Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and threatens the lives and livelihood of the entire planet. We are dedicated to seeking climate justice to create a more sustainable and equitable world.
Welcome to our GWC Climate Action Blog space. We believe that every aspect of women’s progress is impacted by climate change and the empowerment of women is the very best way to make rapid progress in this area.
This is the place to learn more about the unique challenges that women face from climate change and what we can all do about it right now.
Climate Action Team
Team Leader: Naomi Ages
Contact: [email protected]
Winning (and even just filing) legal actions against those responsible for pollution or destruction of nature has been challenging. Why? In great part because of the imbalance of power (financial and political) between the state or private entities whose activities cause the pollution or destruction of nature (often extractive industries, such as mining, or conglomerates who destroy forests to create larger agriculture areas), and those who most directly suffer the consequences: these are often rural, indigenous or poor populations of which a majority are women. It is often also difficult for such underrepresented populations to compellingly demonstrate the direct damages inflicted on them from the extractive actions or destruction of forests and other natural habitats. But there may be hope to be found in the burgeoning rights of Nature movement that aims to protect the rights of Nature itself, regardless of any harm to humans. And indeed, why shouldn’t Nature also have rights?
There appear to be two diametrically opposed philosophical and ethical beliefs on the relationship of Nature to humans. The first belief is that Nature’s purpose is to serve humans: this reflects a culture of control of and violence against Nature. This perspective justifies the extraction of natural resources regardless of the impact on Nature and the destruction of natural habitats. It also serves to exacerbate the imbalance between (a) underdeveloped countries and regions which are rich in natural resources and (b) the natural-resources “poorer” countries possess that are exported after extraction. The second (opposite) belief is that humans do not own or control the planet and the land, but are simply part of it, and that, therefore, Nature should be preserved, protected and nurtured – the relationship between nature and humans is a deeply cooperative one. This belief is reflected in how indigenous populations respect and know about nature. It is often indigenous women, who need food to feed their families, who depend on this relationship with Nature and who therefore become the driving force in promoting measures to counteract the consequences of climate change. Interestingly, efforts led by indigenous women (see examples below of Ecuador and Peru) have resulted in several countries recently moving forward to affirm that Nature itself has legally enforceable rights.
Ecuador’s High Court rendered a decision on December 21, 2021 that interpreted and affirmed protection for the rights of Nature itself (Pachamama, meaning “Mother Earth”). This is because Ecuador’s Constitution recognizes the rights of Mother Earth to exist and “to maintain and regenerate its cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes”. The Constitutional Court judge wrote for the majority that “the main idea behind the rights of Nature is that Nature has inherent value and that value must be recognized in and of itself, regardless of its usefulness for humans”. As a consequence of this decision, mining permits granted to a state mining company and its Canadians subsidiary were revoked.
In Peru, Indigenous women demanded in a lawsuit filed in September 2021 that the Peruvian government recognize the legal rights of Nature by ensuring that the Marañón River, which is downstream from a polluted oilfield carved into the Amazonian rain forest, "is able to exist, to flow, to live free from contamination, to feed and be fed by its tributaries and to be protected, preserved and restored". The case is in the early stages yet, but is part of the rights of Nature movement.
There would seem to be even more compelling reasons for Nature (without which humans cannot survive) to have rights, than, for example, corporations. In the United States, even though corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution, corporations are currently able to invoke rights and seek protections under the Commerce Clause and Contracts Clause, as well as under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Corporations have used these rights to challenge state and local activism, including to counter efforts to fight corporate extraction that is environmentally damaging. As a result, corporations often have the power to dictate governance in our communities.
Another goal of the rights of Nature movement and related political/legal efforts is to include in applicable laws and treaties a new crime against nature or “ecocide”. A legal panel composed of experts from different countries has drafted the following proposed definition of ecocide: “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”. The hope is that this definition will now provide a concrete basis for countries to move forward on incorporating ecocide in some form in their national legislation. Furthermore, this legal definition of ecocide should be used to push for amending the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to add ecocide to those core crimes already provided by the Rome Statute (currently, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression).
For example, in France, a new climate law was approved in August 2021 (Loi no 2021-1104 du 22 août 2021 portant lutte contre le dérèglement climatique et renforcement de la résilience face à ses effets). The law creates a new crime (“délit”) for those committing offenses which “cause serious and lasting damage to the health, flora, fauna or the quality of the air, soil or water”. Article 296 of the new law also requires the government to report back within one year on ‘“its action in favour of the recognition of ecocide as a crime which can be tried by international criminal courts”.
