Sumario: 7 March 2009, Monrovia - Speech by Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission, "The Impact of Climate Change: What Women Can Do" at the International Colloquium on Women's Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security in Liberia
Climate change poses a unique and general challenge at the global level. It concerns everyone on this planet. But the people likely to suffer most from the impacts of climate change are those least responsible for causing it. It is widely recognised that the developing world as a whole is expected to suffer more from the devastating effect of climate change.
For example, Africa as a continent is responsible for 3.8 percent of global CO2 emissions yet the impact of climate change will be unfairly devastating.
Women are particularly affected by the dramatic changes in climate patterns. Women living in poverty are the most threatened by the dangers that stem from global warming. In 1991 when a cyclone and flood severely affected Bangladesh, the death rate was almost 5 times as high for women as for men. This was also obvious during the Tsunami that hit South-East Asia in 2006 where the majority of victims were women.
Due to the existing gender inequalities, the different roles in society and in the division of labour, women and men are not equally exposed to climate change impacts and do not have the same adaptive capacities.
These differences in vulnerability and in adaptive opportunities must be acknowledged, if we really want to ensure the success of adaptation measures. Furthermore, if we take the gender perspective into account, we will avoid a further increase in gender inequality.
As a matter of fact, gender perspective has often been overlooked in debates about climate change. It is high time to change this!
Gender analysis is of crucial importance to better understand the impacts of climate change on human communities, in particular on food security, on access to natural resources, such as water, and firewood, and on health. Simply because women are often primarily responsible within the family for these tasks.
In the developing countries, it is the women who fetch and carry water at great distances, to meet the needs of their village communities. It is they who labour every day, without pay, to grow enough food for their families.
Women can be real agents for change in their homes, their communities, and in the society as a whole. They can take over new renewable forms of house hold energy, such as biomass, biogas, solar. They tackle climate change as consumers, as educator. Through their specific role in educating their children, they can promote behavioural change in human or economic and environmental activities.
Let's me take two examples: food security and water shortage.
Climate change is predicted to reduce crop yields and food production in tropical regions. Traditional food sources may become more unpredictable and scarce as the temperature rises and rainfall patterns change.
Women are responsible for 70-80% of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa, 65% in Asia, and 45% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Their specific knowledge will be crucial to adapting more effectively to climate change.
Climate change may exacerbate existing water shortages. Women are largely responsible for water collection in their communities. Any change in seasons and climatic conditions affects water quantity and accessibility. In turn, this further increase women's workload and add up to their responsibility.
Where does this lead us?
Once again, it must lead to women empowerment and participation. Women must be included in the planning and decision-making process concerning climate change. Programmes aiming at mitigating the environmental impact or at improve resource managements, must include women.
For adaptation to be successful, women need to be involved, to be informed, to take part in the decision making-process whether at local, national or international levels.
Europe has recognised gender equality in development a key area in various policy documents, such as the European Consensus on Development of 2005 and the 2007 Commission Communication on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development Cooperation.
It is also addressed as a crosscutting theme throughout EC development cooperation.
In 2007, the EU launched a major initiative: the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) that steps up cooperation between the EU and the developing countries that are hit earliest and hardest by climate change and have the least capacity to react.
The GCCA already offers additional cooperation opportunities in 15 pilot countries, in priority areas such as climate adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation, promoting disaster risk reduction, enhancing participation in the global carbon market and integrating climate change in poverty reduction efforts.
In addition, the EU has integrated climate proofing in its development strategies and programmes.
Specific attention is given to projects which promote the development of renewable energy sources, decentralised and sustainable sources of energy, engaging local authorities as well as local private sector and civil society. Women will particularly benefit from these actions.
Let's me illustrate this with a couple of examples.
The India's oldest mountain range, the Aravalli Hills, became a barren. When the Commission offered help to restore the hill's green cover, women were the first allies. Being responsible for the collection of domestic fuel, fodder and drinking water, women had a pressing interest in the re-forestation of the hill and in an environmentally friendly management of the common used lands. In the space of 9 years, almost 40.000 Ha of common lands were re-planted. Overall, the project improved the living conditions of 825.000 persons. And it improved the social status of local women.
Argan oil is precious and much sought after both in Morocco and elsewhere. The EC, in partnership with the Moroccan Social development agency, has implemented a project to ensure the long-term management of the Argan forest and to improve the working conditions of rural women. Not less than 42 cooperatives have been supported. Several research projects have been founded and women members of the cooperatives have received training. The results are very positive: women working conditions have been improved. Women became more confident in themselves. Their contribution to the income of their families has also come to be respected and valued.
A key area of work for the future months, seen from a European and global perspective.
I am proud to say that the EU is leading by example and I would say also that so far the EU is the world leader in the fight against climate change.
With the recently agreed climate and energy package the EU demonstrated that it is possible to significantly reduce emissions and that steps can be taken now. We have taken some bold decisions to start the transformation of our economies towards a sustainable, prosperous, low carbon future.
We have to see this as an opportunity to build a new society. In the current unprecedented financial turmoil and economic crisis, some argue that fighting against climate change has become less urgent. This would be a tremendous mistake. The question is not if we can still afford to pay the price of fighting climate changes. The question is whether we are ready to pay a price now or a much higher price in 20 years.
However, the EU cannot do this alone. We need to cooperate and bring others along with us. That's why the EU main focus this year will be on the international negotiations.
We want a comprehensive, global agreement at the UN Climate summit in Copenhagen December this year. We want a global agreement on future climate action, which would put the world on a path to limit average global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
One of the key issues of these negotiations is financing. To tackle climate change, we must significantly step up financing and investment. It has been calculated that additional international investment for mitigation will need to reach around € 175 billion per year in 2020, half of this for developing countries. In addition, developing countries may need € 23-54 billion per year in 2030 to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
A large part of these investments will be made by developing countries themselves. Developed countries will, however, need to significantly increase their support to developing countries.
We are aware that discussing further public financial investments in the current economic climate is challenging. But we only have a narrow window of opportunity if we are to effectively tackle the climate challenge and we need to invest now in a cleaner future.
That's why the EU is ready to cooperate with the developing countries and assist them financially in their efforts.
I think it will also be necessary to integrate the gender dimension in the new agreement. By doing so, we would ensure that the gender perspective is integrated in all the implementing measures.
Let me mention a very telling story.
When building a bridge in Sri Lanka, "gender equality" had been put on the agenda of pre-operations briefings. The operation officer didn't think that was necessary. "Our task is to build a bridge, we don't need to worry about gender issues", he said. However, after the instructor underlined that the bridge would also be used by women and children - and not only by men driving cars - it was agreed that a pedestrian zone would be constructed on the bridge.
If nobody looks out for the interests of women, we will end up with many bridges that are impossible to cross for women and children.
If the gender dimension is not integrated in all the policy to tackle climate change, I think we would miss the opportunity to build on the capacity of women to be a vector for change.
To quote Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai "those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist."