On February 28, Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the sixth Climate Change Assessment report under the title: Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The report should have been the headline of any news, but it passed without much attention by many media, among other reasons, due to the convulsive moment of war that Europe is experiencing. The report could well serve as the inspiration for a horror film script about the human apocalypse, since its main conclusion is that if global warming continues as it is now, adaptation will not be possible. That is, as a species we will not be able to adapt.
The effects of climate change at the physical level can be translated, in a simplified way, into an increase in adverse weather events, loss of glaciers with the consequent rise in sea level, fires of unsuspected magnitude, coral deaths hecatombic, multiple extinctions of species, reduction of fertile land… But, what effects will it have on humanity? Does it affect or will it affect all people in the same way? The answer comes to mind, albeit intuitively, while reading the question.
In the second session of the Citizen Assembly for Climate, in which I collaborate with 15 other independent experts, I explained precisely those unequal consequences. The Assembly is a deliberative process in which 100 people chosen at random debate and agree on recommendations to deal with the climate emergency.
Climate change affects most where society is most vulnerable. It affects, in the first place, the population of developing countries, where there is less social structure, but it also affects differently depending on the geographical location. Almost 40% of the human population lives in coastal areas that can end up flooded, so they must relocate, they must move, they must migrate. The same should be done by all those people who live in areas where temperatures no longer allow crops, where there are constant droughts or where living conditions are impossible. Rising temperatures at current rates threaten food production, water supplies, and human health. And in this maelstrom of consequences for humanity we also see this unequal affectation: based on race, age and gender.
The further we move away from the prototype of the Western white man, the more risk there is of suffering the consequences of climate change. The elderly are a risk group due to their vulnerability, just like children, but especially women. If we combine the factors of childhood and women, the risk grows exponentially, since girls are particularly the most affected sector of the population.
Women in developing countries are in charge of water supply; To do this, they must travel distances that are getting longer and longer and along the way they are exposed to all kinds of dangers. They also travel distances to get firewood or food to feed their families, but rising temperatures are making supply more and more difficult. The persistence of discriminatory social and cultural norms make them the target of abuse of all kinds.
As the UN points out, the 80% of those displaced by climate-related disasters are women. Droughts in Somalia have caused population displacement and women have been exposed to sexual exploitation. According to the UNDP, during periods of drought in Uganda, rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse increased. After the floods in Pakistan or the cyclones in Bangladesh, the events were repeated. The fight for survival forces many women to use their bodies as transactional value when they have nothing left, which also poses a risk to their health. Tanzanian women had to resort to sexual intercourse transnational markets after poor harvests due to drought, leading to a high number of HIV/AIDS infections. Many families choose to marry off their daughters early so that there is one less mouth in the home, and thus arranged marriages or the sale of “bride” are multiplying in countries like Malawi, Mozambique or Indonesia.
The health of women is also exposed with the lack of water, which leads to difficulties in hygiene. These difficulties increase in childbirth and result in infections or by vectors such as the Zika virus, which in pregnant women can cause defects such as microcephaly. Female and child mortality also increases with climate change. According to UNFPAafter the passage of storm Anna in Mozambique, it was necessary to reinforce the assistance of sexual and reproductive health services and of the most vulnerable populations, in this case, women of reproductive age, from 15 to 49 years old.
The fight against climate change is not only to prevent the loss of biodiversity, tragic and with direct consequences on ecosystems. It is also a struggle that rarely translates into consequences for people, consequences that are permeated by inequality. Unfortunately climate change is also a gender issue.