Morgan Stanley
  • Institute for Sustainable Investing
  • Mar 7, 2023

The Impact of Climate Change on Women and What Investors Can Do

Climate-related issues such as water scarcity, natural disasters and access to electricity have a disproportionate effect on at-risk female populations. Here’s what investors can do.

Climate change and gender equity are both top-of-mind sustainability topics for investors. More than 80% of asset owners surveyed currently invest to combat climate change or plan to do so, while close to half are investing, or planning to, in gender diversity, according to the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing’s latest Sustainable Signals report

But many investors may not realize that the issues of climate change and gender equity are highly interconnected. Investors looking to address climate issues holistically, including funding a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy that is fair, inclusive and has decent work opportunities for everyone, should assess and consider targeting solutions at the intersection of climate-related issues and gender equity.

There are three specific areas in which interested investors can help tackle climate change and unlock opportunities for millions of women and girls worldwide:

  1. Water scarcity: In 2020, 1.7 billion people did not have a dedicated, safe water supply.1 This burden is worsening as climate change reduces the amount of available water due to drought, saltwater intrusion and the increasing runoff of pollutants and sediment.2 This has a disproportionate impact on women, who often carry the burden of collecting water for their households, taking them away from education or paid work.3

  2. Natural disasters: Women often take on additional caring responsibilities for those affected by natural disasters often catalyzed by a changing climate, increasing the time they spend on unpaid domestic labor.4 In addition, disruption following natural disasters is associated with higher rates of violence against women and girls. Examples include the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, after which there were reports of widespread rape and an increase in intimate partner violence.5

  3. Access to electricity: India illustrates one example of the obstacles that women and girls face when they don’t have reliable access to electricity. Grid limitations in India have hampered the transition from coal toward renewable energy sources, and as a result, women and girls are burdened with the collection of solid fuels for heating, lighting and cooking, taking time away from other activities.6 Globally, two million women and children die prematurely each year from illnesses related to indoor air pollution, primarily from cooking with solid fuels.7

How Investors Can Address Climate Change and Gender Equity

By assessing how their investments in climate-related issues might disproportionately affect at-risk female populations, investors have the potential to expand the breadth of their impact. One way for investors to do this is by considering what the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing calls “Scope 3” gender issues for companies, or the impact of a company’s operations on women and girls around the world.

For example, investments seeking to modernize grid infrastructure have a primary goal of enabling access to reliable and sustainable electricity to more people, while also reducing carbon emissions. But these investments also have the potential to reduce the time women and girls spend collecting solid fuels for the household, therefore providing more opportunities for paid work or education.

Framing a Gender Company's Footprint
Using a carbon emissions analogy, Scope 1 gender issues are relatively easy to track, but Scope 2 and 3 affect many more women worldwide.

Investors can use this framework above to map a company’s footprint on gender issues, while also identifying opportunities to invest on issues at the intersection of climate and gender, especially in the “Scope 3” category. In addition, institutional investors and self-directed retail investors can follow these best practices to address both gender equity and climate change in their investment strategies:

  1. Seek investments explicitly targeting climate-related issues affecting women.

  2. Consider how existing investments in climate change or water solutions may affect women specifically.

  3. Screen for gender metrics alongside water- and carbon-intensity metrics, especially for investors following exclusionary investing approaches. 

  4. Ask companies operating in highly water- and/or carbon-intensive industries to quantify, and then reduce, their operational impact on at-risk female communities.

  5. Include gender issues in proxy voting guidelines or cooperate with third parties to raise the issue of gender in climate-related investments. 

  6. Incorporate gender and climate considerations into investment belief statements or fund prospectuses.