Climate resilience in Africa needs more women leaders

No one is safe, until everyone is safe” are the cautionary words from Amujae Leader, Bogolo J. Kenewendo, in her recent piece for global news opinion site Project Syndicate.

Addressing the risks that climate change poses to global stability, Bogolo Kenewendo’s article was a commanding call to arms for the international community to help poorer nations if we have any chance of “averting a catastrophe”.

And she couldn’t be better placed to comment. Former minister for Botswana, global economist and international trade and development specialist, in 2022, Bogolo Kenewendo was also appointed as the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions’ Special Advisor, Africa Director.

It’s a position that unmistakably carries a huge burden of responsibility. The latest 2023 IPCC report, AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023, announces there is now a more than 50% chance that global temperature rise will reach or surpass 1.5 degrees C between 2021 and 2040.

With almost half of the world’s population living in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, some nations are more impacted than others. Africa specifically ‘stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world’, despite accounting for only 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, four out of five African countries are unlikely to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030 .

The gender gap is one of the less-talked-about climate injustices. The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that 80% of people displaced by the climate crisis are women. Across the world, the gender food insecurity gap is widening from less than 2% in 2019 to more than 4% in 2021 for example, with 32% of women versus 28% of men moderately or severely food insecure.

Women tend to be more impacted for a myriad of reasons. They are more likely to live in poverty than men, face systematic violence that often rises during periods of instability and have less access to basic human rights, like the ability to freely move and acquire land. In many societies, they also tend to be more responsible for household energy, food, water and care for the young and elderly, all of which become deeply disrupted by climate change – be it dealing with the aftermath of one-off floods, or having to walk further to collect their daily water.

It is not least thanks to women leaders at the frontlines of advocacy, community and public service initiatives that the issue of inequity is finally being addressed. Countries with high representation of women in parliament are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties, and where women have higher social and political status, their countries have 12% lower CO2 emissions. The U.N. also states that when provided the same resources as men, women can increase agricultural yields by 20-30%, reducing hunger by 12-17%.

This serves as powerful inspiration to keep pushing for more African women leaders. For Bogolo Kenewendo, one of the biggest keys, especially for global stability as a whole, is large-scale investments; “to bolster global security and resilience, we must acknowledge that adaptation finance is an unavoidable necessity”… Developed countries must also step up and ensure that lower-income countries on the frontlines of climate change can strengthen their resilience.

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