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“Gendering climate and sustainability”: why bother?

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“Gendering climate and sustainability”[1]: why bother?

That was the title of a three-day conference in Denmark, preceding the UN Climate Change Negotiations, in 2009. Gender climate means considering women and men different interests, needs and choices in climate change questions. It is fairly easy to understand how situations can be different for women and men in Africa because of highly gendered roles directly linked to natural resources (food, heat and water) and the overall absence of women power in decision-making bodies. But countries such as Canada (at least Québec) and the Nordic countries should also include gender in climate questions, sustainable development and climate mitigation. Three reasons stand out: researchers have produce results showing that consuming habits (ecological footprint), climate change and approaches towards risk and use of technology are gendered.

Women have a lesser impact on environment than men

As said by researcher Gerd Latham-Johnsson in a report presented to the UN in 2008:

“If women’s consumption levels were to be the norm, both emissions and climate change would be significantly less than today. To put it differently, if men were to change their behavior, emissions and climate change might be a much more limited problem as compared to what it is today”.

These results are consistent with other surveys and can be used to adjust awareness campaigns in order to better target men in reducing their own ecological footprint while reinforcing women’s behavior to protect the environment. Awareness campaigns, policies, strategies or even analysis would gain by being done with a gender perspective. Fighting sexist clichés can be a greener action than one thinks.

Technology, energy, banking and politics: worlds with very few women

Choice of technology, energy investments and politics, use of natural resources, all these decisions are usually done mainly by men, and sometimes only by men. According to researcher Sven-Ove Hansson, this lack of gender equality in decision-making bodies is a problem, for example, when it comes to risks: women are way less enthusiastic regarding nuclear energy than men and rely less on technological solutions, but would rather put forward solutions that include human considerations. As we are facing oil peak, more severe climate changes and major energy-related accidents such as the Fukushima tragedy, the oil spills or water contamination with shale gas, we must break the status quo in decision-making : the urgence to switch from risky energy production (nuclear, fossil fuels, coal) to green energy production must be acknowledged and we need to speed up on a large scale. The only way to challenge the fossil/nuclear development is to have different people at the table, i.e. women AND men, in order to benefit from the gender equality effects. Right now, as some men have been replaced by women as prime ministers and as main bank directors, thus creating more gender equal decision-making bodies, Iceland is already recovering from the 2008 crisis[2], according to the OECD. We need to do the same with in climate change and sustainability issues. By including more women along with men, broader views, different expertise and experiences can be discussed in innovative ways. Our damaged Earth desperately needs gender equality in order for us to survive.

Notes

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