With just 1°C of global warming over the past decade, we have witnessed record-breaking storms, heatwaves, floods and coral bleaching and their economic and social losses run more than hundreds of billions a year. The US alone suffers at least $240 billion annually over the past 10 years from extreme weather and health impacts linked to climate change. More than ever, it is crucial that we dare to acknowledge our past mindsets, behaviors and actions are causing this enormous challenges for us today and for our future generation tomorrow. The current lack of women’s voices and presence in climate sciences, at the negotiating tables on climate change and as change agents in mitigation and adaptation practices is also hindering our quest for real and impactful solutions to combat global warming.
How does fighting climate change mean fighting inequality?
It is clear that climate change is not gender neutral and it hits women the hardest. Women in role as primary care givers and centres of families and communities bear the greater burden and risk in the face of intensified flood and droughts. Already, 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. And globally 70% of those living in poverty are women, with an income less than half of men, leaving them with less means and resources to adapt. Women, therefore, have vested interest in tackling climate change; yet, their contribution is often overlooked in sciences, humanitarian and climate action; their practical needs often forgotten and ignored. To build an inclusive and sustainable future means to harness the knowledge, skills and leadership of women in climate sciences and action. This is an imperative, not an option.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the special report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C on October 7th warning that the consequences of 1.5 °C will get substantially worse and could be reached with certainty within 20 years given our current path of development and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions patterns. It is also said that the current pledges to cut CO2 emissions under Paris Agreement would push global warming to 3°C by 2100, risking the global temperature to reach the natural tipping point, potentially thawing large scale permafrost and destabilizing our entire ecosystem. Further, faster action and a greater diversity of approaches are needed if these risks are to be averted or, at the very least, mitigated.
Indeed, the IPCC sets out various pathways to stabilize global warming at 1.5 °C, requiring unprecedented efforts to cut fossil-fuel use in half in less than 15 years and eliminate them entirely in 30 years. This scenario of no home, business, or industry heated by gas or oil; no vehicles powered by diesel or gasoline; all energy derived from carbon-free energy sources or employing technology to capture CO2 emissions and permanently store it will not be feasible if women are not encouraged and empowered to engage in the fight against climate change.
What can we do?
At the foremost, we need to ease the barriers that hinder women in climate science, be them physicists, geologists and geographers in particular and in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics more generally. Taking IPCC as an example, this is an authoritative and influential source of reports on climate change since it began issuing reports in 1990 and yet the proportion of female IPCC authors has seen a modest, from less than 5% in 1990 to more than 20% recently. There is definitely room for improvement here. We know that men and women are different and their different views and approaches are crucial for the success and richness in science. Many studies suggest that this bias in science could challenge the representativeness, legitimacy, and content of the reports if they fail to adequately incorporate the scientific expertise of developing countries, local knowledge, and the voice of women. Thus, gender bias in climate science need to be eliminated and female scientists need not to face discrimination, unequal pay, and funding disparities, as well as to have an adequate platform so their voices can be heard and celebrated.
Secondly, women’s involvement in decision-making is essential for climate change as a recent study of 130 countries by found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties. This is consistent with the fact that women have more pro-environmental values, are more risk averse, and participate more frequently in environmental movements than do men. The case for necessity of women in climate change negotiations have been marked by strong women at the top like Christiana Figueres, Laurence Tubiana and Patricia Espinosa. Christiana Figueres is widely considered to be the mastermind behind the 2015 Paris Climate agreement—a unanimous decision to, in her words, “intentionally change the course of the global economy in order to protect the most vulnerable and improve the life of all.” Yet, the larger picture is not one of gender balance. Almost half of attendees at last year's COP23 UN summit in Bonn were women, but under 30% of national delegations were headed up by women. Though international frameworks is adding wording about gender to their policies, in reality women's views, needs and participation are excluded from climate change responses and development initiatives. We need to create climate where women can contribute their best and act not just be passive victim of climate change.
Finally, in private sector, gender imbalance at energy firms and industry events is holding back the sector’s effort to tackle climate change and slowing transition to greener energy solutions. The energy sector is lagging sorely behind other industries in terms of diversity, meanwhile green businesses are very balanced, according to a recent study. Companies with women on their boards are more likely to invest in renewable power generation, low-carbon products, and energy efficiency. In addition, women who control $11.2 trillion of today’s investable assets, are having a profound impact on how businesses view their role and responsibility in the world: 65% of women versus 42% of men say that companies’ treatment of the environment, their employees and their communities are important factors in making investment decisions. To secure a better future for all, we must create an inclusive environment in energy sector where women can thrive and live their passion and convictions.