The Nordic countries want to take the international lead in the efforts to combat climate change. In some areas, the Nordic countries are in fact already world leaders, but they also belong to the part of the world that contributes the most to the problem. Nordic Information on Gender sheds light on the relationship between climate change and gender. 

The ongoing process of climate change is striking the world’s poor the hardest, and a majority of them are women. Children, old people, LGBTQ persons and other groups that already struggle with a marginalised position in society are particularly vulnerable. Their fewer resources imply an inferior ability to adapt to a changing climate and to recover for example from natural disasters, which are predicted to become increasingly common in the future.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in the event of a natural disaster, according to a study from 2007. When Burma was hit by severe flooding in 1999, an astonishing 90 % of those who died were women. This gender imbalance was partly due to the fact that the warnings only reached people in public places, and most of those people were men.

Effects in the Nordic countries

In the Nordic countries, climate change is affecting the Inuit and Sami peoples more than other groups. Their culturally important industries are threatened by milder weather, shorter winters, acidification and changes in the vegetation. The changes in the climate are particularly affecting traditional male activities such as hunting and fishing in Greenland and reindeer husbandry in Sápmi. In Greenland, the social status of Inuit hunters has dwindled, with dire consequences in terms of poverty and social challenges. Many of the hunters have changed occupations and moved to larger communities. The changing conditions for the traditionally male-dominated activities have caused many families to rely on women’s paid work more than in the past. While this transition helps challenge prevailing gender norms and can lead to increased opportunities for women, it may also affect men’s identity and self-esteem in a negative way.

Men have greater ecological footprints

Women and men are not only affected differently by climate change; they also differ in how they affect the climate. Women and men face different norms and expectations, which leads to differences in lifestyle and behaviour. In order to design and implement effective interventions for a better climate, it is important to understand the differences in carbon footprints between women and men. However, it is also important to remember that men and women are not homogenous groups and that lifestyles and behaviours are determined by the interplay of a wide range of factors. All of this is important to be aware of to avoid reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

Here are some examples of differences in men’s and women’s influence on the climate:

The impact of meat consumption on the climate has attracted increasing attention in recent years. Several studies have found that men eat more meat than women. According to a Danish research from 2006, men eat 139 grams of meat per day on average, while women eat 81 grams. Studies also show that women tend to display greater awareness when it comes to food and dietary habits. For example, women are more likely to buy organic food. However, a Finnish study shows that women who live without a partner on average throw away more food than any other group.

Women and men have different travel patterns. Males fly and drive more, while women are more likely to use public transport. Men also tend to travel longer distances than women. One reason for this is that men on average have to commute further to work, whereas women tend to work closer to home. Male-dominated jobs are often found in the central areas of communities, while female-dominated jobs are more evenly distributed geographically. Travel patterns are also influenced by norms and expectations linked to gender. For example, cars have become an important symbol of masculinity.

The consumption habits of the rich parts of the world are putting severe pressure on the climate, and some Nordic countries are among those that consume the most. From a gender equality perspective, the issue of consumption is complex. Research shows that, among both women and men, emissions increase with income. Consumption has traditionally been seen as a feminine activity and, at household level, women tend to be in charge of the family-related shopping. Overall, however, men’s consumption is more energy-intensive and harmful to the environment.

Positive development in the Nordic countries

Several Nordic countries can be found near the top of WWF’s list of the ecological footprints of the world’s nations. According to the analysis, if all people in the world lived like people in the Nordic countries, the need for resources would require 3–4 earths. Thus, the Nordic countries are facing tremendous challenges, yet there are also some promising signs of progress.

Since the mid-1990s, the Nordic economies have grown by 45 % at the same time as the CO2 emissions have decreased by nearly 17 %. Sweden and Finland have come a long way with biofuels, and Iceland is a leader in utilising energy from volcanic activity. Norway has the highest share of electric vehicles in the world, and Danes ride bicycles more than anybody else in the world.

Moreover, the Nordic countries have in various ways encouraged and launched projects in which the climate issue has been addressed from a gender equality perspective. For example, Finland and Iceland have supported the Women Delegates Fund, which enables women from the south to participate in international climate negotiations. This is important because, paradoxically, those who are the most affected by climate change have the least opportunities to make their voices heard in climate discussions.

Logotype Nordic Council of Ministers Logotype Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research Logotype University of Gothenburg