, private philanthropic foundations with an interest in climate and occasionally corporate social responsibility programs. By engaging with these channels and acting as possible financial intermediaries for grassroots women in developing countries, women’s funds and human rights funds are able to sensitize existing climate-related financing instruments and funds to new ways of thinking about women-led work on food security, biodiversity, access to water and related issues as part of climate action.

Together these funds can add significant value and capacity to the global climate finance architecture by making it more inclusive of and responsive to those confronted first, hardest and longest by the immediate effects of climate change – women working at the grassroots level in developing countries.

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