Women and girls play a crucial role in the fight against climate change, and it is essential to make sure that this role is not only fully understood, but incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals, finds a new United Nations (UN) report.
From rising sea levels to drops in farming yields and urban floods, the impacts of climate change are being acutely felt by women. Women make up a large percentage of poor communities worldwide that rely on natural resources for their livelihoods.
“The 2030 Agenda holds the potential to transform the lives of women and girls all over the world even though the challenges are daunting. The large-scale extraction of natural resources, climate change and environmental degradation are advancing at an unprecedented pace, undermining the livelihoods of millions of women and men, particularly in the developing world,” the authors say.
Successful action on climate change depends on the engagement of women as stakeholders and planners in ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Examples of such involvement described in the report by UN Women range from the role of women in building resilience against natural disasters to being key agents in supporting low-emissions development.
“Although billons have gained access to basic water and sanitation services since 2000, progress has been uneven and some of the gains are increasingly fragile as water stress intensifies due to climate change, unsustainable consumption and intensified agricultural activity and land degradation,” according to the authors.
The report finds that climate change cannot be fully addressed by individual countries, but rather requires enhanced global cooperation from both policy-makers and non-party stakeholders in order to bring women’s voices and specific needs to the table.
The report, “Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, highlights the issue of clean energy, notably in the preparation of food.
Food preparation – which across countries is overwhelmingly done by women – requires household energy. In most developing countries and emerging economies, women use cook stoves that rely on solid fuels such as biomass (wood, charcoal, agricultural residues and animal dung) and coal as their primary source.
The use of these dirty solid fuels contributes to harmful emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot), destructive agents that perpetuate climate change.
Investment in efficient cook stoves that use cleaner fuels – for example, renewable solar energy – is a solution to this carbon-intensive status quo that is simultaneously gender-responsive and environmentally sustainable.
In addition to the adverse climate effects, reliance on solid fuels means women and girls spend a significant amount of time collecting fuel. “The health and environmental impacts of unclean fuels and inefficient technologies can be devastating for women and children, who usually spend more time in the home,” say the authors.
Focus on Women in Agriculture
The role of women in agriculture is also highlighted in the report. Globally, one-fourth of all economically active women are engaged in some sort of agriculture.
The impacts of climate change include reduced crop and forest yields and acidification of the ocean, which negatively affects the harvesting of marine life.
According to the report, by 2050, climate change will have reduced the production of rice by 15%, wheat by 49% in South Asia, and by 15% and 36% respectively in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in higher food prices and heightened food insecurity.
Many female agricultural workers also face severe inequalities in their access to land, credit and critical inputs such as fertilisers, irrigation, technology, information and markets.
Because of this, adaptation technology such as heat-resistant and water-conserving crop varieties are particularly important for women.
UN Climate Change Boosting Gender Climate Action
A pillar of this international solidarity against accelerating climate change is the Paris Agreement, the goal of which is to limit global average temperature rise to well-below 2 degrees C, and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C.
“For the Paris Agreement to succeed, women and girls must be fully involved in climate policy. When we include women in climate solutions, we see enhanced economic growth and the outcomes are more sustainable,” says UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa.
Gender climate action under the UN is said to be increasing in scope and speed. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn in November 2017, countries adopted a new roadmap to incorporate gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate change discourse and actions.
The Gender Action Plan sets out, in five priority areas, the activities that will help achieve this objective.
These range from increasing knowledge and capacities of women and men through workshops and information exchanges, so that they can systematically integrate gender considerations in all areas of their work, to pursuing the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in national delegations.