Just Resilience: Integrating social justice and gender into climate change adaptation in Europe

[May 2024] The impacts of the climate crisis on Europe disproportionately affect certain regions and socio-economic groups, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. Faced with this reality, it is necessary to rethink adaptation to guarantee just resilience, by integrating social justice and gender concerns.

Analysis note of the Global Observatory of Climate Action


Pauline Beyler, Climate Lead, Gender in Geopolitics Institute

Flavie Seigneurin, Climate Lead, Gender in Geopolitics Institute

Tania Martha Thomas, Research Officer at the Observatory

Date: May 2024


  • Social vulnerabilities and adaptation policies: interconnected impacts
  • “Just Resilience”: From theoretical framings to local actions
  • Community-led and civil society efforts
  • The particular vulnerability of women and the need for feminist social justice
  • Rethinking political commitment and interpersonal relations for more effective feminist social justice

Social vulnerabilities and adaptation policies: interconnected impacts

With levels of warming above the global average (~2°C of warming observed between 2013 and 2022 compared with pre-industrial temperatures),[1] the effects of climate change are already being felt across Europe. The IPCC notes that the effects of the combined risks of warming and precipitation have become more frequent. It identifies four major risks for the continent: heat-related mortality, morbidity and ecosystem changes; heat stress and drought on crops; water scarcity; flooding and sea-level rise.[2] These risks disproportionately affect different geographical regions, economic sectors and socio-economic groups.

Adapting to climate change means reducing the potential damage and maximising the benefits of climate impacts. Climate risks, for any society or system, are a combination of hazards (natural factors such as climatic hazards), exposure (presence of people and resources in areas that could be adversely affected) and vulnerability (possibility of being adversely affected).[3], [4]

Vulnerabilities can be of different kinds, physical and socio-economic. The first European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA)[5] published in spring 2024 notes that structural inequalities and socio-economic vulnerabilities reinforce each other in a vicious circle. The EUCRA identifies four types of social vulnerability, which can often be interconnected:

  • Group-based vulnerabilities, of ethnic minorities, immigrants and indigenous peoples stemming from structural and historically embedded inequalities;
  • Gender-based vulnerabilities, one of the most widespread group-based vulnerabilities, due to social norms that could results in overlooked or underpaid work by women, for example;
  • Socio-economic and occupation-based vulnerabilities affecting lower-income households and individuals;
  • Age- and health-based vulnerabilities, which render children or the elderly, those with disabilities or existing health conditions more vulnerable to climate impacts.

Additionally, often overlooked are the impacts of adaptation actions on these vulnerabilities: improperly planned or executed adaptation responses could shift or redistribute the vulnerability, potentially reinforcing inequalities. A 2023 EU Parliament study[6] found that out of 14 EU level climate policy instruments studied, a majority of them had “limited recognition and a narrow understanding” of the negative socioeconomic impacts that could arise from their implementation. The same report states that when it comes to adaptation, research in general is scarcer, and existing literature focuses more on the vulnerabilities of certain groups and how adaptation responses can take these into account.

“Just Resilience”: From theoretical framings to local actions

In the context of the unequal climate vulnerabilities of different population groups, the idea of social justice can include several dimensions. The EUCRA focuses on three such interconnected dimensions: distributive justice, which concerns the allocation of resources, benefits and burdens linked to adaptive actions; procedural justice, which has to do with the fairness, legitimacy and inclusivity of the decision-making process; and recognition justice, which involves respect and fair consideration for different values or world views, cultures and needs .[07]

The European Adaptation Strategy, adopted in 2021, introduces principles of “just resilience” and “leaving no one behind”, a key element also of the Green Deal and the EU Mission on Adaptation. In this context, resilience is defined to broader than adaptation, by including also the enhancement of the adaptive capacity of societies and natural systems. The European Environment Agency, in a study dedicated to the topic, found that current European policies on just resilience tend to prioritise the more international dimensions of justice, societal transformations, workers’ rights and the distribution of adaptation funding between Member States.[08]

An assessment of reporting by Member States themselves on their adaptation actions[09] found that vulnerable populations are increasingly included in the participatory processes for developing national adaptation policy (ex. in Ireland), and are considered in the prioritization of adaptation actions (ex. in Finland). The Netherlands and Spain reported using research on social justice to inform their national policies, while France and Hungary reported including social and economic aspects in certain thematic and sectoral climate risk assessments at the national level.

