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"Are current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 2°C above its pre-industrial levels? Or is there a gap between ambition and reality?" Those are the questions that scientists and experts convened from all over the world by UNEP have helped answer each year since 2010. The short answer is that there is a gap, and it is quite significant. The latest UNEP gap assessment in 2014 estimated the gap between 8 to 12 GtCO2e by 2020. The analysis furthermore shows that if the gap is not closed or reduced significantly, the new global climate agreement intended to enter into force in 2020 cannot keep us on a maximum 2°C path. The conclusion is that countries urgently need to step up their action in areas where significant emission reductions can be achieved quickly.

Women make up 50% of the population but earn on average 24% less despite working more and longer hours when unpaid household and care work are taken into account. Women also suffer disproportionality from the consequences of lack of modern energy access which afflicts ca. 1.1 billion people worldwide: In many developing countries they are the ones responsible for collecting fuelwood for which they have to walk long distances, sometimes in unsafe environments. Furthermore, as they are often cooking with biomass and are responsible for household chores, women are more exposed to indoor air pollution. Despite being more affected by the consequences of energy poverty, women are less likely to shape energy policies to their benefit: Estimates suggest roughly 20% of the renewable energy work force are women. Furthermore, they occupy only 18% of ministerial posts and make up 22% in parliaments worldwide.

However, as sustainable energy entrepreneurs, energy decision makers and household energy managers, women can be powerful agents of change and play a leading role in leapfrogging to a sustainable energy future. Such a transition is urgently required as the energy sector accounts for ca. two thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and is therefore a key sector in the fight against climate change. Energy demand is predicted to grow by ca. one-third by 2040 and it is crucial that this growth be met by expanding sustainable energy availability. As they are often close to customers, female energy entrepreneurs have the ability to create, spread and maintain off-grid sustainable energy networks, particularly in difficult-to-reach rural areas where social networks are key. Women are not constrained by cultural norms when interacting with other women and therefore have a key role to play in building up and maintaining energy services, especially where other women need to be reached.

Furthermore, evidence has shown that gaining energy access is a key ingredient in women’s empowerment, leading to higher education levels, more formal employment opportunities and increased incomes among women. Additionally, their energy access and subsequent empowerment creates benefits to all household members, especially children.

But women’s potential as change makers remains under-utilized due to the barriers they face regarding basic energy access, investment opportunities and representation in the energy sector at all levels. Barriers such as lack of access to training and education, a higher percentage in illiteracy, inequalities in land and property rights, lack in income and access to finance as well as harmful social norms and stereotypes are particularly important. A recent World Bank report finds that 155 economies out of 173 examined have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities, with 18 countries where husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.


Supporting women’s access to and entrepreneurship in sustainable energy as well as their presence in decision making levels requires, among others, to make available innovative and suitable sustainable energy technologies, to increase women’s technical knowledge and capacities, to remove financial barriers, and to promote equal rights.

UNEP aims to mainstream gender into energy programmes and projects and ensure gender-sensitive project planning, implementation and monitoring; to support collection, analysis and use of sex and age disaggregated data for the analysis of links between gender, sustainable energy and climate change; and to support capacity building activities that will ensure the increased participation of women in sustainable energy decision making processes.

UNEP specifically addresses strategic gender needs in sustainable energy in order to address current gender equality issues. For instance, UNEP’s energy projects help to ensure gender-equitable access to sustainable energy technologies (i.e. transport, decentralized energy options, renewable energy); to empower female leaders in energy decision-making; to increase knowledge and know-how on sustainable energy technology options use and maintenance in a gender-responsive way; and to create green jobs for both women and men.

Importantly, recently UNEP and UN Women have joined forces to develop a Global Programme on Women’s Sustainable Energy Entrepreneurship and Access. The aim of this programme is to enable women to play a leadership role in promoting and benefiting from sustainable energy for economic empowerment and climate mitigation and to further the global transition towards sustainable energy. The Global Programme will initially focus on six pilot countries (Senegal, Morocco, Myanmar, India, Indonesia and Bolivia). It has been launched by the respective UNEP and UN Women Executive Directors at the COP21.