This is part 1 of a two-part blog focus on Climate Change
Last week, hundreds of thousands of people around the world—in 181 countries in total—got together to sound an alarm and raise awareness about a special number: 350. It is said to be the largest political action to take place in world history. So, what’s so special about this number? Its significance holds the key to our future, which is why these thousands of concerned citizens—including a number of Global Fund’s grantees—held over 5,000 events worldwide on October 24th to call attention to the “most important number in the world.”
350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is what scientists have determined is the safe upper limit. Today, our atmosphere has reached 390 ppm, which has already led to accelerated ice melt, drought, and deforestation. If it remains above this level, scientists expect natural and human disaster, a situation that has worried scientists, politicians, citizens, environmentalists, and women’s rights advocates alike.
Current and expected effects of climate change include melting of the world’s ice reserves, glaciers, and permafrost, rising sea levels, increased and prolonged droughts and forest fires, dangerous heat waves, water shortages and desertification, soil erosion, and increasingly severe storms including cyclones, hurricanes, and floods. Women’s rights leaders and activists recognize that these changes will have specific, gendered consequences in the way they impact communities.
Women and children make up an estimated 70 percent of those living in poverty, and are more vulnerable to the evolving economic and environmental pressures aggravated by climate change by a greater lack of secure, affordable access to and control over natural resources including land, water, livestock, and trees. When their livelihoods are jeopardized, women have fewer resources and alternatives to rely on, and those who are even less mobile—women with disabilities or with small children, elderly women, or women living in rural or remote areas, for example—face even greater difficulties in adapting. This is seen in the higher documented death rates for women in recent natural disasters, for example.
The gendered impacts of climate change on women—particularly women with less access to resources—are only becoming clearer. But women are not only impacted by climate change, they are also making an impact on policies to address it. Indeed, women’s positions within their communities equip them to be important actors on the frontlines of policymaking and action of climate change.
As Masum Momaya recently noted in her analysis, “Because many live so intimately with the land and are often responsible for food, fuel, shelter, water and medicine in their families, women’s understanding of the climate change transcends science, statistics and physical changes to include the socioeconomic dimensions. Specifically, women have long been feeling the effects of agricultural policies dominated by corporate interests; the plunder and extraction of natural resource by governments and the private sector for profit; the oppression of indigenous peoples and their knowledge of biodiversity; the health impact of air, water and food pollutants; and the inadequacy of market-driven solutions in halting carbon emissions.”
On October 24th, the International Day for Climate Action, many of these women joined and led efforts to raise awareness about climate change. Few feel as much urgency as women from the Pacific, whose island nations face some of the most extreme and soonest effects of climate change. That’s why Women’s Action for Change (WAC) in Fiji, a Global Fund for Women grantee since 1993, organized one of the 5,000 events that took place around the world for climate justice. WAC organized a rally and community event that brought out several dozen people to raise awareness about climate change, climate justice, and the need to take policy action on 350.
WAC, one of the most active women’s organizations in the Pacific working to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of gender inequality, specifically encouraged the participation of women and girls, and after their mobilization, they took further action by sending a press release and short report to local politicians and policymakers. Through its actions last month, WAC is taking a lead in both raising awareness on the gendered impacts of climate change and the vital role of women in driving its solutions, as well as mobilizing the women’s movement to act on climate change.
Extra Reading: Women are worst hit by Climate change: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0910/S00418.htm
Annie Wilkinson is part of the Global Fund's Development Team.