The rights of Nature movement and the efforts to criminalize ecocide should continue to be urgently promoted through political activism and international collaboration. Women are uniquely positioned to take an active part in this movement. We need to have all the legal tools necessary to ensure sanctions, enforcement and resources to protect biodiversity and human rights and advance conservation, as guided by science, and thus be better equipped to fight denial of climate change and the counter movement against women’s rights.
COP26 kicked off on Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. My resident country has already taken bold steps to tackle climate change. Scotland has established some of the toughest targets to reduce emissions in the world. In 2020, Scottish renewables generated the equivalent of 97.4% of its electricity demand and Shetland now fuels electric cars purely from the power of the sea. Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said, “COP26 in Glasgow is one of the world’s last chances to deliver on the aims of the Paris Agreement. To achieve that, it is essential that countries turn promises into action, and it is crucial that states, regions, and devolved governments play our full part.”
The COP26 climate talks will bring together heads of state, climate experts, and campaigners to agree on coordinated action to tackle the climate crisis. It’s been hailed as the biggest climate moment since the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015. The world is living on the edge of a precipice. Backed up by an alarming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity is already experiencing the effects of the climate crisis. The IPCC released a landmark report, a "code red for humanity” which confirmed that without radical reductions in carbon emissions this decade, temperature rises above 1.5 degrees would be inevitable and irreversible. Right now, the planet is 1.1 degrees hotter than it was between 1850 and 1900.
What does this mean for women around the world? Due to unequal gender norms, women and children are disproportionately impacted by climate change and fossil fuel extraction. “Women are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they represent the majority of the world's poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources,” Balgis Osman-Elasha, lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report explains. Women make up 80% of the world’s climate refugees, more women die from climate change-induced natural disasters, and food and water insecurity prevent pregnant women from getting the nutrients they need. Gender-based violence and exploitation increase when resources are limited.
Even though women and girls are most adversely affected by the effects of climate change - they are also uniquely important to the solution. Women have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to come up with practical solutions. Additionally, women possess an extraordinary – and often underappreciated – potential to drive climate change mitigation due to their influential roles in families and communities. Women’s involvement in decision-making has important implications for climate change – a recent study found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties and more stringent climate change policies. Women in the United States are more likely than men to be concerned about climate change science. Research in Europe attests that women, more than men, have changed their behavior to decrease their carbon dioxide emissions by recycling, buying local, and reducing water and meat consumption. But women, especially indigenous women, are still a largely untapped resource. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training, and technology, and limited access to political decision-making spheres often prevent them from playing a full role in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges.
Women are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, their expertise particularly at the local level is indispensable. During the two-week summit, there will be a day devoted to gender issues, which will include a discussion of the gender action plan. COP26 could be a real moment for the voices of women and girls, as well as for other, often marginalized, communities to be heard and supported. When women are empowered to participate in decision-making, the world benefits and might be saved.
Women’s History Month - Environmental Defenders
By: Naomi Ages
Greta Thunberg’s name is now synonymous with climate action. The teenage Swedish activist is one of the faces of the global movement to demand a safe climate for people and the planet. But as Thunberg herself points out, she is far from the first, or the only, activist there is. She regularly “passes the mic” to make sure that activists from more marginalized communities have their say. She is one in a long line of women environmental defenders - So in honor of Women’s History Month, the Climate Action Team wants to highlight a few of the women around the world who have been doing the hard, often dangerous work of environmental protection and seeking environmental justice. It is a privilege to be able to introduce:
Cáceras was a Honduran environmental activist, indigenous leader, and organizer. She was brutally murdered in her home in 2016, almost certainly for her longtime environmental activism, and in particular, the opposition she led against a hydroelectric dam on the sacred Gualcarque river (executives from the company were ruled to have ordered her killing). Cáceras was a Leneca (an indigenous group in Honduras) leader, and founded Copinh (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras) - Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, dedicated to fighting illegal logging and other corporate environmental degradation in traditional Leneca lands. Cáceras won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. You can learn more about Berta Cáceras, and Copinh, which continues her important work, here.
Houska is a Couchiching First Nation activist and tribal attorney, who advised Bernie Sanders on Native American affairs. She has been on the front lines of environmental defense - at Standing Rock (against the Dakota Access Pipeline), and a longtime advocate to stop major banks from funding pipelines. Houska, like many Native American environmental advocates, is a fierce believer that we must use indigenous principles and knowledge for restoring ecosystems, and achieving environmental justice. In a recent lecture, she said “I chose fighting for Mother Earth because she IS everything. The land is the people; the people are the land.” Follow Houska’s Not Your Mascots organization here.
