An Incredible Force: Women and Climate Action

Happy International Women’s Day!

On International Women’s Day 2022 we reiterate the need for a gender-equal world and celebrate the power of women and girls in the fight against climate change and its impacts – Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow is the theme this year.

In a statement for UN Women, Executive Director Sima Bahous said, “Climate change is a threat multiplier. But women, and especially young women, are solution multipliers.”

Imagine the transformational change we can achieve if we prioritize gender equality globally – not just in privileged seats – and give precedence to the important role women and girls have to play in a sustainable future!

“Imagine a gender-equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women’s equality.

Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.” –

http://www.internationalwomensday.com

Breaking the bias…that is the first step. While women have a vital role to play in the health of our future planet, we are more vulnerable to the many impacts of climate change than men.

As Sima says, “The accelerating crises of climate change and environmental degradation are disproportionately undermining the rights and wellbeing of women and girls. They are multiplying insecurity at all levels, from individual and household to national. Rising temperatures, extended droughts, violent storms and floods are resulting in loss of livelihoods, they are depleting resources and fueling migration and displacement. The latest major IPCC report on climate change, and our Secretary-General, have warned us that ‘nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now, ’and that ‘many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now’.”

As the COVID pandemic has shown us, we now have the opportunity to rewrite the future trajectory of climate action. We can rethink and re-imagine avenues of transformative change for a sustainable future. The global shifts in policy and behaviour in relation to COVID have shown us that swift and radical change is possible when we have the momentum. The urgent nature of climate change gives us this impetus.

Part of this shift will require us to re-evaluate and transform the way we understand wealth in the economy. Currently in a neoliberal system wealth is measured by GDP. This measure of how a nation is fairing has been widely criticized over the past few years as outdated and dangerous in the era of climate change. An extractive economy is at the heart of economic growth policies that promote economic wealth accumulation above all else. Studies that show the vital importance of the care economy – of which women play a large part – tell us that we need to shift away from resource-heavy extractivism and better value collective wellbeing to ensure social sustainability throughout generations, and ultimately positively impacting ecological sustainability.

Valuing social and ecological wealth, to which women often pay greater focus in decision-making, helps to augment a communities’ Socio-Eco Wellbeing.

Women and girls are positive agents and super changemakers when it comes to climate action because of the tendency to think about collective wellbeing and the ecological impacts on their families and communities. Around the world, there are some amazing women and girls leading the charge in both formal and informal ways against climate change.

Research shows that greater female representation in parliament leads to more stringent and genuine climate policies. Yet, only 35% of environmental ministries have a gender focal point (womendeliver.org) Increasing involvement of women in decision-making capacities, especially regarding natural resource and land use is sound policymaking for climate-resilient communities, which has a ‘ripple effect’.

Source: http://www.womendeliver.org

UN Women has identified 5 useful ways to build gender equality globally. Some of these actions are policy-based, others also require a shift in mindset for a transformational gender-equal future:

  1. Empower women small-holders: Increasing the capacity of female small-scale farmers and access to productive resources can help promote sustainable agricultural practices. Women often think long-term and when involved in natural resource management, have been shown to use resources more sustainably.
  2. Invest in care: Unpaid and underpaid care work that unequally falls on the shoulders of women historically is a collective good that can benefit the wellbeing of all (individuals, families, communities, and their environments etc), but much like the environment in a neoliberal model, it is treated as a commodity to be exploited. More social value can be attributed to this kind of work, as well as more supportive policies with greater investment in the care economy.
  3. Support women’s leadership: Participation and inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making at all levels of society can help lead to more sustainable outcomes. Decision-making by women often leads us away from individualism, as women have a tendency to consider wider impacts and their families, communities and environments in decision-making. It is particularly important to prioritise Indigenous women’s knowledge in decision-making processes because of the wealth of knowledge they possess about their local communities, natural environments, biodiversity and natural resource management that can benefit climate action.
  4. Fund women’s organisations: empowering women’s civil society organisations can not only help achieve the action above, but it can also help elevate those voices in vulnerable communities that might otherwise be suppressed.
  5. Protect women’s health: Research shows that women are more likely to suffer from climate-related health issues such as disease or weather-related health impacts. Women are the cornerstones of family and community life, therefore impacts to women’s health have flow on effects for collective wellbeing.  Moreover, threats to public health are threats to community capabilities, affecting climate resilience.

