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CLIMATE CHANGE: The U.N.’s Boys’ Club

Selina Rust

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2010 (IPS) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to appoint a 19-member, all-male high-level advisory group on Climate Change Financing (CCF) has triggered strong protests from women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) outraged by the composition of the panel.

The new panel was announced on Mar. 12 when the United Nations, ironically, concluded a two-week meeting on gender empowerment.

“That is incomprehensible,” Karen Hardee, Population Action International’s vice president of research, told IPS.

Since women are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Hardee was surprised when she first saw the list.

“In an ideal world, wouldn’t it be nice if half of the people who are qualified to be on the panel were women?” she said.

Elizabeth Becker of OXFAM America and Suzanne Ehlers of Population Action International wrote an article in the online environmental magazine “Grist” complaining that “leaving women out is unfortunate and reflects a persistent bias in climate change decision-making roles.”

Ban himself gave a speech last September underlining the importance of “an environment where women are the key decision makers on climate change, and play an equally central role in carrying out these decisions.”

“We must do more to give greater say to women in addressing the climate challenge,” he said at the time.

“Why have they been ignored yet again?” Ehlers and Becker asked.

The group will investigate potential sources of revenue to support developing countries in their efforts to cope with the impacts of climate change.

The Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009 called for 30 billion dollars in climate financing until 2012 and then 100 billion dollars a year until 2020.

The group of 19 experts will be co-chaired by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The body’s other members, who will be appointed for 10 months, include ministers, officials of central banks, and experts on finance and development, like financier George Soros, economist Nicholas Stern, and director of the National Economic Council Lawrence H. Summers.

According to Ban’s spokesperson Ari Gaitanis, a multitude of factors, such as nominations by governments, geographical representation and balance between developed and developing countries, influenced the decision-making.

Mentioning also the time constraint, Gaitanis admits that these factors precluded appropriate attention to the gender balance.

He said that in response to other demands of women’s organisations and NGOs, the secretary-general has made efforts to ensure the representation of women and has since appointed the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, to the Climate Change Financing Group.

“It is likely that there will be further additions and we will provide information on these as soon as there is confirmation,” Gaitanis told IPS.

For Hardee, that represents a first step in the right direction. “Hopefully it is a signal to the secretary-general and the whole global climate organisation that is has to be absolutely more equitable,” she said.

She already has women in mind to join the high-leveled advisory group, like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an African head of state, or the president of the Centre for Global Development, Nancy Birdsall, who has expertise in global financing mechanisms.

It is the group’s task to frame and shape climate change financial flows to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, but women are disproportionately represented among both of these groups.

Amy North, a researcher working on gender, education and global poverty reduction initiatives at the Institute of Education at the University of London, told IPS that climate change is exacerbating existing gender inequalities – with a devastating effect on the quality of life of poor women and girls.

According to a report by the British-based Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) published this month, more than 10,000 women die each year from weather-related disasters such as tropical storms and droughts, compared to about 4,500 men.

Women are also the main producers of food, providing 70 percent of agricultural labour in sub-Saharan Africa, and so are particularly affected by reduced agricultural output.

In many developing countries, increased water scarcity due to climate change is linked to the increased distance women must travel to collect water and fuel.

That means that children, especially girls, are excluded from education in order to follow the exhausting tasks, the WEN report states.

“It is essential that these demands are taken seriously and that all future agreements around climate change recognise the differential impacts that climate change has on men and women,” North stressed.

The advisory group aims to identify sources for the funds pledged by countries in Copenhagen, which will in large part provide assistance to the people, including women, who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Gaitanis told IPS.

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