UN report identifies women in poor countries as among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts

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A report released today by the UN Population Fund identifies gender inequities in vulnerability to global climate disruption.  The report looks at the nexus of population dynamics, the welfare of women worldwide, and climate change impacts and adaptation and concludes that successful and lasting adaptation strategies must address these factors.

Post by Alexa Jay and Rick Piltz

The UN Population Fund Report:  Facing a Changing World: Women, Population and Climate

Amidst high-profile international climate negotiations that focus largely on emissions mitigation, the message that those who are least responsible for driving climate change will suffer the greatest consequences is often lost. Women — particularly those in the least developed countries that emit minimal levels of greenhouse gases — are likely to shoulder the greatest burdens, the report says. 

“Because of greater poverty, lesser power over their own lives, less recognition of their economic productivity and their disproportionate burden in reproduction and child-raising, women face additional challenges as climate changes,” the report says. 

This perspective raises questions about the role of gender in human development strategies that can also act to increase resiliency to climate change impacts, and calls attention to the human element behind climate change adaptation. Policies that do not consider the disparate social roles of men and women may exacerbate impacts driven by climate change by increasing gender inequities, the report says. 

The report is a reminder that although financing and technology transfer from developed countries is essential to aid developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation, the resulting programs must be grounded in the social realities of those who will be the most severely affected. In the framework of a global human security “index,” women in the developing world are already among the least secure, and their heightened vulnerability will be exacerbated by the problems associated with climate change.

In the negotiations leading to the upcoming UN climate summit in Copenhagen, adaptation is addressed primarily as a matter of commitments by the developed countries to support adaptation in developing countries. Given that the US has barely begun to think about and plan for its own adaptation challenges, that thus far it has no strategy or funding for its own preparedness, it is not clear what kind of international commitment US domestic politics will support.

But if the US can get beyond inward-looking political preoccupations, we would ask:  do we in the West not have a fundamental responsibility to deal with the kinds of human security and global equity issues identified in the report?  Isn’t taking on the challenge of identifying and fully supporting adaptive measures to protect those most vulnerable to likely unavoidable impacts every bit as much a responsibility of the US government and people as is reducing our emisssions of greenhouse gases and creating green jobs to enhance our own prosperity?

See our earlier posts:

Report from a conference on Climate Change, State Resilience and Global Security

Senate testimony on climate change and national security raises questions: Whose security?

Climate Security Index: Global climate disruption seen as a US national security problem

Selected News coverage:

Associated Press:  UN: Fight climate change with free condoms 

BBC News:  Poor women ‘bear climate burden’ 

Reuters:  Climate change deal must aim to help women – UN

Tehran Times:  Tehran hosts UNFPA climate change meeting 

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