Although global, equitable gender-focused solutions are not yet a reality, we can draw on the lessons in this year’s IWD theme to embrace women and girls as ‘solution multipliers’ in the face of social and environmental challenges, and break the bias for a more sustainable (and collective) future.

Sustaining Water Wellbeing

Our blue planet is a testament to the integral role of water to every living being on earth. Access to water not only satisfies our basic needs but our psychological needs too.

Over the summer I may have been a little quiet as I took time with my family. A large part of wellbeing is taking time to connect with our families, and ourselves and for me, the school holiday period is a good time to do that. We spent a lot of time being by the water, whether that be the ocean or the rivulet. The ambiance of water – blue space – has therapeutic effects on human health and wellbeing. The time spent by water was a timely reminder that we are connected to the liquid stuff in more ways than we realise.

Our blue planet is a testament to the integral role of water to every living being on earth. Access to water not only satisfies our basic needs but our psychological needs too. Our need for water can be categorised by Manfreed Max-Neef’s nine axiological needs for Human-Scale Development, that is: subsistence, protection, participation, identity, idleness, creation, and even affection, understanding and freedom; but which also corresponds to Maslow’s psychological needs mirrored in his Hierarchy of Needs such as the need for leisure time, culture and community. Oftentimes, water is only equated to the need for subsistence or survival.

Water is a communal concept. The only thing individual about water is the way its presence makes us feel, subjectively. Yet, even that has objective consequences because, numerous studies show that being connected to nature, particularly water, makes people feel part of something bigger than themselves, imparting a feeling of awe and transcendence. This feeling of being connected to something bigger helps develop the responsibility to protect the environment around us.

Given the overwhelming importance of water to life on earth, the principle of reciprocity is especially crucial. In other words, being cognizant of the society-nature continuum and conscious of the fact that what we take, we must also give back. The Socio-Eco Wellbeing that results from Buen Vivir, confirms transcendent values like our deep connection to water, highlighting the importance not only of human wellbeing but also environmental wellbeing.

The United Nations resolution 64/292 calling for access to safe water to be considered as a human right was passed in 2010 with the support of 122 countries. It states that “the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.” (UN CESC – General Comment 15, paragraph 2).

Although no one can deny the necessity of water as human, and the need for everyone, everywhere to be able to access clean, safe water, it has been argued that making it a human right only reinforces the mentality of human’s dominance over nature – that we must control it as a means to ensuring our own survival and livelihood, cementing if you like, the idea of water being a commodity. It should not be.  Rather, it should be understood as an essential part of the earth’s lifecycle, of which we are also a part.

Our modern-day commodity-like dependence on water leads to pollution, drought, water scarcity, and consequently diseases and food insecurity. Notwithstanding our absolute need for clean, fresh water; shifting mindsets from water as a human right to the responsibility of humans to ensure the health and sustainability of water sources can help ensure the former. Of course, this would not be equitable without re-examining the structural causes as to why many communities go without safe drinking water, and sacred water environments destroyed, polluted, or even seized.

In neoliberal development, human rights and environmental protection are often in conflict with each other. In 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed that the human right to water is legally binding upon states. To guarantee water as a human right means first addressing the structural and systemic road bumps that see the misuse, overuse, and exploitation of water and water sources. A large part of this is due to industry consumption. Particularly in communities in the Global South which have had multinationals and/or governments misuse and pollute local water sources for production’s sake. Watercourses are protected internationally by the “no-harm” principle in international law. That may help with seeking reparations,  but there is nothing concrete to prevent harm being done in the first place.

Harms to water sources create water stress, not only for humans but also for all living ecosystems that rely upon water for survival. The consequences are dire and cyclical. It affects food systems, livelihoods, even reactional activities. In short, it affects both human and ecological wellbeing and threatens our ability to satisfy both basic and psychological needs.

So, let’s put a spin on this. If we viewed water not as a right, but as a guarantor of both human and ecological wellbeing that must be protected and cared for to be utilized, would that change anything? Should it then not just be a question of society’s needs, but environmental ones too? The first step might be to also ask: what does water need to ensure its continual and safe replenishment?

Personifying ecological resources, for example, is a practice and worldview taken by Indigenous Peoples for generations, and it may help better ensure sustainability by changing the way we look at our natural resources. This practice has been ratified in law in a handful of cases where local jurisdictions uphold the Rights of the Nature, such as the constitutional amendments in Ecuador which recognise such rights, or the treaty ratified in New Zealand with the Māori iwi recognising the Whanganui River as a legal entity.

