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Climate change a further challenge for gender equity

© FAO/G. Napolitano

The effect of climate change could in many areas of the world "diminish considerably the progress we have made so far in securing gender equality,” said Iceland’s Minister of the Environment, Ms Thorunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, at an FAO event marking International Women’s Day.

10 March 2008, Rome – Vulnerable areas and the poor will be particularly hit by climate change, the Minister said. Small and poor indigenous communities are faced with changes affecting their livelihood and social structure. Temperature changes in the oceans could affect the fish stocks many coastal communities depend on for their survival, she added.

In vulnerable areas in Africa, Asia and Latin America climate change could affect the existence of millions, especially in rural agricultural and coastal areas. Such prospects are especially alarming since agriculture is now increasingly recognised as a crucial element in addressing poverty and food security. All changes in agricultural production have considerable effect on the situation of women, given their crucial role in food production in many areas.

Role of agriculture

While noting that the food and agriculture sector’s contribution to climate change was over 30 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, it is vital to understand how to ensure food security when temperatures and sea level are rising, extreme events becoming more frequent and seasonal trends are difficult to predict, observed FAO Deputy Director-General Mr James Butler.

“In order to be truly prepared for the impacts of climate change on food security, we must ask ourselves who are the most vulnerable and how they can be involved in addressing this global issue, noting that men and women are differently vulnerable and how each can contribute to addressing climate change,” he said.

Adaptation is the key

In the climate change debate, adaptation is increasingly being seen as a key policy priority. Adaptation at an accelerated and more targeted pace is seen as critical for the secure development of vulnerable populations, like the estimated 1.4 billion rural people who depend on small-scale farming in developing countries. These men and women will be differently vulnerable to climate change impacts due to pre-existing inequalities. For example, rural women tend to have less financial, physical and human resources than men, so they will have fewer options for responding to the effects of climate change. Also, poor women tend to rely more than men on natural resources, so when these are directly hit by climate change, women’s livelihoods will also be affected. Adaptation strategies that do not take into account the differences between men’s and women’s vulnerabilities and resources are less likely to succeed.

.. and mitigation

Mitigation is another building block of climate change response. “Poor rural people can play a major role in mitigating climate change through the sustainable management of land, forests and other natural resources,” said IFAD Assistant President Jessie Rose Mabutas. And climate change mitigation policies can represent a historic opportunity to acknowledge and remunerate them for providing environmental services that benefit us all.

International agricultural commodity prices are rising because of a combination of factors: an increased demand for food due to rapid growth in emerging countries like India and China; unprecedented and rapid migration from rural to urban areas; recent poor harvests in some countries that may be a result of climate change; and the conversion of land use from food crops to biofuel crops. “This will have enormous consequences for poor rural people, particularly for women who often are responsible for providing food for the family,” said Ms Mabutas.

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