Why Women Are Central to Climate Justice and Solutions
Women comprise roughly 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change since 2010. When extreme weather events hit, when rivers run dry or flood over, when droughts destroy crops, when forests are cleared, when contaminated water leaks from fossil fuel extraction sites—women are the most critically impacted.
Women stand for climate justice. Photo credit: Emily Arasim
There are many unique circumstances and place-based conditions that account for the disproportionate hardships that women experience, but the bottom line is that women are more affected by environmental devastation and climate change because, at a global scale, their basic rights continue to be denied. Tangentially, there is a clear link between poverty and who climate change impacts first and worst—and women make up the greatest percentage of the worlds poor.
Gender discrimination reduces women’s physical mobility, economic independence, freedom of expression and opportunity in many regions of the world. The effects of this inequality are plainly reflected in disaster mortality statistics. As an example, Sri Lanka’s 2004 tsunami killed nearly one in five displaced women, more than two times the mortality of displaced men.
While there is no denying the systemic links between the climate crisis, our extractive economic model and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women—one of the most inspiring and untold stories of the ongoing crisis is in fact not about women’s vulnerability, but about the dynamic power and diversity of the women’s movement for climate justice.
Women around the world are saying loud and clear: "We are not victims! We are the solution!" And they are absolutely right.
Women stand on the frontlines of global efforts to revision and heal our world. Their experiences and leadership must be recognized and engaged as central to climate justice and forward momentum towards a livable future.
Women farmers cultivate 60 to 80 percent of household food in developing countries and continually show themselves to be the most effective stewards and guardians of the biodiversity, water, soil, seeds and plants that sustain all life on Earth. UN studies have repeatedly shown that water conservation and protection projects simply don’t work if women are not engaged.
Women farmers feed the world. They are central guardians of water, soil and seeds. Photo credit: Emily Arasim
Women’s involvement in decision-making has important implications for climate change—a study of 130 countries found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties.
In the U.S. and Canada, women hold 80 percent of all purchasing power. Just take a moment to image the kind of rapid and transformative changes that could happen if North American women started advocating for 100 percent renewable energy, local agriculture, circular economies and action to address unsustainable consumption.
In diverse ways and in many different places, women are modeling small-scale solutions with potentially huge impacts, from the Solar Sister organization providing solar light and local businesses for women in rural regions of Africa, to women constructing wind-resistant housing in Bangladesh. Women are reminding us that we cannot address climate change using the same frameworks and mindsets that got us into this crisis. Rather, we must move from top-down, solely market-based solutions to holistic, community based and decentralized processes.
Women of the Democratic Republic of Congo organizing to stop deforestation and protect the rainforests of their region as part of a WECAN International regional climate solutions initiative. Photo credit: Neema Namadamu
For an in-depth analysis about why women are central to climate solutions and a comprehensive plan-of-action moving forward, please see the Women’s Climate Action Agenda.
To be clear, the focus on women is not about putting men down but rather about lifting women up. We need to challenge patriarchy and colonial mindsets and we need to have the courage to change everything about how we are living with each other and the planet.
This December, world governments will meet for pivotal United Nations (UN) COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, where they will work to finalize a climate agreement with serious implications for the present and future of all life on Earth. Women’s leadership and the implementation of gender-responsive climate policy has never been more vital.
Aware of the critical nature of this moment, the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) has called for a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action on Sept. 29.
The Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action is a call for women and allies around the world to take action and tell stories about the climate impacts their communities are facing and the alternative visions that they offer. It is an opportunity to demonstrate why uplifting women’s struggles, insights and solutions around climate change is so vital.
Photos and statements are being collected on a central Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action gallery, from where they will be amplified worldwide via social media, print and digital news.
Indigenous women leaders at a Women's Earth and Climate Action Network event in Lima, Peru. Photo credit: WECAN International
While allies hold decentralized actions around the world, WECAN International will present "Women Speak" hub event right across the street from the UN, adding an extra sense of urgency and power to day of action.
Through the "Women Speak: Climate Justice on the Road to Paris and Beyond" event and Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, we will expose false climate solutions (including carbon trading schemes, input-dependent agriculture, geo-engineering, shale gas and nuclear power), while drawing attention to solutions that are just, effective and honor frontline communities. We are calling for action to leave 80 percent of remaining fossil fuels in the ground and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Sept. 29th is also being used as a rallying point for signing and collecting signatures on the Women’s Climate Declaration, a powerful climate justice manifesto presented in five languages and signed by leaders such as Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, Mary Robinson, Jody Williams, Casey Camp Horenik and Sylvia Earle. The declaration will be delivered to world governments at COP21 this December.
You can participate with allies around the world in adding a voice to the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action by submitting a photo and statement to the Day of Action portal. No action is too small and every voice is critical.
We are all a part of the immune system of the Earth and at this critical time we are rising up to protect, heal and defend her. Please join us.
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Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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