Complementing the right of water should therefore be the application of environmental personhood – providing water itself rights to exist and survive in good health. These two ideas need to harmonize each other because, without water, there is no life – human or otherwise. On the contrary, without humans, water will continue to flow and perhaps thrive, without the threats of overuse and pollution. Unfortunately, we humans cannot say the same about water.

Path to and beyond COP26 : why it’s important and what needs to happen Pt II

Photo by robin thakur on Pexels.com

Time to shift power relations


In my last post, I looked at why COP26 is important for our climate future. Nonetheless, global efforts will mean nothing if not everyone has a seat at the table. In that respect, the fourth goal of COP26 ‘Working Together’, cannot simply be an empty symbolic gesture or conflated lip service to include marginalised groups in negotiations, it will have to be followed by key historical political commitments to shift the balance of power in climate policy and action. If COP26 becomes another cog in the machine of neoliberal climate diplomacy nothing will change. The first responses must be systemic and structural. All paths forward will rely on wholesale systemic change.


More power to historically excluded groups


The reality is that G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of all climate emissions. The neoliberal approach to climate change and sustainability has not worked so far. Historic development policies have led the world into this rabbit hole of unequal consequences that have inflamed a climatic response to emissions output, linked to the rise and domination of fossil fuels.


Global international development has been somewhat of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. On the one hand promising to bring every society to the same standards of development of the West, and on the other allowing countries in the Global North to pillage the natural resources of those in the Global South, which has resulted in more economic injustices that letting those societies ‘develop’ on their own terms.

This historic and accepted practice of richer nations raping the earth in poorer nations to augment and continue wealth accumulation in the name of ‘economic growth’ has shown to be a major (if not the worst) culprit in the climate disaster. The extraction, exploitation and exportation of natural resources – not only fossil fuels, but also large-scale water, wood, cement, sand and other natural resources – has hands down been the biggest contributor of climate change according to the science. The intention, however, is linear: take from resource rich, economically poor countries and give to economically rich countries who are resource-intense users. This has to change, but it cannot unless those who have been on the receiving end of its consequences have a privileged seat at the table.


The mainstream notion of Sustainable Development recognises that changes must be made, that we must move away from a fossil fuel economy, but the structures and systems that keep power in place are still rampant. In that respect, if real transformative change is to be achieved post-COP26, it is acceptable to ask: is this the end of Sustainable Development (as we know it)?


Genuine, transformative and effective solutions will require more voices at the table. This means that the way we have known and practiced ‘development’ around the world will need to change to become more inclusive, more equitable, and consequently less taxing on the environment.


A balance of power towards the groups that have historically been excluded (especially Indigenous, traditional communities, and women) or had their voices ‘white-washed’ in climate negotiations to include more socially and ecologically just approaches or even alternatives to Sustainable ‘Development’ will be an unequivocal factor in finding effective solutions going forward. Strengthening the trust between people and global diplomatic actions can be achieved by this inclusivity, as can maintaining an element of hope.


By decolonising knowledge and approaches to how we interact with the environment, we have the potential to find sustainable solutions and trans formatively change the way society views its role in nature from one that has a right to dominate and exploit nature for the satisfaction of human desires, to one that sees its own wellbeing as impacted by the health of the environment and as such seeks to act as a caretaker of environmental rights and wellbeing.

This decolonisation includes centring valuable intelligence from Indigenous peoples, women, and people of colour (who are generally on the margins of knowledge in policy, but who have a historical record of being at the centre of environmental impacts, otherwise called intersectional environmentalism) in policy and decision-making for climate change and environmental management. Indigenous peoples in particular have not only innovation solutions that focus on collective outcomes, but have unique knowledge of the land and how to live in harmony with nature.


The use and exploitation of fossil fuels are a primary driver, that is sure and scientifically proven, but other extractive sectors have a gigantic responsibility in pushing us into a climate emergency. These industries prop up the consumerist society and support throw-away cultures that have a growing disconnect between spontaneous, self-indulgent or convenient whims, the natural source of the product and how it ultimately impacts the earth – think of the dire state of water and food (in)security, and the global impacts of deforestation on air quality, biodiversity and climatic events.


Indigenous peoples in particular know that all interactions with the environment have an equal or greater reaction on humans, and so the capitalist level exploitation of (note: not use of) all natural resources must be curbed significantly. In concepts like Buen Vivir, Indigenous knowledge also interacts and cooperates with other knowledge such as Western technical knowledge to co-create solutions that pursue the same goal.


