The impact of climate change-- floods, drought, extreme weather, growing food/water insecurity etc., disproportionately affect the world's 1.3 billion poor, the majority of whom are women. 70 per cent of fatalities from 2004 Asian tsunami and 96 per cent of the 2014 Solomon Island floods were women and children. Nevertheless, women are contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts in many countries through innovation and localised solutions to build resilient communities. Climate change may be framed as a universal human rights imperative, a pervasive economic strain and a global security threat. Women are usually the first responders in community responses to natural disasters, leaders in disaster related risk-reduction and contribute to post disaster recovery. Women's empowerment and representation at all levels of leadership and across all sectors of society is not an option, but an absolute necessity. There is strong focus on gender equality and women's empowerment in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development both in the form of a dedicated Goal on Gender Equality (SDG5) and a cross-cutting theme with more than 30 related gender targets across the SDGs. Increasing global political commitment to address gender and climate change is manifested through the Gender Action Plan (GAP) of the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This was adopted at the Conference of Parties (COP23) in 2017 under the Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG). It seeks to advance women's full participation, promote gender-responsive climate policy and mainstream gender in climate adaptation, mitigation and finance. Though Bangladesh as current Chair of the 48-member Climate Vulnerable Form (CVF) of the climate-threatened nations is working hard to involve women for combating adverse impacts of climate change, much more needs to be done to effectively empower our rural women.
Bangladesh's biophysical and economic factors, geographical location, topography etc., make it particularly susceptible to extreme weather events. Bangladesh ranks152 out of 188 countries in terms of per capita Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and responsible for less than 0.36 per cent of global emissions. Bangladesh is ranked sixth on Global Climate Risk Index, 2017. The country ranks 160 out of 181 countries in terms of climate vulnerability. Bangladesh is the 25th least ready country which means that in spite of high vulnerability, it is not properly prepared to prevent or reduce climate change effects. It is one of the largest deltas in the world with dense network of tributaries of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna (GBM) rivers. Most of the country is less than 10 meter above sea level (10 per cent is less than 1 meter). 80 per cent of Bangladesh's surface form giant flood plain. Out of 2.85 million hectares of offshore and coastal areas, about 1.2 million hectares of arable land are affected by soil salinity. Sea level rise has been measured 4mm per year at Hiron Point and 8mm in Cox's Bazar. Himalayan glaciers have reduced by 21 per cent in area since the 1980s and lost about 174 giga-tonnes of water between 2003 and 2009. This has contributed to catastrophic floods in the GMB basin. IPCC projected 32 cm sea level rise by 2050 and 88cm by 2100 for Bangladesh (compared to 2000). By 2050, about 27 million people will be at risk due to sea level rise. Bangladesh will experience an annual loss of 2 per cent of GDP by 2050 and 9.4 per cent by 2100 due to climate change. Cumulative GDP loss over 45 years (2005-2050) will be around US$597.1 billion (at 2005 prices). Rural women will be most severely affected by all adverse impacts of climate change in Bangladesh. In its first NDC submitted to the UNFCC in 2016, Bangladesh committed an unconditional contribution to reduce GHG emission by 5 per cent from business as usual (BAU) levels by 2030 in power, transport and industry sectors. A conditional 15 per cent reduction was also committed in these sectors. Gender equality is emphasised in 40 per cent of global NDCs and 75 per cent of Sub-Saharan African NDCs. 98 per cent of countries mention in their NDCs dependence on agriculture sector where women play important roles.
Women account for about 43 per cent of agricultural labour force in the developing countries, which is more than 60 per cent in some South Asian and African countries. They play important roles in seed conservation which may be used as gene sources in case of collapse of commercially viable varieties. These help decrease their vulnerabilities to climate shocks and improves food security. Global feminisation of agriculture will allow utilisation of female farmers' knowledge about different plant varieties. Women's empowerment will facilitate building household resilience to climate impacts by adopting climate-smart practices and soil conservation techniques. Increased crop yields have been observed in areas where women have secured land rights. Increasing access of women to information and awareness about climate-smart agriculture (CSA) may lead to greater uptake of these technologies and enhanced resilience to climate-related shocks.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations supports a number of countries in addressing gender gap into their National Adaptation Plans (NAP) through the NAP- Ag programme. This programme aims to integrate gender equality into relevant policies and budget. It provides training on agricultural value chain development in Uganda, Zambia, Nepal, Uruguay etc. FAO's Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) programme has mainstreamed gender issues into its work components by using sex-disaggregated data for climate-smart practices. FAO projects to strengthen small farmers' capacities to handle shocks and improve food and nutrition. The Organisation's Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) approach in few countries has positive implications on women's working conditions, welfare, empowerment and gender power relations. CSA practices have resulted in high-yielding varieties, stress-tolerant species, improved home gardens along with restoration of degraded range-land etc in some countries.
Climate change poses threat to internationally recognised human rights including the right to life, food security, health, education water etc. Actions taken to adapt and mitigate towards adverse impacts of climate change will themselves infringe upon individual human rights in some form or other. Loss and damage caused by climate change may have drastic adverse effect on the vulnerable communities. Vulnerability of the extreme poor have affected their very lives and livelihood pattern. Thousands and millions of them have to migrate from their own homesteads and become climate refugees in the city slumps.
The African continent is especially vulnerable to water shortage for which women suffer most. In majority of the cases, women do not have the necessary information, tools and resources to plan and take decisions about water security. Women often have to decide in consultation with their husbands how to allocate water resources between agriculture and livestock or whether or not to use GMO seeds in farming. Reducing the time which women spend in collecting water will allow them to do other activities like farming and domestic work. In order to effectively face the global bio-politics of water, the women often need to resist pressure for turning the land and forest from food needs towards the production of biofuels and export crops. They need to pursue the provision of Global Public Goods (GPGs) and resist the offering of National Public Goods (NPGs) to the global corporations.
Communities have been found to do better in resilience and capacity building if women are involved in the planning process. Given same access to resources as men, the women can increase agricultural yields by 20 to 30 per cent. They contribute to world hunger reduction by 12 to 17 per cent as per a UN study. Women empowerment can positively impact climate change adaption in two ways: appropriate technology contributes to sustainable farming; and a reduction in poverty enables the individuals to better adapt to the climate changes. A research report identifies how women can serve as agents of adaption and mitigation. Inclusion of women at the highest levels of decision making related to climate change is necessary. Women must also lead at municipal and local levels.
Gender-sensitive reforms to the current agenda of the nations will enhance efficacy of climate change policies leading to higher productivity, especially in the agriculture sector. 51 per cent of humanity being comprised of women and girls, their perspectives and participation must be ensured to solve climate change impacts. UN Women's policies and programmes for women empowerment will encourage gender-sensitive policies and programmes globally for better tackling the climate vulnerabilities. Only 31 per cent of global climate-related official development assistance (ODA) of the US $8 billion spent in 2014 supported gender equality. Steps must be taken to involve women more in the climate financing mechanism. In view of adoption of Bangladesh Parliament's "Planetary Climate Emergency" motion and Government's commitment to reduce climate vulnerability of population by implementing Delta Plan 2100 and other programmes, meaningful involvement and empowerment of women are critically important. Perspective Plan of Bangladesh for 2021-2041 may be appropriately revised to ensure effective role of rural women in tackling climate challenges.
The writer is former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.