 At the local level, these social vulnerabilities have been observed to coincide with dense urban areas in many European countries, which are also subject to intense physical hazards like the Urban Heat Island effect or be more prone to flooding due to unsustainable land-take and construction.[10] A study of 328 large and medium-sized cities’ local adaptation plans showed that 68% of these plans identified particular population groups that are especially vulnerable to climate change, and an increasing number of plans included equity aspects.[11] However, methodologies for monitoring the status of vulnerable groups, and the social outcomes of adaptation responses remain largely lacking, as do methodologies for tracking overall adaptation progress.

Community-led and civil society efforts

Reviews of scientific literature published between 2013 and 2019[12],[13] show that the majority of adaptation actions from around the world were undertaken at the local level, with individuals and households being the main actors (accounting for up to 64% of literature). Herein lies the importance of communities, and community-led action – action taken by self-organised groups of people or households, i.e. actions undertaken by self-organised groups of individuals or households. These approaches go beyond simple dialogue with stakeholders and are more rights-based, giving the communities concerned greater power over decision-making.[14]

At European level, the Pathways2Resilience initiative brings together local and regional networks and experts to support participation in the EU Adaptation Mission, to “foster local ownership” of adaptation measures and to develop key community systems[15]. Networks such as Ecolise also enable community initiatives to come together to share and accelerate best practice, with a view to achieving the goal of a “compassionate, equitable and regenerative society of self-reliant and resilient communities”.

Civil society has also shown ways of contributing directly to social justice in climate policy – with actions ranging from demonstrations and civil disobedience to legal proceedings against governments or companies. The use of justice to secure recognition of people’s or communities’ climate rights has been steadily and rapidly increasing since 2015. In 2024, for example, Klimaseniorinnen, a group of Swiss women aged 64 and over, won against the state in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that government inaction made them more vulnerable to death during heatwaves because of their gender and age.[16]

The particular vulnerability of women and the need for feminist social justice

Whether in Europe or the rest of the world, women and gender minorities are more affected by the effects of climate change. According to an article published in 2024 by France Nature Environnement, 85% of the people in the world who die as a result of climate-related natural disasters and 75% of environmental refugees are women.[17] A report by UN Women shows that by 2050, under the most pessimistic climate scenario of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, up to 158.3 million more women and girls could be pushed into poverty worldwide.[18]

At global level, these inequalities can be explained for several reasons. Firstly, women have less socio-economic power overall, mainly due to gendered socialisation and the burden of domestic work, which means they have fewer resources to afford an environmentally friendly lifestyle, particularly in Western countries, or to adapt when climate problems threaten their safety. Secondly, women’s socially and culturally prescribed roles mean that they are the main caregivers in their families, and so these responsibilities prevent them from devoting time and effort to other aspects of their lives, such as better education and economic opportunities. Thirdly, women are the main employees in the agricultural sector where they carry out informal work, they are more dependent on natural resources in terms of nutrition but also income and in the event of a disaster they are the first to suffer from these effects, which makes their work extremely difficult and further increases their vulnerability.

Women and the LGBTI+ community are more likely to be victims of sexist and sexual violence, such as the upsurge in forced marriages and unwanted pregnancies. Additionally, their migratory journey as environmental refugees is fraught with violence: rape and harassment, and even the risk of human trafficking.[19].