I will say it again, this inclusivity cannot be a mere symbolic gest. The Indigenous groups who have and will be travelling to Glasgow are expecting to be heard, and to have their concerns and solutions included and highlighted in negotiations. At this point in history, we have more to lose than to gain by continuing down the dominant path to climate action.


More power to let people lead change


People in societies everywhere are bound by their own access to power within political systems that may or may not support community-led processes. Where vital progress will be made is where governments, both national and local, create the structures and systems for allowing communities not only to become involved in decision-making, but also in leading the decisions around their local environments and communities.


For many communities this will take not just political will, but educational and advocacy campaigns to get people involved in scenarios where they have traditionally let people in power lead the charge. Still, it starts with political will and systemic change. In frameworks like Buen Vivir this might look like local governments prioritising a cross-section of different community voices to be key decisionmakers, driven by Indigenous knowledge. This can be played out in participatory budgeting models and peoples’ assemblies. The point is people are at the core of climate action and should be prioritised as such.


So, to summarise, while COP26 will be a pivotal moment in climate diplomacy for the future of our planet, it must be accompanied by a decolonisation of knowledge to allow and prioritise other voices and knowledge in solutions going forward. Transformative change will be closer if we do so, but this will also need to be accompanied by a change in the global economic system. Some say it is already underway, other say not anywhere near as radical or as fast as it needs to be. I will discuss this in the final post of this series on COP26.

Further reading:

COP26 Coalition Global Day of Action and People’s Summit
Systems Change Alliance
UNFCC Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform
IPCC Report and Indigenous Solutions
COP26 and Indigenous Leadership

Regenerating and Restoring the planet goes beyond Earth Day. Here’s how we can do it

Our world is broken in many ways, compounded by climate change and biodiversity loss. Human impacts have had a profound effect on the changes in nature.

Humans have led to a broken world. It’s time to for us restore the earth! For today, Earth Day 2021, that is the theme.

The global pandemic highlights the urgency of environmental action at every level of society. Restoring the earth doesn’t just mean relying on government action, it’s  a reminder that we all have to come together and contribute to a brighter future – one of hope.

‘Sustainability’ is no longer enough. ‘Sustainable development’ hasn’t worked. Let’s change the narrative. Let’s look at other approaches that can reconcile our society with the planet that sustains us. We have the opportunity to turn away business-as-usual, challenge the staus quo and regenerate and renew the earth.

We can do this by shifting our behaviours, and changing our worldviews on our role and relationship with nature. This involves deep societal change. But in the words of Martin Luther King, “today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Earth Day should not be just symbolic, however, it’s an opportunity to continue the conversations of change which can lead to real, practical transformation. Here some ways all levels of society can do so from individuals,  communities, industry and governments:

• Prioritise Indigenous and traditional knowledge and incorporate them in public policy and decision making.


• Look towards ideas like Buen Vivir that seek to restore the connection between people and nature, and between each other. This means moving away from a transactional society and towards collaborative living and collective socio-eco wellbeing.


• Start implementing and supporting regenerative activities like regenerative farming, agriculture, gardening, and tourism.


• Educate. Teach the next generations what can be done for the future, and instill a reciprocal planet-people mindset. Centre Indigenous and traditional approaches to resources in education.


• Move to a circular and regenerative economy, and localising that through social and solidarity economies that connect producers with consumers and provide equitable outcomes.


• Change consumption patterns with cooperation between people, governments, business, and organisations. At the most basic level this can involve tree planting; reductions in energy consumption and waste by individuals and industry, supported by effective policy; better waste management solutions incorporating new technologies.


• Support research in and harness sustainable technologies to support a circular and regenerative economy, and help support individual efforts.


• Declarations of a climate emergency coupled with effective strategies and policies to implement necessary changes.


• Celebrate and promote a ‘culture of restoration and regeneration’ through art, music and storytelling to motivate and inspire action.

A Reset for Unprecedented Times

Maria Zambrano* lives in the highlands of Ecuador’s Cotacachi Canton, home to two of the world’s 36 internationally recognized biodiversity hots pots. It is also home to a people fiercely committed to their own social and environmental well-being. Zambrano is an Indigenous Ecuadorian of the Kichwa people. Sitting at a café in Cotacachi, the seamstress is dressed in a black wrap-around skirt and a traditional embroidered white shirt, on which she’s done all the embroidery. The colorful stitching, she explains, is symbolic of her land, depictions of the connection between humans and Pachamama, which she uses to refer to Mother Earth. Pachamama, she says, is at the heart of everything she does.

