Ecofeminism and Climate Change Mitigation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2.1 Darrel Moellendorf: Climate Change Mitigation Principles
2.2 Ecofeminism
2.3 Reconciliation of Moellendorfs Principles and Ecofeminism
2.4 Reconceptualization of Mitigation Proposals

3. Conclusion

4. Literature


It recently has been acknowledged that women and men in both the global North and South contribute unequally to the negative impact of anthropogenic climate change (Alston 2013: 288). Not only does the Western populations' share of global harmful CO2 emissions amount to 80% of the overall emissions, but there is also strong evidence that women and men's energy consumption and consumer behavior differ considerably when it comes to determining individual per capita emissions (Vinz 2012: 66). Furthermore, women are often attributed greater burdens and responsibilities in mitigating climate change although women and children are those who suffer the most from it (Caglar et al. 2012:10).

The following paper elaborates the unequal affectedness of men and women by anthropogenic climate change and shows how specific male and female consumer- and behavioral patterns change the outcome of assigning individual shares of the climate catastrophe. In a preliminary step, gender-neutral conventional climate change mitigation principles will be presented as developed by Darrel Moellendorf, professor of International Political Theory and Philosophy at Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, in his essay “Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation” (2009). Afterwards, the central characteristics of the ecofeminist movement will be introduced and furthermore discussed how attempts in climate change mitigation could look like out of a gender-egalitarian perspective. In a third step, a try will be made to reconcile Moellendorfs principles and ecofeminist outlooks and to draft a gender-inclusive approach to facing environmental degradation. Finally, I will show that any climate change mitigation strategy that ignores social inequalities or structural violence repercussions is incomprehensive and cannot count as a fair and anti-hegemonic proceeding.


In his paper “Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation” (2009), Darrel Moellendorf departs from the 2007 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which agreed to a road map of climate change containment. Guided by three core principles - the right to development, equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities - the Conference argued that underdeveloped countries cannot be denied the opportunity to develop and therefore to emit a certain amount of CO2. Rather - and this is Moellendorfs crucial point - industrialized developed countries, being able to cut back more severely, should take the lead in reducing overall emissions if CO2 emissions correlate with economic activity (Moellendorf 2009: 250). Moellendorf works through five principles designated to mitigate climate change effects which should briefly be summarized in the following section.

2.1.1. Equal Burdens Principle

This principle states that burdens are shared depending on how many capacities countries “own” in comparison to how much others “own”. Capacities can either comprise financial means or knowledge and technology to adapt to climate change effects. If a fictional burden of 20 units had to be shared in order to fix the climate, then country A, owning only 10 units, would provide 1 unit whereas wealthier country B, owning 40 units, would pay 19 units. Moellendorf nevertheless criticizes that the equal burdens principle departs from the present situation which might have come up unjustly if any country has emitted much more CO2 in the past. Moreover, the author refers to the difference between luxury and subsistence emissions, meaning that some emissions might be unnecessary whereas others are of vital importance. Finally, Moellendorf points out that the UNFCCC principle of the right to development for developing countries would be ignored, if they were to pay too much of the overall costs.

2.1.2. Polluter Pays

The Polluter Pays principle generally indicates that those who caused most of a certain problem are accordingly requested to fix it. Referring to reductions, this means that ‘ Each state is required to reduce its emissions in proportion to its historic contribution to the global excess in emissions' (Moellendorf 2009: 254). This principle is pretty much in line with the equal burdens principle yet Moellendorf again explains its ignorance of the right to development.

2.1.3. Modified Polluter Pays

This principle matches the preceding principle but further says that the overall reduction of CO2 emissions must allow for developing countries to slightly increase theirs in order to make the UNFCCC norm of the right to development serve its purpose. Moellendorf responds to this by mentioning the difficulty of establishing a threshold between developed and developing countries that is not arbitrarily set. According to the author, it would be hard to find out who was allowed to emit and who will be obliged to reduce. Moreover, this principle does not account for a country's emission trend or tendency, and some nations might be reluctant to increase their emissions for generating a significant GDP just because they are unwilling to pass the ‘under-development threshold' and to be assigned greater duties. Following Moellendorf, the Modified Polluter Pays Principle has some strong advantages but ultimately is doomed to fail due to arbitrariness.

2.1.4. Equal Shares

The Equal Shares Principle deals with per capita reductions that are proportional to the forecast population rate of the year 2050. Abstractly spoken, this would mean that if a country's population would comprise for instance 100 population units by 2050, then it would be allowed 1 emission unit (per capita emission = 0,01 units). Since the world's population is forecasted to comprise 9 billion people by 2050, the average per capita emissions - according to Moellendorf - should be 1.24mt CO2. Nonetheless, if this calculation is true, it would mean that some developing countries would have to cut back and therefore the right to development would be curtailed. Moreover, the United States for example would face a reduction of 94% which would practically not be feasible. What is still alarming is Moellendorfs pledge for per capita emissions of 0.37mt CO2 (-85% global emissions) if the goal of -2°C of global warming is to be reached. Therefore, his ultimate thesis is that if dangerous climate change requires a planetary cooling down of -2°C and if for achieving this more than 50% of CO2 reductions are required, then much greater burdens ought to be shouldered by industrialized countries.

2.1.5. Greenhouse Development Rights

The last of Moellendorfs described principles allocates emissions' entitlements to countries according to a) their responsibilities - how much they are allowed to emit respecting the right of developing countries to develop - and b) their capabilities, meaning their aggregate income minus the aggregate of people below a development threshold. Representatives of this approach have designed the ‘ Responsibility-Capacity-Index' for calculating a country's share of global reductions and Moellendorf praises it for conforming to the UNFCCC norms. Still he insists that either industrialized countries cut back more than 50% or the goal of -2°C global warming cannot be achieved in the future.

