From climate action to feminist justice


This article discusses the potential of a feminist approach to climate justice and feminist foreign and development policy. The authors, Gina Cortés Valderrama and Katy Wiese, argue that feminist perspectives are essential in addressing economic rights, energy transition, and climate-related damages and losses.


This article centres on how a climate justice perspective has the potential to influence current Feminist Foreign and Development Policies. Undoubtedly, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Foreign Office have one of the most progressive strategies for feminist policies. Yet, a lot of the powerful statements have not yet translated into concrete actions. I talked to two feminist advocates about what it actually means to advocate feminist climate strategies in Germany, at the European Union (EU), and the United Nations (UN) in terms of just climate action. Gina Cortés Valderrama is a Colombian activist, part of a Colombian collective, Aluna Minga, and serves as the Co-Focal Point of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency. Katy Wiese is a Policy Manager for Economic Transition and Gender Equality at the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels. Both believe in the core idea of feminist policies but see a lot of gaps regarding all FFP countries' current climate action approaches on themes such as economic justice, energy transition, or the approach towards loss and damages, which are all necessary in light of climate breakdown.

Germany’s Feminist Strategy for Climate Action

Germany claims that its feminist foreign and development policies are not an end in itself, but a means to an end. But what does this actually mean for Germany’s overall climate policies? In general, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Foreign Office are both committed to a core principle of feminism - questioning power hierarchies that result in climate injustice.

Power inequalities within societies are grounded in deep-rooted structural and often interlinked systems such as patriarchy, racism, sexism, ableism and classism. These systems perpetuate violent and unequal power structures. In the countries of the Global South, they are also associated with European colonialism and a colonial mindset, which continue to have effects today. The devaluation of knowledge and education systems that was integral to colonialism is one reason why Indigenous knowledge, for example, is still not appropriately integrated into solutions to the climate crisis.” (1 )

Additionally, the German Foreign Office has institutionalised climate diplomacy by appointing Jennifer Morgan as Special Envoy for International Climate Action. Morgan’s responsibilities are to ensure gender mainstreaming in all global climate processes, e.g. to champion the UN’s Climate Gender Action Plan as well as to emphasise the climate dimension of flight, displacement and migration in the EU’s Khartoum Process (see Feminist Guidelines of the Federal Foreign Office, p. 48). Reading both strategies, it becomes evident that Germany, in fact, recognises how the climate crisis affects people differently. Yet, Gina Cortés Valderrama and Katy Wiese highlight that there is still a big discrepancy between what is written in the feminist guidelines and how Germany’s policy-makers are actually including feminism in their daily decisions. They share their experience of holding Germany accountable, challenging big institutions like the UN or the EU on their climate actions as well as how they themselves practice feminist leadership in their daily work.

Taking the courage to challenge institutions

One country cannot realise its climate policies on its own. As a powerful player, Germany pushes its feminist policies also at the EU and the UN. The EU and its member states officially claim to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. However, when taking a closer look at the European Green Deal (EGD) from 2019, it becomes clear that feminist approaches are totally absent. It is, therefore, of great significance that Germany now advocates for feminist policies in the EU. Together, with climate advocates and analysts, Katy Wiese published a report on why the EGD needs Ecofeminism. They offered solutions for various specific aspects of the climate crisis, e.g. moving towards a feminist economy of well-being and care, eliminating hazardous chemicals and combatting energy poverty. Katy Wiese emphasises that they managed to hand over practical recommendations to politicians such as Delara Burkhardt (Member of the European Parliament), Leonore Gewessler (Austrian Minister of Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology) or Kata Tüttő (Deputy Mayor of Budapest and Rapporteur on gender and climate, European Committee of the Regions). Katy Wiese’s example shows a crucial aspect of feminist advocacy. Civil society plays a key role in challenging the status quo of policies, and that is why policy-makers need to invest time in feminist civil society consultations if they want to call their policies feminist. However, not all policy-makers prioritise interactions with civil society.

 Gina Cortés Valderrama
Gina Cortés Valderrama, Co-Focal Point of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency.

For Gina Cortés Valderrama, it is very challenging to engage with policy-makers at the UN’s Climate Change Conferences. For example, civil society has limited access to climate negotiations at the UN’s Climate Change Conferences. Activists like Gina Cortés Valderrama, therefore often have several strategies to voice their demands. Civil society interventions at the Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai are one example of how feminists express their anger and frustration. At the same time, Gina Cortés Valderrama emphasises that “challenging the institution doesn't always mean that you have to be noisy and angry all the time. We can ask critical questions, and then use the silence of the policy- and decision-makers as a statement.” Often, the question is also how to deliver feminist demands in a way that policy-makers actually get the message. Therefore, it is not only the question of when to engage but also how. To reach a broad audience during climate negotiations, feminist advocates share responsibilities. For example, when it comes to loss and damage, there is a need for a feminist technical analysis and, at the same time, for movement building that calls out countries that do not keep their promises. “There is a huge force of power that is strengthening us across movements and across coalitions.”

Practicing Feminist Principles and Leadership

Intersectionality has become one of the buzzwords, when it comes to feminist principles. Katy Wiese underlines that everyone who commits to intersectionality should acknowledge that there is always an internal and external dimension. “You cannot demand intersectionality from others when your own institution is not trying. And when you try, it is not an easy task”. For example, Katy Wiese remembers how much effort was needed to raise awareness within her own organisation to finally include an intersectional analysis in their policy recommendations. “We started with thematic lunches for the staff members and continued to explain why intersectionality is essential for climate justice.”

Katy Wiese
Katy Wiese, Policy Manager for Economic Transition and Gender Equality at the European Environmental Bureau, Belgium.

As Katy Wiese said, living up to feminist principles requires a lot of effort, and advocating feminist policies can be overwhelming. On a daily basis, feminist advocates make decisions about what topics are urgent and need to be prioritised. For Gina Cortés Valderrama, a capitalist working environment prevents us from reflecting more deeply on what needs to be done. Often, we come across the wording of “urgency” or “window of opportunity” that requires immediate action. Gina Cortés Valderrama urges us to be more intentional with what we are doing even when facing an actual urgent crisis, like the climate crisis. Feminist solidarity includes taking care of each other, while fighting for climate justice. One approach is creating supportive feminist collectives as a principle of care. “As an individual I cannot do everything at the same time. I cannot fight all the fights that need to be fought. That is why we need to care of ourselves”, emphasise Gina Cortés Valderrama and adds: “We actually should be more confident that we can trust the knowledge, experiences, and power of different movements that are holding space for us in those angles where we cannot do it”. This global feminist cooperation is very important nowadays. In particular, because the path towards climate justice is still far off track, despite having some governments adopting feminist approaches.

This article first appeared here:

The views and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

  • 1see Feminist Strategy of the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, p.10