• Wednesday, October 7, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund


    Wangari Maathai

    By Wangari Maathai (*)

    NAIROBI, DEC (IPS) 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 underway in Cancun, this would be a mistake. As global temperatures rise, so do the challenge’s for
    the world’s poorest citizens- women, 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

    Take, for example, the challenge of ensuring that 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

    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, the 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

    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 programmes 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 underrepresented in decision-making roles. In
    March this year, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a
    climate finance panel expected to mobilize USD100 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. 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

    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. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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

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