The Pulse

Climate change: Women and families in poor countries most feel the brunt

By: - November 15, 2021 6:00 am

The two-week climate conference in Glasgow, concluding today, shone a spotlight on the harm climate change inflicts on women and families in the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Women, who often hold lead roles in providing food and health care for their families, are on the front lines, according to advocates participating in panel discussions during the COP26 climate conference. Their communities are feeling climate change most directly — especially sea-level rise that is swallowing small island nations and drought in the Southern Hemisphere.

Projects intended to help these women are falling short, some of these advocates said, because corporations purporting to offset their own climate pollution with green projects in poor nations are not delivering the promised results.

“Often, carbon finance does not really reach small-scale farmers and low-income households that are actually responsible for the emission reductions,” Marcel Spaas, a manager at the nonprofit FairClimateFund, said during a panel discussion on Thursday.

“For example: women in Burkina Faso cooking on improved cook stoves which they construct themselves; the family in India who decides to embrace biogas as a cooking solution; farmers in Peru who do collectively planting trees on community land to support and give themselves a better future; a refugee family in Chad that uses solar cooking to [conserve] their scarce available firewood,” he said.

Jeanette Gurung, founder and executive director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, or WOCAN, said her organization, with 1,400 members in 140 countries, aims to connect those women and their families with financial support.

“[WOCAN’s mission is] to drive new financial resources and support to women’s groups, women’s organizations. This is based on the evidence we’ve seen over the years of the tremendous impact — I would say untapped potential — of women’s groups to deliver outcomes related to forest management, water management, agriculture management with, I would say, no recognition, certainly no support,” she said.

“Women have pretty good ideas of what they need and what their communities are,” Gurung said. “This is women’s empowerment. We’re supporting women’s agency. It’s a way to bring more attention to the critical role that women play in the management and the achievement of success within projects related to climate sectors.”

The FairClimateFund wants governments to require corporations to be transparent about the pollution-offset projects they finance and prove the projects both reduce emissions as promised and help communities protect themselves from climate change, Spaas said.

The projects fall into an area of finance called carbon markets: setting financial value on pollution and offsetting that value with “credits” supporting projects elsewhere that equally reduce pollution.

For developing countries, excessive heat and drought — and, conversely, historic flooding from storms — is depriving them of the use of their land to grow food and provide shelter, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of climate scientists from around the world, including representatives of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Industrialized countries are responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions. The richest 10 percent of the people cause more than half of the global CO2 emissions. However, the greatest impact of climate change occurs in developing countries. Changing weather patterns, floods, and extreme droughts are a major challenge for countries that are largely dependent on small-scale agriculture,” Spaas said.

Arranging carbon-reducing projects in developing countries has the potential to actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help vulnerable communities become more resilient to climate change, Spaas said, but only under conditions not now in place.

‘Transparent, fair, and inclusive’

“[The carbon-offset projects can work] only as long as organized in a transparent, fair, and inclusive way, and linked to audacious goals for corporations to reduce their own emissions first — leaving no space for green-washing with cheap credits, no more space for false climate-neutral claims, no more space for blah blah blah, and no distraction from what is needed.”

American astronaut Nicole Stott joined a separate COP26 climate discussion to urge viewers around the world to see Earth as she has seen it: as a fragile habitat for each and every person. She urged citizens to see themselves as crew members of Earth, not passengers, and to pay special attention to the needs of the women and families most vulnerable to climate change and least able to fend it off.

Jon Allsop, reporting on the climate conference for the Columbia Journalism Review, noted that people from developing nations have been underrepresented at the conference, in part because of conflicting COVID protocols between nations and also due to the substantial cost of traveling to the gathering.

“Those voices certainly haven’t been heard enough. These people are absolutely central to this story,” Allsop said during a podcast interview with CNN’s Brian Stetler.

“Climate justice is the central thing at this conference: the fact that poorer countries which are directly on the front lines of climate change need richer countries that are the biggest polluters historically and currently in the world to step up. The financial commitments that were made in the past to help those countries out haven’t come through.”

Allsop argued the relative success or relative failure of COP26 to bring meaningful change remains to be measured.

“The truth won’t be knowable in the short term because it’s about action. It’s about what the countries do to actually follow through on the pledges that they made here,” he said.

Gurung and Spaas during their panel discussion said they will watch developments closely, and urged conferees and media in the audience to keep an eye on what is happening to citizens of planet Earth who will suffer the most and the soonest.

Laura Cassels is a reporter for the Florida Phoenix, which first published this story.

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