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ESG - climate of inequality

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By Praveen Gupta

· 5 min read

Climate change can surely be accused of its own biases – the Global South and women being two of the worst affected.

While the sub-Saharan region of Africa reels under the unfolding tragedy of climate change and small island states bear the existential brunt of rising seas, there are close to a billion women across South Asia facing a myriad of consequences – floods, droughts, heat, precipitation, deforestation, pollution and health conditions.

Furthermore, for those working in the unorganised sector – characterised by small and scattered workplaces, largely outside the control of the government – the climate crisis endangers women’s health as well as their livelihoods. Social injustices only add to this perilous situation.

“Because women and girls constitute an estimated 80% of the population displaced by climate change, as the crisis intensifies it will amplify gender inequality and uniquely threaten women’s livelihoods, health and safety,”

warns Arup Chatterjee of the Asian Development Bank.

“It will also hamper their capacity and potential to lead, make decisions and take action to combat climate risks.”

Predicted impact

A report by the World Bank on the impact of climate change in South Asia arising from changes in average temperature and precipitation, titled 'South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards', highlights two future climate scenarios.

One is classed as “climate-sensitive”, where some collective action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions; and the other as “carbon-intensive”, in which no action is taken. Both scenarios show rising temperatures throughout the region in the coming decades, with the carbon-intensive scenario leading to greater increases. Expected changes in rainfall patterns are more complex in both scenarios.

Changes in average weather are projected to have overall negative impacts on living standards in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with negative impacts even more severe under the carbon-intensive scenario. Unlike sea-level rises and extreme weather events, changes in average weather will affect inland areas the most.

The report also reminds us that it is estimated more than 800 million people – almost half of South Asia’s population – currently live in areas that are projected to become moderate to severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario.

“Climate change impacts women’s health, seriously affecting their natural body rhythms and cycles. With women taking on more responsibilities – well beyond the primary nurturer role – severe climate disruption will act as a double whammy for most women in South Asia,”

says Dr. Rasika Birewar, a healthcare professional.

Incomes also suffer for South Asia’s female home workers as heat rises in cities across India, Nepal and Bangladesh, meaning increasing numbers spend less time at their informal jobs and earn less, according to HomeNet South Asia.

Durreen Shahnaz, founder of Impact Investment Exchange, says conferences in the Global North talk often of the important role of women. She wonders, however, how many truly recognise the power of women within Global South economies and see them as being part of the solution rather than victims of climate change.

“Women form the gender-climate nexus as solution providers. They hold the key to climate adaptation and mitigation, yet more often than not, they are left out of the conversation,”

says Shahnaz.

Leading the response

So, what action is being taken? Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangladesh is one example – a women’s initiative that helps communities in Bangladesh adapt by addressing extreme weather conditions. The initiative, implemented by ActionAid Bangladesh, brings together groups of women who lead vulnerability assessments of climate risks, then identify and implement action plans.

The Clinton Global Initiative recently announced the creation of the Climate Resilience Fund for Women, with India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Partnering with Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, the fund aims to help 2.5 million female workers in the informal economy who are disproportionately affected by climate impacts – especially extreme heat – causing health conditions and illnesses, so greatly diminishing their income.

The fund has also launched the Extreme Heat Income Insurance, a parametric microinsurance cover that replaces lost income for 21,000 women in seven trades – head loaders, ship breakers, construction and home-based workers, street vendors, farmers, salt pan workers and waste recyclers – in which the women of the SEWA work. This income replacement will arrive in members’ bank accounts when health-harming extreme heat conditions (not just temperature) exist. The offering is intended to quickly migrate to a forecast-based parametric and will include other interventions, health early warnings, infrastructure and participant engagement.

“Therefore, in addressing climate change, gender mainstreaming can provide an endorsed pathway to advance investments in mitigation and adaptation solutions,”

continues Chatterjee.

In addition, he suggests, a population-based response to the crisis is needed, in which women are seen as individuals with their own needs, limitations and contexts. Mitigation policies should then be designed appropriately.

Gender parity, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, is not recovering. It will take another 132 years, it says, to close this gap.

As crises compound, female workforces suffer and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further intensifies. The situation in much of South Asia remains challenged. As environmentalist and author Naomi Klein warns:

“Every disaster will intensify pre-existing inequalities. It is inequality that kills.”

This article is also published on The Journal. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Praveen Gupta was the second most-read author in the environment and sustainability space for illuminem in 2022. A former insurance CEO and a Chartered Insurer, he devotes his time to researching, writing, and speaking on diverse subjects. His blog captures much of his work.

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