Why the oversight to connect gender equality, tourism and climate change at COP28 matters


Earlier this month, we put forward the case that gender equality and tourism should be on the agenda at the COP28 climate change talks. 

Sustainable, gender equitable tourism connects environmental protection, economic growth and improved social equity. That’s why it’s a powerful platform for tackling climate change across the board. 

But while events at COP28 treated gender equality and tourism separately, there was a noticeable gap when it came to exploring any overlap between the two. We followed the talks closely – here’s our take on what was (and wasn’t) discussed. 

The Missing Link at COP28

Tourism featured heavily in this year’s COP conference. A UNWTO event showcased progress in implementing the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action on Tourism; side events highlighted the sector’s capacity to enact concrete climate action; and the Tourism Panel on Climate Change released its first stocktake report.

Likewise, there was a suite of gender-related COP28 events, particularly on Gender Day. These included the ‘Rising up to advance gender safety in climate action’ event; discussions around gender-responsive just transitions and green finance for women; and reviews of the implementation of the Gender Action Plan (GAP) adopted at COP25. 

Image source – UN Climate Change, Amira Grotendiek

However, any links between gender, tourism and climate change were missing. In the Tourism Panel on Climate Change’s stocktake launch event and follow-up report, there was not a single mention of gender. In ‘Rising up to advance gender safety in climate action’ there was no consideration of the threats of violence that women leading climate action within tourism industries face.

Yet, there is an urgent need to examine the gendered dimension of climate change in tourism, as recent research makes clear. For example, this year Ratten’s study concluded that female tourism entrepreneurs had a greater interest in climate change issues than male counterparts. Because of this, they were more proactive and likely to adopt climate change actions. 

Meanwhile, Cavaliere and Ingram’s research into climate change and misogyny argued that women in tourism can galvanise their anger (typically used to discredit them) to advocate for purposeful climate change action. 

Connecting Gender, Tourism and Climate Change

So, what can we learn from this crucial omission at the COP28 talks?

It’s a reminder that intersectionality matters, particularly in discussions around climate change. Global tourism is heavily concentrated in a few high-income outbound markets and destinations and a high climate risk often coincides with a high tourism GDP

To make matters worse, some high tourism GDP countries won’t even have viable tourism industries in the future, due to the impacts of climate change. That includes low-lying islands and fragile ecosystems such as mountain zones. 

Image source – UN Climate Change, Kiara Worth

These climate injustices compound climate vulnerability, as they affect women and girls more than men. Women and girls working in tourism, who are more susceptible to an uneven burden of climate change impact, will be at an even greater risk. We must acknowledge this to allow for a full range of gender equitable adaptation and mitigation policy measures. 

The missing links between gender and tourism also illuminate the importance of considering climate change as an all-encompassing issue. Having separate industry specific and thematic events is useful. But cross-sector discussions that fully reflect the complexity and interconnected nature of the climate crisis are also essential. 

Through an intersectional, joined-up approach we can fully understand how the climate crisis compounds existing vulnerabilities. Women working in tourism in high climate risk countries are a good place to start these discussions. 

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