Nakate was the sole Fridays for Future protestor in Uganda for months, spurred to action by heat waves and crop failures. She, unfortunately, gained prominence when she was cropped out of a photo with other youth climate activists who were white, in Davos in January 2020. Nakate’s experience, in which climate activists of color are erased, and climate change’s disproportionate impacts on people of color are downplayed, is all too common. Nakate has gone on to found two climate action organizations in Uganda focused on renewable energy and amplifying African voices in the climate movement. She recently spoke to Angelina Jolie about climate change’s disproportionate impact on women and girls.
Nguy Thi Khanh
Khanh is another Goldman Environmental Prize winner, who founded one of the only environmental NGOs in Vietnam, which is no easy feat in a country where demonstrations are almost unheard of. Khanh is taking on the coal industry in Vietnam, raising awareness about air and water pollution and the effects of industrialization. She successfully helped convince the government to lower its coal use targets, and weathers harassment campaigns and threats of imprisonment. Khanh says she got inspired to environmental action even though she planned to become a diplomat due to “… mostly the vulnerability of the affected communities of climate change. For me, that’s always in the frontline.” She does the work “because I want a better life for my children and the future generations. It is time to act!”
This small list is a somewhat meager glimpse into the thousands of women we could celebrate for the work they do in building a better future. Women disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change, and simultaneously lead the fight to confront the companies, organizations, and governments that have enabled the crisis. We honor their work this Women’s History Month, and hopefully, we are inspired to fight in our own ways!
Join the Climate Action Team of the GWC and help us combat environmental injustice!
Mexican Skillet Rice
We are going to use this week’s Mexican-inspired recipe to draw attention to the role of farmworkers in the US food system, with particular attention to the horrific injustices they have faced during the coronavirus pandemic. There are over two million farmworkers in the United States, who perform the critical tasks of harvesting and shipping the vast majority of food people buy in grocery stores. One estimate is that 95% of farmworkers in the US are of Mexican descent, and 78% are Hispanic. Put another way “It is an open secret that the vast majority of people who harvest America’s food are undocumented immigrants, mainly from Mexico, many of them decades-long residents of the United States. Often the parents of American-born children, they have lived for years with the cloud of deportation hanging over their households.”
The Climate Action Team is thrilled to kick off our Meatless Monday recipe exchange with DA Norway Vice-Chair Christina Skovsgaard's Meatless Minestrone. From the chef herself: "With today’s expanding repertory of global recipes, we do not, in any way, have to limit our choices or palate. There is a world of delicious meatless meals. I am sharing my recipe for easy Meatless Minestrone Soup The GWC Climate Action Team is looking forward to trying some of your vegetarian or vegan recipes, myself included." Click through to get the recipe and learn more about how eating less meat and dairy is climate action!Read more
Climate change is a singular issue. It intersects with every other issue we face, exacerbates existing inequalities, manifests injustice, and threatens the lives and livelihood of the entire planet. This means we must address it via these myriad lenses, so that the solutions bring everyone forward in a more just way.
Climate change is then, of course, a women’s issue. Empowering women is one of the best tools we have to find solutions and make progress on this issue. This page is the place to learn more about the unique challenges that women face from climate change, and what we can all do about it right now.
The Women’s Caucus Climate Action Team
This article was supposed to be about how Democrats retaking the Senate via the Georgia runoff elections was the best chance in over a decade to pass federal environmental legislation. “Even the thinnest Democratic majorities,” explains Washington Post, “will enable Biden to press for much more generous federal support for renewable energy, environmentally friendly infrastructure, expanded tax breaks for electric vehicles and stricter energy-efficiency standards.” Specifically, it also meansthat Congress has the power to immediately revoke some of the Trump administration’s terrible environmental policies.
Recent headlines praised Joe Biden for “stock[ing] his transition teams with climate experts.” Activists andeditorial boards alike wasted no time in demanding that Biden, and Kamala Harris, make climate their top priority. There can be no doubt on this point - swift and sweeping climate action is necessary and urgent for the new administration. Back in December 2019 (roughly 1200 years ago), The Sunrise Movement gave then-candidate Joe Biden’s climate plan a straight-up F (an F minus, to be completely accurate).Read more
Guest post by Climate Action Team Volunteer Pamela Price
The first climate change scenario in India that I was familiar with predicted glacial melt in the Himalaya mountains, causing severe flooding of the great Ganges River, in north India, before the river eventually runs dry. However, in the fall of 2003, when I began interviewing farmers in a village far south of the Ganges, I discovered another scenario: drought in rain-fed areas. I was in the state of Telangana, in south central India, studying rural political culture.