London – A new State of World Population 2009 report released by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, shows that climate change disproportionately affects women and is also an issue of population dynamics, poverty and gender equity.
Subtitled "Facing a changing world: women, population and climate," the report shows that climate change relates differently to women, men, boys and girls, and differently among countries around the world, and even within nations.
In London, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid noted that environmental damage "is one of the most inequitable risks of our time." The carbon footprint of the poorest billion people on Earth is 3 percent of the world's total, yet it is the poor, especially poor women, who will bear the disproportionate brunt of climate change, she said. The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women.
"For many people, especially poor women in poor countries, climate change is here and now," she said. "Women work hard to keep their households together. They fetch the water, find the food and the fuel to cook it, and clean up afterwards. They watch their children's health and care for their illnesses. In recent years, both food and fuel have been harder to find. The available water carries parasites. Malaria is creeping into areas that used to be mosquito-free. And floods, rising seas and drought present growing challenges."
The report recommends that countries invest in green technology and reduce emissions, but it also says they should empower women to make their own decisions and be involved in public decisions that affect their lives. Nations should invest in women by ensuring alternatives to wood and imported fuel; secure clean water supplies; better roads; access to education for girls; and access to health care, including reproductive health services, especially for women, the report said.
"Helping women to make their own decisions about family size would protect their health, make their lives easier, help put their countries on a sustainable path towards development - and ensure lower greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run," Obaid said.
The report includes a supplement, At the Frontier: Young People and Climate Change, featuring profiles of young people who are already facing the challenges of a warming world.
“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,” Ms. Obaid says. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”