There are those who still deny it, blinded by lack of foresight or simple ignorance, but climate change looms menacingly. The consequences are numerous, and many are already underway and at the origin of complex phenomena that particularly penalise women.
When we talk about migration, our thoughts go to the images reported by newspapers of boats loaded with men and women fleeing war and poverty. Too often, we neglect one of the main causes that push these people to leave their homes: climate change.
According to the UNHCR, every year an average of 25.4 million people are forced to leave their homes due to sudden natural disasters or climate change. It means about one person per second.
Often the most vulnerable populations, the ones that are least to blame for climate change, are those who pay the price. The impact of climate change has a more severe impact on less developed countries and sensitive island regions: They are more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and they have insufficient tools to adapt to climate change.
No matter that the main responsible are the richest countries in the world. People living in rural areas in developing countries, especially women, are particularly vulnerable, as they often depend on natural resources; they do much of the agricultural work in food production and the search for water and fuel for the family.
Moreover, women are the ones who take over most of the unpaid work in families and communities. These situations are the starting point of the endless journeys charged of hope that promise a better future but which unfortunately, in most cases, lead only to violence and exploitation. We cannot forget that we must approach women’s rights from many points of view, from the fight against female violence to the issue of decent work equal to that of men.
An example of this situation comes from Asia; a study by the Meteorological Office of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) showed that Tibet has a 0.3°C spike in temperature every 10 years, putting it at twice the global warming average, and four times above the Asian average.
In addition, water availability is a serious problem: although Tibet is called ‘the world’s third pole’ due to its large water reserves, China exploits these reserves, putting the Tibetan population in serious difficulty.
In this context, explicitly barred from participation in water regulation are both Tibetan and Chinese women, despite the fact that UN figures show women (and children) are the most vulnerable to water-related disasters.
The UN, along with other environmental protection experts, have also indicated that including women in water-related decision-making is essential for achieving international targets, and improves both the effectiveness and efficiency of water policies.
It is through greater awareness within the EU, but also through relations with third countries, that Europe can positively enter into play.
First, we need to create the political and legal conditions for Europe to recognise the problem, for example by distinguishing at international level a definition for ‘climate refugee’. It is a tough road because within the Union there are very distant positions. For example, a bloc of countries does not take into account climate change when it comes to rights.
Climate change requires a gender-sensitive response based on human rights. It is important that there is effective participation of women in decision-making at all levels, including international climate negotiations, in order to develop gender responses to address basic inequalities.
The task of the international community is to consider the gender perspective when funding initiatives and supporting new technologies to tackle climate change, for example by supporting entrepreneurship programs aimed at the full participation of women.
The situation is complex, but it is important to remain confident: politics is the art of the possible and those who commit themselves seriously do it to change things. And issues related to democracy, freedom and human rights are fundamental elements.