Finally, Moellendorf creates three scenarios dealing with enough CO2 emissions reductions and the right to development and how each time one of them and possibly both could be respected. All in all, he wishes for that a ‘sense of justice in the minds of citizens ' will grow and he shows himself in favor of a norm shift so that ultimately, both the earth's temperature stops rising and developing countries are granted CO2 emissions to catch up to the Industrialized (Moellendorf 2009: 261-263).


Ecofeminism can be described as an ecological feminist movement or position which states that there are connections between the domination of women and the domination of nonhuman nature (Warren p.157). Ecofeminists argue that the exploitation of female human and animal bodies corresponds in some way to the exploitation of natural resources through human interference (Gaard/ Gruen p.176). Ecofeminism provides a framework to reconceive feminism and to develop an environmental ethic that takes the interconnected domination aspect of both women and nature into account. Moreover, it can either be understood as being a practical modus operandi but first and foremost, it represents an epistemological perspective or theoretical tradition of thought. Ecofeminists like Carolyn Merchant or Evelyn Fox­Keller for example make the claim that not only women are considerably disadvantaged referring to high-valued job positions in scientific research, but that research itself is inherently gendered due to traditional role models and biased knowledge (Merchant 1980; Fox-Keller 1986). Furthermore, these authors criticize scientific gadgets like drilling devices, or methods like artificial insemination as representing male domination over female nature and therefore as reproducing forms of sexual violence. Scientific methods, they argue, are designed in order to ‘ penetrate nature's purity ' and to ‘ snatch away its' secrets from it' - processes which clearly state female submission and even show how language is misused to serve patriarchal purposes (see Merchant 1987: 182).

Reaching back into the time of the Italian Renaissance (1350 - 1530), women have ever since been associated with caregiving, housework and the private sphere at home in general, whereas men have traditionally been conceived of as being breadwinners, heads of the family and public speakers (Merchant 1987: 165). Crucial to the understanding of feminism is the way in which patriarchy or male hegemony is institutionalized, that as through constructions of dualisms, constantly ascribing one part to the male and the other part to the female. Thus, biological differences between men and women have provided grounds to deduce social activities and duties from it - a process which is referred to as the creation of gender or the ‘social sex'. Moreover, women are traditionally being said to have a stronger and also emotional relationship towards nature whereas men are associated with culture and reason. As Salehi et al. (2015: 31) emphasize: ‘ One notable aspect of the eco­feminist approach is the supposition that women have a special or “essential” relationship to nature which may give them a unique knowledge of the natural environment '. This motivates the approach of placing greater environmental responsibility on them and therefore of exposing them to further burdens of reproductive work. Besides, given the fact that climate change is often related to over-population, women are further held responsible for causing severe consequences (Gaard 2015: 23). As reproductive work - like childbearing, housework and provisioning - is not calculated into the gross national product, it generates less supply in simple jobs. Hence women being willing to work, barely get the opportunity to do so, as jobs for unskilled laborers are not available (see Vinz 2012: 67). All in all, ecofeminism tries to unveil and deconstruct these previously mentioned essentialist dualisms while simultaneously indicating that the feminization of nature and the naturalization of women have been crucial to the historical subordination of both. The ultimate goal would be to liberate women from unjust patriarchy and to refrain from excessive natural exploitation.

Narrowing down the topic to a specific field of research, I will now focus on the relationship between gender aspects and anthropogenic climate change. Sybille Bauriedl (2012) was the first theorist to draft a scheme of various categories showing the interplay of gender and climate change, which will be named and explained in the following section.

2.2.1. Gender-specific vulnerability to climate change

This first aspect relates to an understanding of women's stronger affectedness by climate change and its' outcomes. Due to traditional and role-conforming division of labor women are said to be more vulnerable to climatic variations. Bauriedl states for example that women were less able to swim and therefore more likely to drown in extreme floods (2012: 44). Moreover, they often wear clothes which hinder their mobility in cases of rapid actions, their provisioning work is made more difficult and they seldomly own land or shelter to protect themselves in post-conflict situations (Rodenberg 2009: 118). Furthermore, Bauriedl links the factor of income inequality (‘ pay gap') to the assumption that women are less able to afford sufficient health care precautions or technology making it easier to adapt to climate change effects. Likewise, women would first of all have to look after children and the elders before saving their own life and never consider the possibility to out-migrate - like many men do - if conditions at home get too challenging. Besides, as they only eat after children and men has been provided for, they risk being malnourished and might be exposed to greater health issues.

2.2.2. Gender-specific perception of climate change risks

This aspect of the link between gender relations and climate change refers to the essentialist claim of women being higher affected by environmental issues due to their identification with ‘Mother Nature'. This claim embodies a balance-theoretical approach, emphasizing gender specific qualifications and conceives of a female proximity to nature as being something highly appreciable. Therefore, women often are said to feel a stronger urge to remedy environmental damages and severely emphasize the effects of environmental degradation. Men however are rather said to look for technological solutions and sometimes downplay the seriousness of climate variations - according to Bauriedl.

2.2.3. Unequal causing of climate change due to gender-specific consumer patterns and mobility

The scientific evidence indicates that climate change is in large part human-made; ecofeminists point out that it has not been made by all humans equally' (MacGregor 2014: 627).


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Ecofeminism and Climate Change Mitigation
University of Frankfurt (Main)
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ecofeminism, climate, change, mitigation
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Anika Bohrmann (Author), 2016, Ecofeminism and Climate Change Mitigation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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