COP stands for “Conference of Parties”. It is an annual gathering of all member states that make up the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (195 nations in total). The meeting – which started on Monday the 30th of November – is the 21st gathering, and hence it is titled COP21. The first COP was held in 1995 in Berlin.
The goal of COP21 is to achieve a legally binding agreement – with the consensus of all participating nations – to make interventions to keep global warming below the critical threshold of 2 degrees celsius of warming. The biggest emitters have already come up with their targets and commitments (i.e. the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs). The European Union (EU) has committed to cut its emissions by 40% (compared to the levels in 1990), by 2030. The US has agreed to cut its emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025. Similarly, China has also agreed to cut its emissions. If the participating nations fulfill their commitments for the agreed upon INDCs, the world will be able to hold a temperature of about 2.7C or 3C of warming. However, like any agreement and pledge, the key factor to make COP21 a success is to devise and implement a monitoring system that would review the targets every five years, with a view to revise the targets if/when needed.
Men and women are getting affected by climate change in different ways, with women being the most vulnerable population. Less developed countries are most vulnerable to harmful effects of extreme weather caused by climate change where negative impact of environmental disasters go far beyond the impacts on the environment and have profound implications for social justice and gender equality. Majority of the populations in developing countries rely on agriculture for their subsistence. Their livelihoods thus get disproportionately affected by calamities such as floods, deforestation and droughts, typhoons, etc, that makes it difficult for families living in these fragile environments to meet their basic human needs. In low and middle-income countries, adolescent girls and women account for more than 50% of the labour force in agricultural zones.
In Asia-Pacific, women and young girls perform 60% of the agricultural work and are also responsible for majority of the household work as well, although their contributions are largely not recognised and are not fairly paid. Women also have less access to financial resources and have unequal share in the decision making within their households due to imbalances in the socio-cultural structures that impedes them from realising their rights to equal participation, access, and control over resources. Due to restricted autonomy and unequal access to resources and during humanitarian crisis and disasters that further destabilises these structural inquities, women and girls become more vulnerable to sexual violence and gender-based violence.
Mortality rates during natural disasters are higher among women than men. During natural disasters, access to basic obstetric care, contraceptive services and reproductive health services becomes severely limited, hence putting women at a greater health risk. Following disasters, women and girls are also often overlooked in relief efforts, or may be not be able to reach places where relief efforts are made due to social norms that limit their mobility.
The conclusion is undeniable: Women and young girls are facing disproportionate impacts of natural disasters brought by climate change, and thus combating climate change is key to achieving women’s rights and universal access to SRHR. Recognising and acknowledging the relationship between climate change, gender equality and SRHR and acting upon the need to address the increased vulnerabilities brought upon by climate disasters can have far reaching and more sustainable impact on the climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
As most vulnerable populations, women and young girls must be included in all national, regional and global level negotiations on climate change, including COP21, as active stakeholders, and they should also be placed at the heart of local and national level implementation strategies that generate as a result of Paris negotiations to combat climate change and global warming. Ensuring that women and young girls are viewed as active stakeholders in COP21 will allow climate-related funds and mechanisms to be redirected to prioritize investments in gender-sensitive, rights-based policies and technologies that would benefit women and enhance their resilience while at the same time reducing carbon emissions, and hence will result in transformational and more environmentally sustainable changes.
ARROW and some of our partners are currently at COP21, advocating with other civil society organizations. Read their statement on gender and SRHR Needs in the SDGs and the new climate agreement here.