The World Needs Women to Make Progress on Climate Change

Posted on 04 December 2010 by admin

Wangari Maathai

By Wangari Maathai *

NAIROBI, Dec 4, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – 2010 A year after much touted climate change summit in Copenhagen, country negotiators from around the world are together again to work out an international response to climate change.

While many believe we should lower our expectations for this year’s climate change summit being held in Cancun, this would be a mistake. As global temperatures rise, so do the challenge’s for the world’s poorest citizens­women, especially those living in developing countries.

Women are living on the frontlines of climate change, and are ready to be active partners in dealing with climate change. The negotiations in Cancun should be an opportunity to empower women and make concrete commitments that will turn some promises of earlier negotiations into a fair, binding and legal document.

From food shortages to forest degradation and new and more complex health risks, as well as an increased likelihood of conflict over resources, the impacts of climate change threaten to further jeopardize the lives of women and girls.

But just as many women are bearing the greatest burden of climate change because of their role as providers for their families, it is women who are developing the solutions that will save our world from the impacts of global warming.

Take, for example, the challenge of ensuring our world shifts to a “low carbon” future. The success of investment in developing states to circumvent development reliant on fossil fuels depends on local co-operation, and capacity on the ground. This is where women are key.

Through its green technology initiative in India, the Self Employed Women’s Association has helped provide over 150,000 women with microcredit and training required to take advantage of new green technology. While the developed world talks about action, women from the poorest sectors of India’s economy are cutting carbon emissions by ending their reliance on coal, re-using forms of solid waste and promoting the merits of alternative energy.

Similarly, in regions where women are able to be decision makers over land-use and resources, they are proving to be a positive force for sustainable change. With women at the forefront, the Green Belt Movement in Kenya has planted ten of millions of trees to restore local habitats and reduce fuel wood reliance on precious finite forest resources.

In Malawi, women farmers have joined together in ‘farmers’ clubs’ where they share information on seeds and cultivation techniques that are able to adapt to the degradation of soil and changes in rainfall patterns caused by global warming. This reduces their vulnerability to climate change induced drought and prolonged crop failure.

But it is not just women in the developing word who are taking on the challenge of climate change. As the research from North America, Europe and India demonstrates, women around the world demonstrate greater scientific knowledge of climate change, show more concern and are more willing to adopt policies that are designed to address global warming.

Internationally, women leaders are at the forefront of a global civil society network working to hold government, international institutions, and the private sector to account for their promises on climate action.

Yet despite their willingness to take political and individual action, entrenched inequality between men and women continues to pose a critical obstacle to global efforts to address climate change.

The most fuel-efficient stove ever produced will do little to bring an end to deforestation or reduce carbon emissions if women do not have access to the training required to use it, micro-credit needed to buy it or the financial freedom to control household expenditure. For example, it was shown that in Zimbabwe in the 1990s solar cooking stoves failed to be adopted largely because men objected to women purchasing or learning how to use the new devices.

In many parts of the world women do not own collective or individual title to the land from which they live. This lack of control means they are less able to implement sustainable agriculture or adapt forest management strategies that contribute to climate change mitigation as their voices are not heard when decisions are made. It also impedes their ability to participate effectively in programs such as REDD+, which offers financial incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation.

REDD+ will only work if policy makers are willing to learn from grassroots women. One of the key lessons is that focusing on carbon as the sole measure of the success of a climate change project has the potential to derail international efforts to combat climate change. Moving forward, we need to also take into consideration community rights to land and carbon, the livelihoods of people in communities, and issues related to governance.

Women need to be part of the decision making process. At present women are vastly under-represented in decision-making roles. In March this year, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a climate finance panel expected to mobilize $100 billion dollars a year to help those most affected by climate change, the 19-person panel did not include a single woman.

This is unacceptable. Not only should women be represented on a climate change finance panel. As well, every effort possible must also be made to ensure that women have access to the education, training and finances needed to adopt sustainable technologies and participate in the green economy.

Women and girls also need the land and resource rights to implement progressive forestry or agricultural practices. Last and certainly not least, women need the basic democratic rights that will enable them to vote for and promote green policies at the local, national and international level.

Citizens everywhere are waiting for real action on climate change. If the international community is serious about addressing climate change, it must recognize that women are a fundamental part of the climate solution.

* Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work on the environment and democratic participation in Kenya. She and her five sisters Nobel Peace Laureates created the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2006 to work on human rights and climate justice. (IPS COPYRIGHT)

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