The recent publication “Gender-Responsive Climate Policy – a Case Study of the Colombian Coal Sector” showed that climate policies must take gender into account not only to limit the destructiveness of the current climate crisis but also to achieve a just transformation of the Colombian coal sector. Kathrin Meyer explains the advantages of this approach and its international relevance.
Colombian coal and international energy demand
Growing energy demand has repeatedly increased the mining of coal in recent years and fueled the orientation of Colombia’s export structure towards the raw material. Since 2010 the Colombian state has declared the national mining sector to be the engine of the economy. However, a turning point is now becoming apparent. In view of the international decarbonization efforts, the coal-heavy export structures are already seeing the first consequences as important economic partners are beginning to reduce their demand for coal. The study “Gender-Responsive Climate Policy – a Case Study of the Colombian Coal Sector” shows that there is a current window of opportunity for the transformation of the sector and offers interesting impulses on how a just transition can be achieved.
Local impacts of coal mining
Beside the upcoming challenges for national export, the promises of economic development through coal have not been fulfilled. In the regions where coal is mined, the sector has contributed only about 2% to local job creation. Furthermore, residents are increasingly exposed to social, cultural and ecological destruction. Most of the inhabitants of the largest coal mining areas in La Guajira and El César are Indigenous, Afro-Colombians and peasants. Multidimensional differences such as gender, class, race, age and disability aggravate vulnerability to environmental, social and cultural consequences. Women and men face different impacts of coal mining.
Since unpaid care work such as fetching water, cultivation of food and housework is mostly attributed to women, they are disproportionately affected by changes in their environment. Water and air pollution as well as ecological destruction have been recorded since the beginning of coal mining, leading to aggravation of the cultivation of land and the access to drinkable water and food. Thus, exercising the social role as caregivers is becoming increasingly difficult due to deterioration of local living conditions and forced displacement. Limited access to financial and technological resources make females even more vulnerable to the impacts. Moreover, increasing violence against women and forced prostitution has been observed within areas changed by coal mining.
Women have been mobilizing for years at the local level against extractivism and the destruction of their livelihood. Despite their direct involvement and their practical knowledge, intersectional representation of women in formal decision making is hardly visible due to barriers of participation and gender-based discrimination.
In addition to the visible effects of coal mining, the sector contributes to the global climate crisis through its emissions. As one of the first studies, the publication reveals a multilateral link between climate, gender and coal and shows a direct connection between climate policy and gender equality. Depending on how it is designed and implemented, climate policy can therefore be a motor for gender equality or, on the contrary, contribute to increasing existing inequalities. This means that gender equality can be promoted with the help of responsive climate policy, and at the same time gender equality can be an instrument for better climate protection.
Even though women are the first to be affected by the effects of mining and the climate crisis, their knowledge and ability to be important agents of change have not yet been in the focus of Colombian climate policy. The paper outlines that existing policies take the gender perspective into account but focus more on the role of women as victims and not as important actors in formal decision-making spaces. The introduction of a Gender-responsive climate policy (GRCP) could change that.
GRCP as a future scenario in Colombia
Climate policy that takes gender into account could open opportunities for more intersectional and non-binary approaches, thus challenging the power structures that have so far been manifested in heterogeneous groups within important decision-making spaces. Furthermore, recognizing local and community voices as well as involving environmental and regional knowledge of female leaders could provide more efficient responses to the climate crisis.
Within the recent year’s efforts have been made to use the regions potential for wind and solar energy. However, social and cultural dimensions within the regions have not been sufficiently considered and local inequalities have been further exacerbated. Therefore, transition plans must include the voices of local activists and community members to prevent the reproduction of inequalities and their further deepening. Programs for current miners as well as rehabilitation strategies for the region must be considered. Moreover, barriers of participation should be dismantled, new collaborations with various actors supported and safety for local activist provided. Also the authors outlined the need for sectoral policies and the importance of elaborated plans for a just energy transition, as they barely exist in Colombia’s recent policies and development plans.
International relevance of GRCP
With the advance of the climate crisis and growing international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, many countries are facing an imminent coal phase-out. Gender is also receiving more attention internationally and more and more countries are striving to integrate this factor into their policies. The study’s approach to promote the implementation of a gender-responsive climate policy is therefore more urgent than ever and provides sustainable answers to tackle the ongoing climate crisis.