However, not all women are equal when it comes to the consequences of global warming. In the case of Europe, it is mainly migrant women, women of colour, LGBTI+ women, disabled women and single women who are the most vulnerable to climate-related issues, as the European Federation of Public Service Unions has pointed out.[20] This has multiple causes, such as increasing poverty and social exclusion, which means greater exposure to the consequences of climate disasters and crisis management (such as rising food and energy prices, for example). In this context, a feminist approach to social justice can highlight the link between the environmental crisis and these inequalities, and the need to integrate the rights of women and gender minorities into adaptation policies.

The European Green Deal  takes little or no account of the gender dimension, which severely limits the implementation of egalitarian and equitable policies. The various texts adopted over time bear witness to this lack of political commitment: whether it be the Fit-for-55 Objective, the Just Transition Fund or the European Climate Law.[21]. The 2021 Climate Adaptation Strategy[22], only mentions gender once, without specifying the means or specific measures to be put in place to address gender inequalities.

Rethinking political commitment and interpersonal relations for more effective feminist social justice

A number of community and institutional initiatives are committed to promoting a feminist approach to social justice in climate policies and actions. They encourage a rethinking of both social relations and political and institutional commitment to adapting to the climate crisis.

In Moldova, the Seed it Forward agroforestry initiative is encouraging people to rethink climate change adaptation through community action, education and sharing, so that “everyone can be part of the solution, not just part of the problem” (the initiative’s slogan).[23] Implemented by the Ecovisio association,[24] this initiative recognises the gendered dimension of the effects of climate change, particularly in Moldova, where women are predominantly active in agriculture and hold the lowest-paid agricultural jobs. In addition to their economic situation, women in Moldova see their health and well-being affected by the harvest, which is largely dependent on climatic conditions. Faced with this reality, Ecovisio supports a feminist approach to environmental activism, emphasising community participation, education, dialogue and social entrepreneurship. In particular, Ecovisio has developed a permanent training centre offering conferences and interactive games, all designed to raise awareness of the climate crisis among a wide audience.

These community initiatives can also be more participative. In 2024, the Printemps des Impactrices, an ecofeminist and anti-racist festival, set out to remedy the lack of representation of women and minorities in economic, scientific and media decision-making circles.[25] The 2024 edition paid particular attention to the mental and financial health of women and minorities, tackling issues such as eco-anxiety and the legitimacy of women’s participation in adaptation. These good community practices highlight the importance of promoting gender equality in adapting to climate disaster, but go further by adopting a feminist approach that encourages us to rethink our social interactions by valuing solidarity, participation and dialogue, and by strengthening women’s resilience.

The urgent need to combine social and climate justice at European level is being driven not only by grass-roots civil society, but also by more institutional players.  Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), a non-profit network of civil society organisations committed to promoting a ‘healthy and equitable planet for all’, has put forward recommendations for rethinking a feminist European Green Deal, in a report drawn up jointly with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).[26] The report presents both general and sectoral recommendations. Its general recommendations are divided into three categories: gender-sensitive, intersectional policy objectives; a feminist welfare and care economy; and ensuring gender-sensitive environmental policies. WECF recommends, for example, recognising the right to care as a fundamental right and funding research programmes and awareness-raising campaigns on the interconnections between gender and climate. Through its recommendations, WECF stresses the importance of promoting the transversality of climate and gender policies. This approach fosters both adaptation to the climate crisis and the empowerment of women, thereby strengthening the resilience of populations and territories in the face of climate catastrophe. By publishing this report and instituting awards such as the « Gender and Climate Solutions” and “Women and Biodiversity” prizes, WECF has promoted the integration of gender equality in the fight against climate change, while highlighting women’s entrepreneurship.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, in partnership with WECF and the EEB, has made similar recommendations in its report on a feminist European Green Deal.[27] Ses recommandations englobent à la fois des directives générales et spécifiques à certains secteurs, notamment l’énergie, le transport et l’agriculture. Its recommendations encompass both general and sector-specific guidelines, including energy, transport and agriculture. Among the general recommendations set out in the report are the collection of gender-disaggregated data, the systematic integration of gender into the budgetary process, the carrying out of prior gender impact assessments, and the guarantee of parity in political representation and climate negotiations.


