Gender Equality in Climate Science

Gender Equality in Climate Science

Gender inequality is a systemic issue that pervades all areas of life and it’s particularly bad in the world of science. You don’t have to look far to see that women are, on average, given smaller research grants than their male colleagues. Also, in the US, women account for just 28% of the science and engineering workforce, despite making up half of the college-educated workforce. These are huge issues that come about due to barriers and stereotypes that men do not have to face. Worryingly, this problem also lurks under the surface of climate science. Ultimately, this hinders all of the important research the field produces. Therefore, in this article we are going to address the importance of gender equality in climate science.

Inequalities in Climate Science

Inequality throughout the discipline of climate science is vast. On a recent Reuters “Hot List” ranking the top 1000 climate scientists influencing the climate change debate only 111 were from the Global South and of these 88 were from China.

A similar, but different report, supports this finding. The report, by Ayesha Tandon of Carbon Brief, shows that while Africa is home to around 16% of the world’s population, it comprises less than 1% of authors in the 100 most highly cited climate science papers between 2016 and 2020.

Authors by Continent Chart showing Inequalities in Climate Science by Ayesha Tandon of Carbon Brief
Percentage of authors from the Top 100 most-cited climate science papers during 2016-20 by continent. Source: Carbon Brief

These disparities highlight prominent issues in climate science, such as the following written by the Editors of the journal Climate and Development:

  • Global North scholars benefit from significant advantages in terms of financial, intellectual and administrative support enabling them to develop grant applications, access funding and access libraries and journals.
  • Global South scholars have less access to journals, libraries and even online connectivity.

However, another issue is also present within the field of climate science: gender inequality.

Why Gender Inequality is an Issue for Climate Science

Gender inequality was another finding prominent on both the Hot List and the Carbon Brief reports. For example, only 122 women are on the List of 1000 authors. Similarly, Carbon Brief reports that only 22% of the authors from the 100 most highly cited climate science papers between 2016 and 2020 are women.

Like with the Global North-South divide, the reason for such figures is due to barriers and stereotypes women face that male counterparts don’t have to contend with. These reasons are systemic. They are representative of discrimination women face in the wider scientific disciplines.

A powerful cartoon depicting gender discrimination in science by Ayodhya Ouditt of NPR.
A powerful cartoon depicting gender discrimination and stereotypes in science by Ayodhya Ouditt/NPR for an article by Shankar Vedantam called “How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science

A survey of 100 female authors of IPCC climate reports shows that 43% believe their gender was barrier to their success. This is a huge issue. The same study also traces the “modest increase” of female authorship in IPCC reports since the early 1900s (see table below).

1st Assessment (1990)2nd Assessment (1997)4th Assessment (2001)5th Assessment (2013)Special Report on 1.5°C (2020)
Table data shows a slow increase percentage in female authors listed in IPCC reports since 1990. Source: Miriam Gay-Antaki and Diana Liverman – Climate for women in climate science: Women scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

This data shows an increase but it’s a very incremental one. It’s something that needs to be addressed more quickly. This is because while gender inequality exists, all aspects of society are worse off. This includes climate science.

The Importance of Gender Equality in Climate Science

Gender equality is important for society. Without it, the human rights of women cannot be realised. It can help prevent violence against women and girls. It also has huge benefits for all of society including:

  • Helping to reduce poverty
  • Promoting health and education
  • Improving everyone’s wellbeing
  • Reducing mortality rates
  • Improving economic growth

Addressing gender equality in climate science will positively impact all of these areas. However, it will also have direct positive consequences more specific to climate change.

For example, reports often state that women are more vulnerable to climate change because of “socio-cultural structures that deprive women of access to resources, decision-making, information [and] agency“. However, addressing gender inequality in climate science will help address these areas. Without it we are limiting ourselves in the battle to fight climate change.

Gender equality in climate science is important in and of itself. It doesn’t need justifying. Until it’s achieved we’re all failing.

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