11/20/2009 02:25 PM

Gender and Climate Change

Poor Women Bear Brunt of Global Warming

With the world struggling to come up with an agreement ahead of December's Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, one important fact has been overlooked: Women are hit hardest by the extreme weather shifts, according to a new UN report.

When seas rise, droughts hit and glaciers melt, it is women from the developing world who are likely to come off worst, a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says.

"Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it," wrote UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in a press statement released on Wednesday.

Living in the most marginalized areas and dependent on agriculture to survive, it is the poor who are in the frontline of climate change. Given that most of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women, they are in the most vulnerable position, the report entitled 'The State of World Population 2009' said.

Until now, the pre-Copenhagen discussions have stumbled over issues like which countries should shoulder most responsibility for climate change -- as countries shy away from concrete pledges to trim their greenhouse gas output and pump money into renewable energy sources.

Despite waning hopes of a binding agreement from the U.N.'s Dec. 7 summit, the report's authors said it was time for a rethink on how the international community tackles the problem. "The fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programmes and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women," they wrote.

Fundamental New Questions

Family planning, reproductive healthcare and gender relations are all key elements of future global agreements, the report said, stressing that slower population growth would, in turn, cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"[There] are fundamental questions about how climate change will affect women, men, boys and girls differently around the world, and indeed within nations, and how individual behavior can undermine or contribute to the global effort to cool our warming world," Obaid said.

Among its recommendations were more investment in family planning and girls' schooling -- which would reduce poverty and have a positive climatic effect because more educated girls typically go on to have smaller and healthier families.

In addition, women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters, especially among poorer people. "With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world's 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim," Obaid said.