Because it’s 2020: Climate change pushing gender equality, sustainable development further off track

Although climate change affects everybody, it does not affect everybody equally

By Shaughn McArthur, Policy and Influence Lead, CARE Canada

One year ago, humanitarian organizations mobilized to respond to back-to-back cyclones – Idai and Kenneth – that claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The situation was catastrophic. Winds reached speeds of about 200 kilometers per hour. For weeks, people sought refuge on top of roofs, trees and school buildings, to escape floodwaters that reached up to eight meters in height. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods.

Over one year later, an estimated 2.5 million people, almost 10% of the population, still rely on humanitarian aid. More than 1.6 million people don't have enough food – a number that is expected to increase in the coming months, after below-average rainfall in southern Mozambique resulted in poor harvests. A month-long drought in Southern Africa has left millions more in need.

Widely touted as one of the worst climate-related disasters, Idai prompted a flood of media articles examining the science connecting climate change and extreme weather. One after another, the scientists confirmed that there is “absolutely no doubt” that climate change causes a higher frequency and intensity of storms.

The prolonged drought across Southern Africa received substantially less media attention, despite causing food shortages affecting 45 million people. However, the science confirms that global temperatures are rising at twice the global average in the region. Readers can make their own deductions.

A new normal

Cycles of severe drought, floods and storms have become the new normal in many parts of the world. The projected impacts are of dizzying proportions.

Take hunger, for example. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that climate change is reversing decades of decline in global hunger, which affected 821 million people last year. The Global Commission on Adaptation predicts that climate change could depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30% by 2050. The 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected.

How about forced displacement? The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre attributes 87% of all forced displacement to weather-related hazards like flood and drought. Without strong preventive action, climate change could push the total number of permanently displaced people as high as 250 million between now and 2050. That’s in contrast to the 70.8 million people who are forcibly displaced today – the highest number on record.

Competition over increasingly scarce natural resources is also driving instability and conflict. Data from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification shows an overlap between areas that have suffered droughts and desertification, and conflict in the last decade. It is estimated that a 5% change in rainfall in Sub-Saharan Africa increases the likelihood of conflict in the following year by 50%. Last May, The Economist joined the chorus of experts attributing the perma-conflict in the ecologically depleted Lake Chad Basin – best known for the likes of Boko Haram and the Chibok Girls – to climate change.

Putting the costs associated with hunger, displacement, conflict, damaged property and lost livelihoods together, the economist and Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus estimates that developing countries are already bearing up to 80% of the costs of climate change. No wonder the World Bank predicts that, without urgent action, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, eroding decades of progress in social and economic development.

Although climate change affects everybody, it does not affect everybody equally. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, women and girls are highly dependent on local natural resources, and are more likely to be vulnerable to climate variability impacts than men.

When crops fail, for example, women and girls eat last and worst. When rural livelihoods become unsustainable, men and boys tend to migrate to cities, leaving women and girls to sustain more precarious livelihoods. It is estimated that at least one in five women refugees in complex humanitarian settings has experienced sexual violence and its effects, including trauma, stigma, poverty, poor health and unwanted pregnancy. Poor women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die in climate-fuelled disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones.

Because it’s 2020

So, while the quantity of assistance to countries on the front lines of climate change is critical, the quality of that assistance determines whether it reaches the people that need it most. Simple as it seems, this truism must be front and centre as Canada prepares to meet two key deadlines in 2020.

The first is the deadline, established under the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, for industrialized countries to mobilize USD $100 billion, balanced between adaptation and mitigation, to help developing countries withstand the impacts of climate change. As Canada prepares its next international climate finance package, it should be reminded that Canada’s fair share of the $100 billion target amounts to $1.8 billion in public finance – more than double its current annual commitment. It should also be reminded that women and girls need help building their resilience to the impacts of climate change, not mitigating their already negligible carbon footprints. To this end, Canada should increase the proportion of its international climate finance going towards adaptation from the current 34%, to at least 50%. It should also ring-fence a proportion of this money for local-level, gender-responsive programs, less it windup being diverted to flashy big-ticket investments on display.

The second deadline maturing in 2020 is that established under the Grand Bargain, under which Canada, along with other humanitarian donors and aid agencies, agreed to direct at least 25 percent of humanitarian funding to local and national responders. Canada should go one step further, and commit at least 15 percent of its humanitarian funding to local women’s rights organizations. Women and girls in fragile contexts are also leading creative approaches to respond, adapt and recover, often acting as first responders, community organizer’s and peace-builders, yet they are severely under-resourced – receiving just 3% of humanitarian funding.

Climate change will continue to drive humanitarian need. The ever-rising demands on humanitarian resources over the past several years should serve as a bellwether that something needs to change. By investing more in adaptation and resilience, and by putting resources in the hands of those best-placed to prepare for disasters before they occur and lead the recovery once the storm surges subside, Canada can both save lives and minimize the need for costly emergency responses.

Canada has several strong policy frameworks in place to support this shift. Both its Feminist International Assistance Policy and its Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action policy talk about supporting local responses. Yet the way its finances flow don’t yet reflect these commitments. 2020 will put those policies to the test.

Make your voice heard by the Government of Canada. Petition e-2395 calls upon the Government of Canada to commit at least 50% of Canada's public climate finance for developing countries towards adaptation - ways to lower the risks posed by the consequences of climate change. The petition also calls for at least 15% of Canada's public climate finance be directed towards projects that target gender equality as a primary objective.

Shaughn McArthur

Shaughn McArthur is CARE Canada’s Policy and Influence Lead