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“Solutions Can’t Be Siloed” - Maria Floro & Caren Grown on Intersections Between Climate, Gender & Development

Climate change is the defining crisis of our time. Yet its disproportionate effects across so many aspects of women’s lives have not been deeply explored.

Dr. Maria Floro, professor emerita of economics at American University (AU), and Dr. Caren Grown, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and former global director for gender at the World Bank, want to change that. They have dedicated their careers to studying the connections between gender, development and economics for 40 years, co-founding AU’s Program on Gender Analysis in Economics. Today, with climate change intensifying existing gender inequalities around the world, their work has only grown more urgent. 

To Floro and Grown, understanding the intersection between climate, gender equality and development is critical to creating healthier, more equitable, stronger futures for women and society as a whole. In 2023, they completed a month-long Bellagio Center residency, where they began collaborating on a book examining the connections between gender and development in the context of the global climate crisis.

How does your work help people understand and address issues at the intersection of gender, development, and climate change?

Maria Floro: We’re looking at gender issues through a climate lens. It’s fascinating and challenging at the same time. Climate affects health. It affects access to care. It affects migration and the availability of food and water. And women are often disproportionately impacted. There are many people doing good work on various areas of gender and development, but we need to connect this work to bring out new insight. We need to show the complexity so that we can think of solutions in a more holistic light. 

Caren Grown: Women are the primary providers of care to children, the elderly, the sick, and people with disabilities. So there’s a clear connection between gender and these systems on which society depends. Climate change will undoubtedly raise the demand for care. Who cares for the children and elderly during heat emergencies? Who fills the gap when schools are destroyed by storms? Cities can think more creatively about including care infrastructure and caregivers in climate change adaptation and disaster risk planning. 

Maria Floro: Solutions can’t be siloed. We can’t say, “I’ll think only about trade,” or “I’ll think only about poverty.” Like climate and the care sector, these are all connected, and we’re working to show those connections. So many aspects of our lives will be impacted by climate, so we need to adapt and be resilient. But we can’t do that with the solutions we have now. We have to think more innovatively and creatively.

Caren Grown: There are concrete steps cities can take. For example, some types of white paint act as a cooling agent by deflecting the sun’s rays, so painting building rooftops where vulnerable people are under care with white paint is a simple step to mitigate increased heat. Shade trees at bus stops minimize sun exposure for older people and women traveling with children. Critically, cities can include the care sector in their planning through things like prioritization of care facilities, training, and education campaigns. 


  • Climate affects health. It affects access to care. It affects migration and the availability of food and water. And women are often disproportionately impacted.
    Dr. Maria Floro
    Professor Emerita
    American University

What breakthroughs need to happen to create real change in these intersecting issues?

Caren Grown: Covid-19 showed everyone the fragile nature of our care systems and the disproportionate effects on women when those systems are stressed. Yet most countries still couldn’t put in place the financing, infrastructure, and services for care. That was a political moment. Climate is the current one. But intersecting these two issues is not on the radar screen of those who set the policies. What’s it going to take? Climate change is increasing the frequency of airborne and waterborne diseases. In the U.S., for instance, women make up nine out of 10 home health workers and upwards of 75% of unpaid caregivers. If the U.S. care system can’t handle the next big outbreak, will that drive a breakthrough? 

Maria Floro: We need to change how we consider consequences and make decisions. The word inclusive can’t just be lip service. It’s simpler to have one powerful decision maker than to build consensus among diverse interests. We need to find a way to make decision-making efficient and effective, and yet still inclusive. The interests of those who drive policy decisions are often behind the scenes. To move and transform the decision-making process, we’ve got to reveal what the current power structures are and challenge them.

  • COVID-19 showed everyone the fragile nature of our care systems and the disproportionate effects on women when those systems are stressed.
    Dr. Caren Grown
    Senior Fellow
    Brookings Institution

One of the greatest obstacles to action on globally important issues is the idea that change is impossible. What makes you optimistic?

Caren Grown: I have hope in the next generation. Young people around the world are organizing for change. They don’t want to accept the world that they’re getting handed. That makes me optimistic. My hope is that our work helps people see things they hadn’t thought about and gives them new avenues to act. If we can influence movements, whether they are young people’s movements or indigenous people’s movements or women’s movements that are active in the climate space, there’s power in that.

Maria Floro: I’m energized by the fact people are not just talking about carbon emissions, but about just transitions, which means that justice is at the heart of the process to a low emission economy. There’s talk of cooperation, not just competition, to bring out the best in us. Learning how to deal with differences and live with different interests, while working together for common goals and common good. That’s where I remain hopeful. There needs to be change in our thinking and in doing things to address the climate crisis we’re facing today. For it to succeed, we can’t ignore the overlap between gender equality and climate change.

The intersections between climate, gender, and development make their impact multifaceted. Yet at the same time, they urge us to pursue holistic solutions. Protecting our environment and creating a more equitable world aren’t separate ideas. “Care for people and care for the planet,” Grown says. “We have to see them together.”

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