COVID-19 has reshaped the way we all live, and resulted in the generational reversal of gains in gender equality. Add in the IPCC projections and the disproportionate impact climate change has on women and girls, and we have the perfect storm…
On 10 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report – the most definitive scientific report on trends in our climate – authored by 234 climate experts.
The report demonstrates that human action has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years. It found that global heating above 1.5C will be “catastrophic” for Pacific island nations and could lead to the loss of entire countries due to sea level rise within the century.
The report also notes that recent global disasters, such as the Black Summer bushfires that tore through many parts of Australia in 2019 and 2020, can be directly attributed to human-caused global warming. Australia is becoming hotter, and more prone to extreme heat, bushfires, droughts, floods and longer fire seasons because of climate change.
However, it is the small Pacific island nations, who barely contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, who are experiencing these impacts first and fast. Australia is one of the biggest polluters in our region, and we should be doing more to combat climate change.
CARE Australia’s CEO Peter Walton said; “The people who have done the least to cause climate change are feeling its effects the most. High-polluting countries have a moral obligation to help low-income countries deal with the life-threatening problems we have caused, including rising sea levels, cyclones, droughts and floods.”
“However, it is not just our emissions that have created these conditions, but our demand for goods that are produced cheaply elsewhere. We cannot absolve ourselves, this is a global problem and if we can do more, we should.”
What this means for people living in the Pacific
The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster prone region in the world, with people almost 30 times more likely to experience a climate-caused disaster than those living in North America or Europe. In the last 12 months alone, Asia and the Pacific regions have endured catastrophic tropical cyclones, extreme flooding, and sustained droughts – all of which have decimated communities, and taken lives.
There is a stark injustice faced by the Pacific region: it is one of the lowest carbon-emitting regions in the world, responsible for just 0.23% of global emissions, yet it is already facing some of the most severe impacts of global warming.
The bigger, higher polluting nations, often the wealthiest 1%, are responsible for more than double the CO2 emissions of the poorest 50%. Because of these emissions, the world is more than 1°C warmer than it was in 1880, and the past decade was the hottest ever recorded. In 2019, we recorded more climate-related disasters than ever before.
This reality underpins why climate justice is so important to the work that CARE does. Climate justice is about tipping the scales so that women, poor communities, Indigenous people and other marginalised groups don’t pay the price.
Climate change is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, and is setting back gender equality efforts
It is predicted climate change will push an additional 132 million people into poverty by 2030. Those living in poverty don’t have any insurance or savings to help rebuild their lives from scratch when disasters strike or to adapt to the ongoing changes to the climate happening around them. And often, those without the financial security required to rebuild their lives after an emergency are women – who due to gendered roles, are often reliant on at-risk resources such as water and fuel to take care of their families.
Disasters and climate change disproportionately impact women and girls, who take on more domestic work when resources like food and water become scarce. Amidst the stress of a crisis, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women increase, and in the event of a disaster in the Asia-Pacific region, women and children are also up to 14 times more likely to die or be injured than men.
Further to this, nearly half of all national climate change adaptation plans from global governments fail to consider gender. This means that outcomes of many national climate adaptation plans do not consider women’s specific needs into global efforts to respond to climate change. This leads to women missing out on key climate response financial flows, and therefore a lack of financial protection for their families. Existing inequalities will be exacerbated, rather than addressed.
There’s an imperative for countries like Australia to prioritise gender in our climate adaptation plans and responses, by including women in decision-making processes, financing grassroots climate action and women’s movements, and ensuring that women’s specific needs are included in policy and legislation addressing climate change.
Climate change impacts those with the least resources and power, exacerbating the existing injustices faced by women and other marginalised groups. Ultimately those with less power and resources are less able to adapt to climate change impacts.
So, what climate resilience work is already happening in the Pacific?
CARE currently works across the Asia-Pacific region on climate resilience and adaptation programs – supporting those, mostly women, who do not have access to the resources required to manage the loss and damage caused by climate change. CARE also supports local women to lead their communities through recovery efforts; building back safer shelters, sharing warnings and leading vulnerable people to safety during emergencies, and preparing for the future storms that are worryingly increasing in frequency and intensity.
Moving forward, our focus is not just on community-based programming but in supporting communities, local leaders and civil society to engage in their demands for climate justice. CARE is committed to amplifying the voices of women in climate-affected communities, and their demands for climate action.
Even in sudden onset disasters there is an opportunity to take early preemptive action that saves lives (and money). Our disaster risk reduction (DRR) work will only become more important, cost-effective, and lifesaving as climate disasters increase in frequency and severity. We have to get better at using the data, acting upon it, and resourcing solutions even before climate-related disasters strike.
Adaptation alone is not the answer. We also need to empower local communities and women to demand change from their decision-makers, or to become decision-makers themselves.
For Pacific communities, and the work they’re already doing to prepare for climated-caused impacts and disasters to succeed, and for them to have a chance of survival, we need to act now.
Time to take action
High-polluting, wealthy nations must take responsibility for the critical state of the planet. They can start by living up to their global commitments to help with funding for adaptation and climate resilience, and immediately slashing the use of fossil fuels – one of the leading causes of global climate change.
In October and November this year, Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The COP26 summit will bring governments from around the world together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP26 is crucial – we need to see finance pledges fulfilled, trust rebuilt, and global emissions slashed.
The IPCC report’s most optimistic scenario requires immediate, rapid and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, which will see us reach and stabilise at a 1.5C increase around 2035. It is on all governments to make this change and make it fast, but in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow, G7 leaders of the countries who have the capacity to make the greatest change must lead from the front – currently Australia is at the back of the pack.
The science is unequivocal. Governments must act immediately, collectively and they must act decisively. The clock is ticking.
Banner image and first image: © Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Second body image: © Kalolaine Uechtritz Fainu/CARE
Final image:© CARE