Climate change promises severe repercussions on Earth as it continues to worsen every year. Last 2019, reports showed that the year set all sorts of records. For instance, during the summer of 2019, there were nearly 400 all-time high temperatures set in the northern hemisphere. Records were also broken in 29 countries in just three months. Increasing global heating means that there’s more energy in the atmosphere, making extreme weather events more frequent and more intense.
The Global Climate in 2015-2019 report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that the global average temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial period. During these years, experts have seen a continued increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to new records. It was reported that CO2 growth rates reached nearly 20% higher compared to the last five years.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, sea levels have also increased as ice caps and glaciers continue to melt. “Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with tragic effects in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea-level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, who is co-chair of the Science Advisory Group of the UN Climate Summit, said.
Aside from that, previous studies have shown that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now at its highest after about four million years. BBC, a British public service broadcaster, reported that the world’s top emitters of carbon dioxide are China and the US, releasing 11,256 and 5,275 megatonnes of CO2, respectively. They are followed by EU (3,457), Russia (1,748), Japan (1,199), and more.
The impacts of global warming and the climate crisis are most felt by marginalized communities. They are the most vulnerable to sea level rise, rising carbon dioxide, and many more. The climate crisis is also seen as a hindrance to achieving a gender-equal society.
Climate Change Can Worsen Gender Inequality
For the most part, men and women are treated differently, from voting rights to gender roles to access to jobs and opportunities. They also experience climate change differently as gender inequality persists across the world. For instance, women are more affected by climate change impacts than men because they are responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water, and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking. These tasks become more difficult with the climate crisis.
Reports have shown that extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have a greater impact on the most vulnerable communities, which include 70% of the world’s women. A 2019 study led by Nitya Rao, professor of gender and development at the University of East Anglia, revealed that climate change and environmental stress are common factors that intensify pre-existing disadvantages or gender and developmental inequalities. The researchers analyzed the data collected from 25 case studies in 11 hot spot countries in Asia and Africa, documenting how climate change is influencing women’s status.
According to Time, an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City, gender and developmental inequalities are more evident in countries where male migration, male-dominated labor markets, and patriarchal institutions put stresses on families, mostly women. Women are also forced to find low-paying jobs, often illegal ones like selling drugs or prostitution.
“These disadvantages already exist for women, but with the unpredictable climate, women sometimes have to make pre-emptive decisions about whether their crop will survive, or if their livestock will survive the season, and sometimes they are forced to make risky decisions. So, the uncertainty that comes with climate change is particularly hard on women,” Rao said.
A recent report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) discovered that the climate crisis is increasing violence against women and girls. Cate Owren, a lead author of the report, stated that there’s enough evidence that proves this claim. “As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that in turn creates scarcity and stress for people, and the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases,” she said.
According to MotherJones, an American magazine that focuses on news, commentary, and investigative reporting on topics including politics, the environment, human rights, and culture, women are also vulnerable to exploitation, especially when they are already disadvantaged and lack land rights and legal rights. When the additional stresses caused by the climate crises bite, they are the first to be targeted.
How Climate Change Could Reverse Progress in Gender Equality
Mary Robinson, chair of The Elders, an international non-governmental organization of public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates, stated that the world needs to recognize the unequal effects of the climate crisis on women as well as their participation in bringing creative and sustainable solutions to both the climate emergency and social injustices.
Gender equality, while still not felt by women across the globe, has come a long way. Progress has been made throughout the years. However, the climate crisis can heavily impact this progress. With climate change, women living in poverty are increasingly finding themselves in a vicious cycle of low productivity, indebtedness, and food insecurity as crops and livestock fail. For instance, women in northern Kenya complained that they could no longer afford meat. Thus, they feed themselves with rice and potatoes although these aren’t enough to satisfy their hunger.
According to SheThePeople, an Indian digital news website that focuses on women, women also have less time to socialize or take part in community events, including meetings of the elected village government. This is because they are solely responsible for household chores, farming, and caring for the children and elderly. Thus, it’s important that as we discuss the impacts of climate change, we should also focus on the people who are most affected by it.
“Tackling climate change and environmental degradation without the full inclusion of women will not succeed: gender equality is a prerequisite to the collective effort needed to address the climate emergency,” Robinson said.