top of page

Intersectionality As The Key To Indo-Pacific Climate Action

This blog has been republished from 9DashLine  with permission.

Worsening climate vulnerabilities and more opportunities in terms of climate cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region have spurred a series of national, regional, and multilateral climate action initiatives in recent years, including the ASEAN Climate Change Strategic Action Plan (ACCSAP) 2023-2030 and Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package (Q-CHAMP). Despite recognising the need for urgency in climate action, as well as the various approaches and strategies to tackling climate vulnerabilities, many of these initiatives do not go the extra mile to delineate the question(s) of differentiated vulnerabilities and capacities. At this point, there is a considerable gap in acknowledging, assessing, and tackling the intersectional aspects of these climate vulnerabilities. 

Defining intersectionality in the climate context

Intersectionality entails recognising the complex interplay of discriminatory or oppressive conditions that individuals may encounter due to their intersecting identities. For instance, an indigenous queer woman may simultaneously experience discrimination rooted in her gender, sexuality, and indigenous heritage.

In the realm of climate change-related discourse, structural inequity (mostly defined in terms of disparity in vulnerabilities, capacities, etc., that result from certain discriminatory practices by individuals, collectivities/societies, systems/institutions, and so on) has often been viewed through narrow lenses. For example, in recent times, initiatives such as the Gender Action Plan of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have acknowledged the gender-specific impacts of climate change but do not necessarily pay much attention to the intra-gender disparities in how climate change affects different groups.

Such a unidimensional approach overlooks the concurrent influences of an individual’s intersecting identities. Conducting research and writing policy without acknowledging these intersecting dimensions risks decontextualising vulnerabilities/capacities and isolating climate actions and initiatives in a silo.

Taking an intersectional approach to climate change recognises the interconnected and interwoven nature of social, economic, ecological, political, and cultural issues in the formulation of climate change policies and strategies.

Intersectional climate vulnerabilities in the Indo-Pacific

The Indo-Pacific is a dynamic region that faces a multitude of climate vulnerabilities, including ocean acidification, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, freshwater scarcity, infrastructural vulnerabilities and more. These climate vulnerabilities intermingle with the region’s social, economic, ecological, political, and cultural fault lines, thereby exacerbating the systemic crisis that the region’s populations are currently facing and will be facing in the future. Those disproportionately affected by climate change often possess multiple identities that are discriminated against in the region. These discriminatory practices are based on income/resources, education/knowledge, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, and more. Applying an intersectional framework is critical for developing a comprehensive understanding of varying vulnerabilities and capacities (that influence the agency of those affected) across societies.

Climate vulnerabilities are additionally underpinned by gender-based or influenced differentiations about land ownership, labour and resource distribution, and decision-making power. Women are often more dependent on natural resources, through gender-segregated tasks such as collecting water and firewood and small-scale sustenance farming. Experts have also linked the impact of climate change-induced water and food shortages with a rise in domestic violence against women. Additionally, LGBTQIA+ individuals and individuals with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, facing an elevated risk of marginalisation and violence, often experiencing neglect in disaster situations and subsequent responses. An intersectional approach to climate action and cooperation could address these disparities.

Climate action in the Indo-Pacific

Within the Indo-Pacific, countries face differentiated impacts of climate change. For example, island nations face an existential risk from sea level rise, coastal inundation, saltwater intrusion, and other climate impacts. Similarly, countries with huge coastal cities and populations also face these risks. Many countries in the region are threatened by drought and desertification. The lack of climate resilience among populations and infrastructure would demand greater attention (policies, resources, etc.) from countries and regional and multilateral organisations alike.

Climate cooperation initiatives in the Indo-Pacific are essential for addressing the urgent challenges of climate change and fostering resilience among the region’s diverse countries. A notable example is the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), in which low-lying island nations collaborate to advocate for global climate action, emphasising the need for major emitters to reduce their emissions (especially in the Global North), mobilising finances for adaptation measures, and seeking loss and damage compensation. Similarly, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) promotes sustainable development and cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, including climate resilience efforts.

Sector-specific initiatives also exist, such as the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network, which is targeted at agricultural adaptation (and exploring mitigation potential as a secondary priority) in the Southeast Asian region that is highly dependent on this sector for economic development. These initiatives, among others, underscore the importance of regional and multilateral cooperation to mitigate the impacts of climate change and build a sustainable future for the Indo-Pacific. Some of these initiatives are embracing more inclusive and responsive structures by integrating gender inclusivity into their frameworks.

