UN Report: Women’s Profound Role in Averting Climate Crisis

LONDON, UK, November 18, 2009 (ENS) – Women are central to global and national efforts to cope with climate change, concludes a new report, “The State of World Population 2009,” released today by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.

Climate change is more than an issue of energy efficiency or industrial carbon emissions; it is also an issue of population dynamics, poverty and gender equity, the report points out. The authors predict that the fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programs and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potentials of women.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid (Photo courtesy UNFPA)

“Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it,” says UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

“This report shows that women have the power to mobilize against climate change, but this potential can be realized only through policies that empower them. It also shows the required support that would allow women to fully contribute to adaptation, mitigation and building resilience to climate change,” Obaid says.

A key aspect of that support is to “integrate gender considerations into global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” the report states.

With a current world population of about 6.79 billion, and a prediction of about 9.3 billion by 2050, planning for the mitigation of global warming must take into account the fact that each of those people is responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases.

“With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world’s 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim,” Obaid says. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”

In her forward to the report, Obaid writes, “Voices that invoke “population control” as a response to climate change fail to grasp the complexity of the issue and ignore international consensus.”

More than 60,000 Somalis crossed into Kenya during the first two months of 2008. (Photo by E. Hockstein courtesy UNHCR)

“Governments agreed at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development that human rights and gender equality should guide all population and development-related programmes, including those aimed at protecting the environment,” writes Obaid. “This begins with upholding the right of women and couples to determine the number and spacing of their children, and creating or expanding opportunities and choices for women and girls, allowing them to fully participate in their societies and contribute to economic growth and development.”

Women bear the disproportionate burden of climate change, but have so far been overlooked in the debate over how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather brought by a warming climate.

This study attempts to shift the debate on climate change from abstractions and technical science to the realities of the ways that individuals and the world’s population influence and are affected by climate change.

The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women. The report points out that the poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force.

Poor people tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms. With this in mind, the report calls on governments to plan ahead to strengthen risk reduction, preparedness and management of disasters and address the potential displacement of people.

Mother and child in Andhra Pradesh take refuge from flooding, October 2009. (Photo courtesy IFCR)

Research cited in the report shows that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters, including those related to extreme weather, with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

Another key aspect of support for women coping with climate change is investments in their education and health. The study concludes that such investments empower women and girls, bolster economic development and reduce poverty, and have a beneficial impact on climate.

Girls with more education tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the long run, the report argues.

Displaced girl in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province (Photo by P. Fitchard courtesy ICRC)

Looking towards the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December, Obaid urges that the role of women be included in the agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 that is expected to emerge from the conference.

Obaid writes, “A Copenhagen agreement that helps people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change by harnessing the insight and creativity of women and men would launch a genuinely effective long-term global strategy to deal with climate change.”

Lead author and researcher on the report is Robert Engelman, vice president for programs of the Worldwatch Institute.

Many young people are already living in cultures that are changing in response to a degraded environment. They are also the ones who will have to deal with the increasing challenges climate change will present in the future. This year’s Youth Supplement to the State of the World Population 2009 examines the courage and resilience of seven young people in the face of such challenges.

On September 22, a delegation of young people appealed to world leaders for meaningful action today at the UN Secretary-General’s Summit on Climate Change. The young participants, ranging from 14 to 18 years of age, asked leaders to come together and make a difference on environmental sustainability.

Click here to view the full report, “The State of World Population 2009: Facing a changing world: women, population and climate.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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