A new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Women at the Frontline of Climate Change: Gender Risks and Hopes
, released at COP-17
, says that women
, particularly those living in mountainous regions in developing countries, “face disproportionately high risks to their livelihoods and health from climate change, as well as associated risks such as human trafficking.”
Droughts, floods, and mudslides are affecting a growing number of people worldwide, in part because of climate change, but also because population growth is highest
in some of the most vulnerable areas of the world. For example, in the 10 years from 1998-2008, floods affected one billion people in Asia, but only four million people in Europe.
According to UNEP, women often bear the brunt of such disasters: “In parts of Asia and Africa, where the majority of the agricultural workforce are female, the impacts of such disasters have a major impact on women’s income, food security, and health,” as they are responsible for about 65 percent of household food production in Asia and 75 percent in Africa. In addition, they are often more likely than men to lose their lives during natural disasters.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a press release that “women often play a stronger role than men in the management of ecosystem services and food security. Hence, sustainable adaptation must focus on gender and the role of women if it is to become successful.”
“Women’s voices, responsibilities, and knowledge on the environment and the challenges they face will need to be made a central part of governments’ adaptive responses to a rapidly changing climate,” he added.
Investing in low-carbon, resource-efficient green technologies, water harvesting, and alternatives to firewood could strengthen climate change adaptation and improve women’s livelihoods, says UNEP.
“If Insufficient, Family Planning Funds Should Be Scaled Up”
UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall said in an interview that there are wide differences between how people consume natural resources, with North Americans and Europeans consuming far more than someone in a developing country. We should move toward more efficient use of natural resources, make the transition to a low-carbon economy, and scale up renewable energies, which can reduce demand for fossil fuels to meet economic growth and population increases, he said.
Asked whether climate change funds should therefore support family planning, Nuttall said the UN supports the right of couples and women to choose the size of their families and that many UN agencies and NGOs provide that support already.
But, he said, “there are funds available for family planning and, if insufficient, they should be scaled up to meet the demands and requests of developing countries. Given that this is an issue far wider than climate change, these existing funding streams should be where the financial support comes, rather than from a climate fund.”
Brenda Zulu is a member of Women’s Edition for Population Reference Bureau and a freelance writer based in Zambia. Her reporting from the COP-17 meeting in Durban (see the “From Durban” series on New Security Beat) is part of a joint effort by the Aspen Institute, Population Action International, and the Wilson Center.
Image Credit: “Climate change vulnerability,” courtesy of Riccardo Pravettoni, UNEP/GRID-Arendal.