Read more

Published in Yes! Magazine Winter 2020 https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/what-the-rest-of-the-world-knows/2020/11/03/a-reset-for-unprecedented-times/

Let’s embrace traditional knowledges for climate and social justice

When I was seven years old, I visited my grandmother in Kenya. I remember a story my father told me, that he had built her a Western style house of bricks and mortar, and she outright refused to live in it. She was more comfortable in her traditional hut. She knew her land, how to cultivate it, how to rear her animals, all of this impacted by the seasons.

Nowadays, climate change has wreaked havoc on the seasons. Traditional knowledge has had to adapt, but Western knowledge relies on science and technology which often involves time and a steep learning curve through scientific research.

What if we decolonise knowledge and practices of ecological management and development, to incorporate more traditional knowledge into environmental practices, health and wellbeing, agriculture and disaster management? What if we really embrace traditional knowledges in mitigating and adapting to climate change related threats?

Traditional knowledges have been passed down for generations and include skills, practices, knowledge systems of particular local communities, cultures, and geographic and geological areas. They understand the challenges and have the capabilities to confront them.

Traditional cultures and Indigenous peoples globally have a complex interconnected and spiritual relationship with nature. The belief is that “if you look after Mother Earth she will look after you”.

For Indigenous peoples, the delicate maintenance of biodiversity underpins belief systems, wellbeing and cultural heritage. For generations their knowledge has sustained the biodiversity of their lands, but these practices are being lost through Western development.

Every year we are facing more intense and more challenging threats to our environments and wellbeing. Isn’t it time that we brought back these traditional knowledges as part of wider policies and practices for environmental management?

The 2019-20 Australian bushfires devastated World Heritage areas across the country. More than 6 million hectares of land has been burnt devastating lives, biodiversity and the environment. Up to 100 threatened animal and plant species were affected, and an estimated 1 billion animals were lost.

This was a tragedy of historical proportions.

Not only could the intensity and duration of the fires have been lessened by incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices into policy, but cultural burning also enhances biodiversity. In the age of climate change we are facing new challenges; old ways of approaching sustainable land management no longer work. To come back to my earlier question: yes! It is time to incorporate traditional knowledge to better preserve our global biodiversity.

It is not only a question of ecological management, but also of climate justice. Traditional and Indigenous communities are likely to be the most affected by the impacts of climate change, yet they are the ones who have caused the least ecological damage.

“Climate justice recognises the wealth of Indigenous knowledge that exists in relation to ecological management, and the coping strategies that Indigenous peoples have already developed in order to deal with climate stressors over the thousands of years that they have managed the land” (IPMPCC 2011).

There has been much research into the decolonisation of traditional and Indigenous knowledge, particularly as both climate change and mitigation, and also for climate justice. Yet, policymakers are still failing to fully embrace them.

Since the bushfires this summer, there has been a renewed push to look to Indigenous cultural practices for bushfire management. So, this is starting to change…but, slowly. Last week, as reported by the ABC, Western Australian state government had made progressive steps in that direction.  In a new program run by WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and volunteers will be trained on Indigenous cultural burning techniques. It’s a great start, but we need more.

While indigenous knowledge in ecological management is vital, it is crucial that we also extend this practice to all parts of development practice and traditional knowledges. Traditional knowledges will be an important aspect of tackling climate change and related social injustices going forward.

The 2019-20 bushfires highlighted the fact that we must decolonise knowledge to achieve real change.

The neoliberal approach to the environment, to ecological practices, social equity and economic development has not and is not working. To ensure that we change the status quo, policy has to follow.

This type of hybrid knowledge and practice type approach is akin to what is advocated under Buen Vivir. It’s about decolonising knowledge and environmental practices, away from neoliberal and colonial mindsets about what is ‘right for the land, its biodiversity and it’s people for that matter.

 Incorporating traditional knowledges into policy and merging them with Western scientific and technical knowledge can lead to not only safer, but also more environmentally and socially just outcomes.

Want to read more on traditional and Indigenous knowledge? Here are some resources:

International Indigneous People’s Forum on Climate Change http://www.iipfcc.org/home

Adapting Agriculture with Traditional Knowledge PDF

Protecting our Pollinators through Indigenous Knowledge CSIRO

Vulnerability and Resilience in a World of Change UNESCO

Gupta & Katti 2009, Indigenous ecological knowledge as social capital: How citizen science can help us replenish the bank in Nature PDF