Locating gender in existing climate action and cooperation

The Pacific Islands Forum, through the 66th session for the Commission for Status of Women (CSW66), mentions gender inclusion in terms of climate resilience in a broader sense while acknowledging gender-based violence in their societies. Centring women and girls in climate resilience efforts while seeking to intervene in violence against women and girls (VAWG), gender-based violence (GBV), and domestic violence (DV) can be understood as an intersectional approach to building climate resilience.

Another initiative that opts for a partially intersectional lens is the Quad’s Guidelines for Quad Partnership on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the Indo-Pacific. These guidelines mention the need for the inclusion of women and girls in decision-making and the advancement of gender equality in the context of HADR. Refreshingly, the guidelines have also introduced regulations to actively centre disabled individuals during crises. However, there is still less evidence of the use of fundamental transformative approaches that take the full spectrum view of intersectionality, such as a non-binary approach to gender, ethnicity, religion, class, and race, which continues to lead to an invisibilisation of various marginalised groups from the decision-making processes.

Most multilateral climate policies in the region largely fail to acknowledge the significance of gender-responsive or gender-transformative climate action as a vital strategy (that leaves no one behind) to address climate change. Hence, a widely employed intersectional approach is still a way off in this context. This is hindering the comprehensive and effective mitigation of climate-related concerns, as it overlooks the unique vulnerabilities and perspectives of women and other marginalised groups. A more inclusive approach that acknowledges the integral role of gender equity and justice in fostering sustainable climate action is the need of the hour, as it ensures that the concerns and contributions of all individuals, regardless of gender, are taken into account in the pursuit of socio-ecological resilience and sustainability.

The representation of women in formal climate change-related decision-making processes remains notably limited across the world, including in the Indo-Pacific. According to estimates, in Asia and the Pacific “only 7 per cent of all environment-related ministries (comprising agriculture, crude oil, climate change, energy, fisheries, irrigation, marine resources, mines, rural development, transportation, and others) have a female minister, compared to a global average of 12 per cent”. As a result, the valuable insights and multifaceted concerns of women are frequently marginalised during the formulation and implementation of climate change policies.

Moreover, roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR) response efforts are also predominantly occupied by men, often confining their consultations primarily to male community leaders and constituents. This exclusionary pattern is in contrast with the reality that in most communities (especially indigenous communities) women are knowledge custodians, expected to pass down their knowledge to future generations. The resulting lack of decision-making agency for women within climate action and cooperation inhibits indigenous and rural women from harnessing their knowledge to contribute to sustainability solutions.

Integrating gender responsiveness and intersectionality into climate action in the Indo-Pacific

Intersectionality in climate governance would signify an approach that recognises the complex interplay of social identities, vulnerabilities, and inequalities when addressing climate change impacts and policies. The approach would seek inclusivity by considering factors such as gender, disability, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity across the varying cultures of the Indo-Pacific. Such an approach would also require strong policies addressing poverty alleviation, caste or race-based discrimination, gender-based violence, and disability rights, among others. Intersectionality cannot be implemented in a vacuum.

Several countries in the region, including Indonesia, have gradually begun to integrate intersectional approaches into their national climate policies. Indonesia’s commitment to disability rights and inclusion, exemplified in its National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation (RANAPI), serves as a model. It includes disabled-friendly infrastructure and involves disabled people’s organisations and civil society actors in policy development. Moreover, non-state initiatives, such as the Pacific Gender and Climate Change Toolkit, are examples of intersectional practices that prioritise equity, ensuring climate initiatives are responsive to the unique vulnerabilities and strengths of diverse communities.

The benefits of adopting an intersectional approach in climate cooperation include enhanced equity, more effective adaptation strategies, reduced conflicts, and improved community resilience. In view of these benefits, there has clearly been a greater acknowledgement of the importance of embracing intersectionality in addressing climate change-related challenges among the various stakeholders of climate action across the Indo-Pacific region. It is crucial for stakeholders involved in climate governance to enhance the momentum through more sustained and institutional efforts towards designing and implementing context-specific and inclusive intersectional climate action in the region.


bottom of page