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Women leading the fight against climate change


Late last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II released its latest report, warning of an increase in extreme weather events and the need for urgent and ambitious adaptation.

In the same week, we witnessed devastating floods in Queensland and New South Wales with tragic loss of life and many families uprooted from their homes.

Floods in Queensland and New South Wales have seen many families uprooted from their homes. Photo: Getty Images

In any crisis, some social groups are more affected than others.

We have seen this during the COVID pandemic, when women’s careers and wages have been hit the hardest due to the increased burden of unpaid domestic and care work associated with home schooling, the closing of child care centers and the need to care for aging parents.

Likewise, women suffer more disadvantage and loss during other economic, environmental and health emergencies – a situation that also applies to climate change.

As the IPCC report finds, gender is one of the main factors that increase vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Extreme weather events, such as floods, disrupt livelihoods and also affect hygiene and sanitation, with implications for women’s health, economic status and education. In 2021 alone, the Malala Fund estimated that climate-related events would prevent at least four million girls in low- and middle-income countries from completing their education.

Research also shows that mothers, and potential mothers, are particularly affected by climate change.

For some young women, environmental concerns have influenced their reproductive decisions to limit or reject having children on a warming planet, as seen in the emergence of bands like Birth Strike and Conceivable Future.

Mothers, and future mothers, are particularly affected by climate change. Photo: Getty Images

Mothers are reconsidering the best ways to raise their children in an uncertain future climate, as daily family life is disrupted by disasters. These women face difficult decisions about how to emotionally and practically care for their children in the face of ecological upheaval, including finding a safe place to live, ensuring adequate food and water supplies, and nurturing new resilience in their families. children to face a troubled future.

Climate change is also reducing available natural and economic resources, leading to an increase in violence that disproportionately affects women. This puts the fight against gender inequalities at the heart of achieving climate justice.

How can climate action ensure gender justice and equity?

In 2015, the Paris Agreement drew attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and called for a “gender-sensitive” approach to climate action. But how can this be achieved?

Ugandan climate change activist Vanessa Nakate highlights the role of women’s leadership in securing climate justice:

“We can’t have climate justice without gender equality…we need women in spaces where decisions about their well-being are discussed, especially decisions about the future of our planet.”

In its latest assessment, the IPCC calls for “climate resilient development” with gender as a fundamental component to address the interrelated challenges of climate change and gender inequality.

Women suffer more disadvantages and losses during economic, environmental and health emergencies. Photo: Getty Images

Climate resilient development is defined as a “process of implementing greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation options to support sustainable development for all”.

By adopting a holistic and integrated approach to development that actively addresses structural barriers for at-risk populations such as women and girls, climate-resilient development puts justice and equity at the forefront as key drivers. of policy making.

Now more than ever, as we face accelerating climate impacts that disproportionately affect women, it is essential that gender perspectives inform policy-making at all levels.

Women at the forefront of fights for climate justice

Frustrated by the failures of world leaders and fossil fuel polluters to take ambitious climate action, many are taking this challenge into their own hands. Women, young and old, have been prominent leaders in this global trend.

Some of the most effective advocates for greater ambition on climate action are women. Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christina Figueres, and human rights and climate justice activist, Mary Robinson, are just two examples.

Women have traditionally been less represented in scientific bodies like the IPCC, although the number of female lead authors of reports has slowly increased since the 1990s.

Mary Robinson is one of the most effective advocates for greater ambition in climate action. Photo: Getty Images

For the latest IPCC assessment – ​​known as Assessment Report 6 (or AR6) – 33% of authors are women, compared to 21% for AR5. Two of the authors of this article are among the female lead authors contributing to AR6.

Young women have also been prominent leaders of social movements calling for climate justice.

Greta Thunberg’s activism in Sweden inspired the global Fridays for Future and School Strikes movement. In Australia, Amelia Telford, a young Aboriginal and South Seas Islander from Bundjalung Country, is National Director and co-founder of Seed, Australia’s first indigenous youth-led climate network.

Mothers have also been at the forefront of efforts to secure an eco-friendly future for their children, both historically and today.

For many mothers and grandmothers, intergenerational relationships are a motivation to become politically active through networks such as Parents for Future, Extinction Rebellion Families and Australian Parents for Climate Action.

Women advocate for climate justice

Women are also at the forefront of efforts exploring alternative avenues to tackle climate change – such as in the courts.

Globally, there are more than 1,800 pending or concluded climate change disputes, with increasing numbers of young people and indigenous peoples taking up these climate-related disputes. These groups are driven by the inequitable effects of climate change, namely:

“… expose [children] to mortal dangers and harmful to their health and development. For the indigenous petitioners, their millennial cultures are threatened by climate change.

Intergenerational relationships are a motivation to become politically active in climate change. Photo: Getty Images

Plaintiffs in climate cases often aim to achieve more than just a courtroom outcome, using litigation as a key tool to raise awareness of climate impacts and to call for greater action from governments and businesses. .

This is the strategy of the sixteen young petitioners, including Greta Thunberg, in Sacchi et al c. Argentina. By filing their complaint under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the plaintiffs were not seeking compensation, but orders from the Committee for their countries’ leaders to act on climate change.

Other women at the forefront of the fight against climate litigation include Luisa Neubauer who brought the case of Neubauer et al c. Germanyand Cecilia La Rose in La Rose et al v Canada.

Here in Australia, Anjali Sharma and seven other young Australians have won their claim at first instance that the Federal Minister for the Environment owes them and Australian children a duty to take care to avoid causing damage when considering whether or not to approve a new coal project.

As climate cases, including those brought by women, gain publicity and early success in court, attention is turning to whether this litigation will make a difference in the fight for climate justice.

This will be assessed in the next IPCC Working Group III assessment on mitigation, due out in early April. For its part, the IPCC Working Group II report concluded that climate-related litigation is a key condition for implementing, accelerating and sustaining the adaptation of human systems and ecosystems.

German climate activist Luisa Neubauer (pictured) brought the Neubauer et al case against Germany. Photo: Getty Images

While the full impact of this action remains to be seen, women are raising their voices and raising their hands to lead in the face of a climate crisis.

It is clear that women suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change – that global warming is deeply gendered in its effects.

But it is equally clear that women are powerful voices for the kinds of far-reaching changes that are so urgently needed as we stand on the precipice of multiple possible futures for the girls and women of tomorrow.

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