Anthropogenic climate change is a proven science, whether or not people want to believe it. We are already threading 396 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, way beyond the 350 ppm upper safety limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. More than curbing and reversing our emissions, there is a need to recognize that we are in a crisis, a grave position where problems of climate change threaten our fundamental human rights. It is imperative that we view the issues of climate change through the lens of justice.
Climate justice is a framework used to take into account social justice and equity dimensions in addressing the climate crisis. It recognizes historical emissions where in industrialized countries (also referred to as Annex I countries) utilized carbon-intensive technologies that emitted excessive greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, which led them to a cheaper path of industrialization. Based on the equity principle, Annex I countries are bestowed the biggest responsibility and burden to take action in addressing climate change and at the same time supporting developing countries in adapting a cleaner path to development. In essence, climate justice deals with climate crisis while addressing unequal power relations and other inequalities among nations.
Climate justice recognizes that impacts of climate change are not gender-neutral. Men and women are affected differently. Women are seen as the most vulnerable to climate impacts and least prepared to address the problems. For others, the previous statements seem vague as it is difficult to link women’s issues to climate change. Some questions would be: what does domestic violence has to do with global warming? How does rape fit in adaptation? Why is it important to have gender-differentiated solutions when addressing impacts? Connections are sometimes not so obvious because of the lack of understanding of women’s issues.
During Typhoon Bopha (locally called as Typhoon Pablo), Philippines reached a death toll of 1,067 people, missing of 844 and, infrastructural and agricultural damage of 42 billion pesos. It left almost 80,000 people tired, hungry and homeless. Mindanao, the hardest hit of the typhoon, historically has not experienced such strong tropical cyclone. Yet, with the advent of climate change we are to expect more frequent and more intense extreme weather events in areas we never imagine. But where are the images of women in this story?
Hidden in the piles of debris are stories of women drowned by flash floods while trying to save her children; women who are victims of domestic abuse when they can’t provide food for the family; women walking long distance to fetch clean, drinking water that made them susceptible to harassments; women abused inside evacuation centers because of lack of private spaces; women prone to diseases due to lack of proper sanitation and hygiene; little concern on reproductive health for pregnant and lactating mothers during calamities; or as simple as relief goods that does not take into consideration menstruating girls and mothers. These are not news nor are these the complete image of what women undergo or will undergo with climate change. This is the simplest way of linking how existing vulnerabilities of women are exacerbated by climate change.
Looking at climate justice as gender justice is not only looking at women as victims of climate change but seeing them as active agents of change as well. There is a need to include women’s voices in the climate change discourse may it be on increase political participation in international mechanisms such as the annual Conference of Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); gender as an equally important language in binding documents such as Kyoto Protocol; inputs on decision-making processes for mitigation and adaptation strategies like REDD+; community participation for vulnerability and risks assessments among others.
Climate change, more than its science, is a reflection of unsustainable development pathway geared towards profit and environmental degradation. Climate change may seem to be an encompassing environmental dilemma but its impact is not neutral. It reflects injustices that put more burden to the sector of the society that is most vulnerable and least prepared to its impact, women. It multiply forms of gender injustices that render it imperative to view the issue in the perspective of climate justice. Again, the science of climate change has been proven; it is high time that we re-affirm the reality of women’s struggles and take action to pursue both objectives of environmental justice and gender justice.
Joan Meris is grassroots coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines. She's a feminist environmental activist who loves to eat, loves to read, sings with karaoke tunes, dances with the beat of reggae rock, and who laughs a lot, too. Follow her on Twitter via @dyownie.