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 Climate change

Gender equality is key to tackling the climate crisis

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gavin
Tuesday, 10 December, 2019

Speaking on Gender Day at COP25 in Madrid, Mary Robinson calls for inclusivity to be lived out in the actions we all take when tackling the climate emergency.

Vice-President, Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, happy Human Rights Day to you all.

It is an honour to speak today at this event: an important opportunity to recognise that in raising our ambition on tackling climate change we need to raise our ambition on tackling gender inequality too.

Climate justice has to be at the heart of any response we make to the climate crisis, and it is the mantra in the street now, it’s what the young are telling us. They want climate justice, and they want it now, and they are getting angry as we are not doing enough. Justice cannot prevail if we disregard half the world’s potential.

At summits like this one it can be very easy to become bogged down by statistics or by process. It is very worrying when there’s a problem with one of the issues that I hoped would sail through COP25; the review of the gender action plan. I hope that the panel will discuss in some detail, with some expertise, that issue. It is really important that there be a good decision for the next five years on how we will implement the gender action plan in a way that really makes a difference.  The potential of millions of people around the world, many of whom did very little to contribute to the emergency we now face, will be squandered if we continue on the road towards a world with more than 1.5°C warming. When I reflect on this, and in particular on the lost potential of women, I think of individuals I have had the opportunity to meet - women like Constance Okollet.

I remember meeting with her and Archbishop Tutu. Ten years ago, at a special tribunal held to gather frontline testimonies of the effects of climate change on communities, she spoke to me quietly, but powerfully, about the impact of climate change on her small village in the east of her country. The words she uttered that stuck with me most were, “this problem is outside our experience.” What she meant was, “We can no longer predict what is going to happen. Rainy seasons don’t come, we have long periods of drought, we have flash flooding; we have never had this before.”

And now, in 2019, we are finally waking up to the fact that this is not only outside of Constance’s experience, it is outside of all of ours too. We are entering a new era, and we need a new mind-set, a new way of coping with it. And what we need, probably more than anything else, in my judgement, is women leaders to take action on this.

When I say women leaders, I mean women leaders at every level; at the ministerial, at the ambassadorial and diplomatic level, civil servants, but also at the grassroots level, the indigenous level and the young level too. We are actually seeing young women leading, in the way in which Fridays for Future is now becoming a global movement.

I want to draw attention to a very good piece on The Elders website by Katharine Wilkinson, known to many of you I think. Katharine has written about how women lead differently on climate. It is really worth having a look at because she shows that women are problem solving with the heart as well as the head. Women are determined to solve the problem, and that is truly what we need.

I can vouch for this because in this last year, I’ve become part of fearless women, dangerous women, and in the case of Katharine Wilkinson, connected women.  These are women who don’t just come to COPs, they are women who are active because they have understood that this is outside of our experience, and we need to do something about it.

We need to guarantee that the inclusion of women in decision-making and implementation will not be seen as an optional extra as we plan and action our NDCs in 2020. We want to have enhanced and ambitious NDCs: saying we want to be inclusive of women is not good enough. Inclusivity needs to be lived out in the actions we all take.

Of course, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that women are not already taking action for the climate! Women are our clean energy engineers, our educators, and our advisors. Women uphold a canopy of wisdom when it comes to traditional farming practices and technologies, and women are also at the forefront of new advances in science. So often women are at the vanguard of defending our environment, of nurturing the land and of guarding biodiversity, and much more.

What we must do is ensure that we unite across border to challenge the systems that are structural problems to our way of operating. These are problems that are not just geographical, but are gendered. They are problems of colonialism, they are problems of patriarchy, of rampant capitalism. If we are going to implement the 2030 Agenda, with its Sustainable Development Goals, then what we have to do is understand that the ways in which whole societies are structured need to be rethought. Rethought in a way that is going to provide for a much healthier future. We need countries to commit to becoming zero-carbon by 2050, and then work backwards, as more and more countries and big companies are doing.

So what we need to understand is that we have a shared endeavour to protect the earth which requires an unprecedented collective effort, which cannot leave anyone behind. Gender equality is a prerequisite. We need to build on the strengths, capabilities, wisdom and perspectives of women and girls, not only to build their climate resilience and ability to adapt, but crucially so that they can be active agents of mitigation and positive change. We need every iota of human potential as we face the intensity and magnitude of this problem.

This is a climate emergency. This is a climate crisis, worse than we think it is. It is happening faster than scientists had thought it would. However, we can and we must take charge of this issue; manage and resolve it together with great importance on what we do in 2020. This is outside of all our experience, and gender equality is crucial to how we will transform our way of operating and ensure that we have a world to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Never in human history have we needed all of us more.

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