Last week I was in Durban, South Africa where I attended the Seventeenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17). Climate-resilient, low carbon development is sustainable development, so it’s no surprise that many of the issues addressed at COP-17 are crucially important to USAID’s development efforts and to our developing country partners such as adaptation, clean energy technologies, and REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  USAID is emerging as a leader in gender and REDD+ and recently released a report which analyzes the barriers and opportunities for women’s participation in the REDD+ sector in Asia.

One of the issues I came to Durban to discuss is a key topic throughout climate change-related work – the critical role women play in combating climate change and the need to support gender equality across climate issues.

Last Monday, I hosted an event that covered the efforts of USAID’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment to engage civil society in forest conservation and REDD+ programs in the Congo River Basin.  USAID forestry specialists, partners, and local experts described how technology and community-based work are keys to sustainably conserving the second largest tropical rain forest in the world, and a significant carbon sink.  As efforts like Wangari Mathaai’s Greenbelt movement have demonstrated, women play a critical role in forest conservation and reforestation.  Involving local communities in the conservation efforts of course includes incorporating women into all aspects of the program – from design to implementation.

While USAID has decades of experience in such community-based programming, it’s important that we keep listening to other practitioners and affected peoples so that we continuously improve.  To highlight the role of women in combating climate change and the importance of addressing gender issues in climate change efforts,  and to learn from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that actively pursue this goal, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and I hosted an informal NGO roundtable discussion last Wednesday. The Ambassador and I talked with about 20 women from 14 organizations representing nearly every region of the globe to garner concrete ideas on how to best weave gender considerations into climate change policies and programs moving forward.

USAID recognizes that addressing climate change and achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are among the cornerstones of effective, long-term development.  We are taking concrete steps toward fully integrating gender into our development efforts. Gender is a required part of USAID programming in all sectors, from the initial stages of project development through the monitoring and evaluation process. In our climate change work, we are leading efforts to increase knowledge around gender and climate change and pilot new approaches. We are working in Peru to integrate gender in watershed management and adaptation efforts and in Ecuador to enhance women’s participation in a payment for ecosystem services program.  We also have a program in Southeast Asia to encourage and support gender equality in national REDD+ readiness plans, and have committed to exploring gender issues at the intersection of agriculture and climate change in Africa.  Furthermore, we are developing social safeguards for our REDD+ programming that seek to advance gender equality.  USAID’s work is helping our partners in developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change in a way that is sustainable and equitable for all.

For more information about U.S. participation at COP-17, see: