Women's Rights & the Climate Crisis

This mini-course on Women’s Rights & the Climate Crisis is meant as a complement to NAWL’s core modules on Feminist Law Reform. NAWL is grateful to Rose Ghaedi for her invaluable work as the primary author of this mini-course.

Part 1: The Climate Crisis and Canada

Climate change is undeniably impacting ecosystems, individuals, and communities across the globe. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the planet already faces unavoidable climate hazards over the next two decades at the current warming rate and will face more severe and possibly even irreversible impacts if this warming level is exceeded. As the impacts of climate change have become more destructive and undeniable, climate justice has become an increasingly important movement. Climate justice refers to the idea that differential impacts and responsibilities related to climate change should be acknowledged and addressed. Indeed, climate change can have different, and often more severe, impacts on vulnerable groups. Advocates for climate justice have already pointed out that the “Global North” is the primary driver of climate change and that the “Global South” is disproportionately impacted by the climate hazards caused by this change. In fact, this finding is supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th cycle assessment report. While this critique accurately points out the imbalances in power, capital, and adaptive capacity that make some regions more vulnerable to climate change impacts, it does not reflect the ways in which certain groups within the “Global North”—women and minorities—also face increased vulnerability to the consequences of climate change. For a summary of climate-related hazards and risks in Canada, including differential impacts on vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities, refer to Health Canada’s 2022 report on climate change here



Gender and Climate Change: Evidence and Experience

Center for International Forestry Research

Why Climate Change is Not an Environmental Issue

Chris Turner

Extracting More than Resources: Human Security and Arctic Indigenous Women

Victoria Sweet

Part 2: Ecofeminist Critiques of the Climate Crisis

Although women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and have long been on the frontlines of climate activism, women’s issues and perspectives have historically been ignored in climate change efforts. Gender considerations are mentioned in some international climate-related agreements, but they are often merely symbolic. For example, the Paris Agreement only includes two mentions of gender, which are in its preamble rather than in the operational text.

The Preamble to the Paris Agreement states: “Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”


Climate Change and Water: Impacts and Adaptations for First Nations Communities

Assembly of First Nations, Environmental Stewardship Unit

Food Insecurity in Igloolik, Nunavut: An exploratory study

James Ford

The meaning of net zero and how to get it right

Sam Fankhauser and others

Part 3: Climate Activism at the International and Federal Levels

Climate change has been an important focus of global cooperation, as well as International and federal policy and law-making for several decades. Canada has been an active participant in international cooperative efforts on climate change, particularly as a leading figure in the creation of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty signed by 193 parties that sets out long-term goals for all nations in order to limit the impact of climate change. Although the Paris Agreement is currently the pre-eminent international treaty on climate change, it is by no means the first. Canada had previously made commitments as part of international agreements such as the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1998 International Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, the 1998 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2010 Cancun Agreement. Nonetheless, Canada has continued to pollute the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

While Canada is legally bound by its international commitments, it is up to the federal and provincial governments to implement those promises in Canadian law, practice, and regulation. In 2021, Canada enacted the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. While this Act does enshrine Canada’s emission reduction goals and require various government officials to create and publish plans and reports regarding climate change and emissions reduction efforts, the Act does not create binding, substantive obligations. Nonetheless, it could become a new tool or opportunity to contest Canada’s climate action, or lack thereof. Canada has also implemented federal carbon pollution measures for business and has announced an oil and gas emissions cap, although the specifics of the cap have not been finalized as of September 2022. 

Currently, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is the federal government’s main environmental legislation. However, CEPA has not been substantively updated since it was first created in 1999 and does not reflect current understandings of the climate crisis. As of 2022, several bills aiming to bring CEPA in line with Canada’s international climate change commitments are moving through the federal legislative process.  

One important development in Canadian environment legislation is the attempt to create a right to a healthy environment through Bill S-5, which is the Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act. The right to a healthy environment currently exists in the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, but a federal right would cover all Canadians and ensure that the federal government has a corresponding duty to preserve the environment. Another bill, titled A National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism, aims to create a national plan to deal with environmental racism. As of August 2022, these bills are still moving through the federal legislature; check in on their progress and on other federal bills being considered at this link


Paris Agreement

The United Nations

Canada continues to fuel environmental racism by letting it fuel us

Aliénor Rougeot & Tori Cress


Part 4: Climate Activism at the Provincial/Territorial and Municipal Levels

Because the federal and provincial governments share jurisdiction over the environment, effective climate activism must focus on both levels of government. Although climate change is a global issue, its impact can often be extremely specific and localized, meaning that municipal or community-based advocacy can be effective in mitigating specific climate concerns. Interested advocates can learn more about law reform at various levels of government by looking through FLR 101’s provincial/territorial and municipal mini-courses. You can also click here to look at the government of Canada’s climate action map, which details various local and provincial climate-related projects across the country. A growing number of cities are adopting climate change plans. However, specific groups are sometimes excluded or insufficiently considered in those plans. Climate action at the municipal and at other levels must take into account the needs of disabled people, migrant workers, single parents, and other marginalized people. 


Survey Results are in: Are Prairie Communities Prepared for Climate Change?

Climate West

Nunavut Climate Change Strategy, Nunavut Climate Change Secretariat

Department of Sustainable Development

Blog Post: Can Youth in Canada Influence Law? They Already Do!

Averi Winn, Loran Scholar


Engage & Discuss

What specific climate change impacts are the most threatening to your community? 

Is there any grassroots work that could be undertaken to build community capacity to deal with these threats? 

Who are your local city counsellors, and what is their stance on climate change? 

Have they taken any steps to deal with local climate issues? If not, how can you bring these issues to their attention? 

Part 5: Climate Change in the Courts

Although the legislature is responsible for enacting new laws, the judicial branch of government is often responsible for interpreting and enforcing these laws. Therefore, courts are an important area for law reform and climate advocacy. In fact, as climate-related crises continue to multiply, it’s likely that courts will face an ever-greater amount of climate litigation.  

While climate litigation can be a powerful tool for change, it is not without its drawbacks. For one, high court costs and the general inaccessibility of the justice system can discourage many parties with valid claims from pursuing them in court. Litigation is also always retrospective by its very nature—climate litigation can generally only help address damages after they have been inflicted, rather than preemptively avoid damages. For climate litigation to meet its legal reform goals, activists must develop reasonable expectations and clear goals. Click here to see the Women’s Legal and Education Fund’s 2022-2026 Feminist Strategic Litigation Plan, which describes a variety of concerns and opportunities for feminist organizations looking to create legal change through the judicial system.  

Because climate litigation can have major impacts on Canadian environmental law and policy, climate organizations often monitor any potential climate suits. Members of the public can consult online climate change litigation databases like Climate Case Chart and the websites of environmental law organizations like the Environmental Law Centre for coverage of Canadian climate cases.


Science and Advocacy

Heather Mcleod-Mcmurray

NAWL and Friends of the Earth’s joint factum in References re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Supreme Court of Canada 2021

Chevron at the Supreme Court of Canada: The Saga Continues

Sara Sek