[1] EEA (29/06/2023). Global and European temperatures. European Environment Agency.

[2] Pörtner, H.-O. et al. (2022). Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Möller, V. et al (2022). Annex II: Glossary. In Pörtner, H.-O. et al. (2022). Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

[4] Jones, R. & Boer, R. (2004). Assessing Current Climate Risks. In Lim, B. & Spanger-Siegfried, E. (Eds.) (2004). Adaptation Policy Frameworks for Climate Change: Developing Strategies, Policies and Measures. United Nations Development Programme, Cambridge University Press.

[5] EEA (2024). European climate risk assessment. EEA Report 01/2024. European Environment Agency.

[6] Gancheva, M., et al. (2023). Policy instruments to tackle social inequalities related to climate change. Publication for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, Policy Department for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies. European Parliament.

[7] EEA (2024). European climate risk assessment, op. cit.

[8] Lager, F. et al. (2023). Just Resilience for Europe: Towards measuring justice in climate change adaptation. Technical Paper 1/23. European Topic Centre on Climate change adaptation and LULUCF (ETC-CA).

[9] Leitner, M. et al. (2023). Is Europe on track towards climate resilience? – Status of reported national adaptation actions in 2023. Technical Paper 2/23. European Topic Centre on Climate change adaptation and LULUCF (ETC-CA).

[10] EEA (2024). Urban adaptation in Europe: what works? Implementing climate action in European cities. EEA Report 14/2023. European Environment Agency.

[11] Reckien, D., et al. (2022). Plan quality characteristics of Local Climate Adaptation Plans in Europe. DANS.

[12] Berrang-Ford, L. et al. (2021). A systematic global stocktake of evidence on human adaptation to climate change. Nature Climate Change, vol. 11. 989 – 1000.

[13] Petzold, J. et al. (2023). A global assessment of actors and their roles in climate change adaptation. Nature Climate Change, vol. 13. 1250 – 1257.

[14] Tye, S., & Suarez, I. (2021). Locally Led Climate Adaptation: What Is Needed to Accelerate Action and Support?. Working Paper. World Resources Institute.

[15] Pathways2Resiilience (n.d.). What are the programme objectives?. Pathways to Resilience.

[16] Dickie, G., Abnett, K. & Levaux, C. (09/04/2024). Swiss climate policy shortcomings violated human rights, top court rules. Reuters.

[17] France Nature Environnement. (05/03/2024). Droits des femmes : Un enjeu environnemental. France Nature Environnement.

[18] Turquet, L., Tabbush, C., Staab, S., Williams, L. & Howell, B. (2023). Feminist Climate Justice: A Framework for Action. Conceptual

framework prepared for Progress of the World’s Women series. UN Women.

[19] Apostoly, A. (dir.), Ahanda, M.L., Bergey, E., Boissel, N., & Moreau, Z. (2023). How to Sustain a Gender-responsive Decision-making against Climate change. Gender in Geopolitics Institute.

[20] Nenning, L. (2022). Inégalités entre les sexes, crise climatique et pacte vert pour l’Europe. European Public Service Union.

[21] Allwood, G. (2022). La transition de l’UE vers la justice climatique et l’égalité de genre. Fondation Jean Jaurès.

[22] European Commission. (2021). Forging a climate-resilient Europe – The new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2021/82 final). EUR-Lex.

[23] EcoVisio. (n.d.). Seed it forward. EcoVisio.

[24] EcoVisio. (2023). Home page. EcoVisio.

[25] Les Impactrices. (2024). Le printemps des impactrices. Les Impactrices.

[26] WECF & EEB. (2021). Why the European Green Deal needs Ecofeminism: Moving from gender-blind to gender-transformative environmental policies. Report. European Environmental Bureau and Women Engage for a Common Future.

[27] Heffernan, R., Heidegger, P., Köhler, G., Stock, A., & Wiese, K. (2021). A Feminist European Green Deal: Towards an Ecological and Gender Just Transition. Report. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.