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The women leading the fight against climate change

Image credit: Greta Thunberg (Creative Commons: Wikimedia)

Women around the world are at the forefront of the climate crisis. They are not only fighting on the frontlines but they are also the ones most affected by climate change, especially women of colour. And yet women are so often the least empowered to act on it. A list of 100 solutions to reverse global warming formulated by Project Drawdown ranks educating girls as the sixth most important. This is a point not lost on experts. Indeed, prominent women around the world are leading action on climate change.

The climate crisis evades strict classification. It needs to be tackled on a local, state, national and international level. It also bleeds across the spheres of security, diplomacy, agriculture and into almost all aspects of political and social life. Labelling it the biggest challenge of our time is no act of hyperbole. But the shared nature of the problem gives way to the implicit tension over the question of how nations will share the burden.

Shared responsibility, disproportionate impact

As Dr Hilda Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has pointed out, Australia has fallen far behind when it comes to climate action. In her 2017 St Lee Lecture at the Australian National University, Dr Heine said that this inaction risks the nation's international reputation and the way it is seen in the Pacific. Dr Heine is the first female President of the Marshall Islands and a strong believer in women as effective agents of change. In fact, she posits that putting decision-making into the hands of local communities and indigenous women is the 'clearest path to ensuring a just climate response'.

Dr Heine's home country is at the vanguard. The Marshall Islands is composed of over one thousand low-lying islands and islets. The nation is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Global action is essential to the survival of the Marshall Islands, especially action from powerful Pacific neighbours.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — the youngest female head of government in the world — has time and time again put action on climate change not only at the forefront of her agenda in New Zealand but on the international stage.

Ardern has not only committed New Zealand to be a leader on climate change mitigation, but has called international actors to attention. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Ardern urged governments to be on the right side of history and combat climate change. A call that mimics that of Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US, who tweeted that climate delayers aren't much better than climate deniers.

A Green New Deal

Across the Pacific in the United States, it is similarly women who are taking leadership on climate change. Varshini Prakash is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organisation who played an important role campaigning for the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Edward J. Markey is a political hot topic in the US. Ocasio-Cortez, a political phenomenon in her own right, has demonstrated her impressive ability to set the agenda in Washington. Her uncompromising approach to the debate has kept the pressure up on the Congress to take decisive action on climate change. The Green New Deal is sitting comfortably atop news lists and has been for months.

The Green New Deal does not only put climate action and justice on the agenda in US politics, but it represents a first step in defining the problem, according to Ocasio-Cortez. The reimagining of economic and social structures to decarbonise the US economy describes the radical changes needed to solve the climate crisis. The Deal tackles all sectors, including transportation, which is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. A proposal for the rollout of high-speed rail across the country (to replace air travel) is included in the resolution.

Indeed, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (pictured above) said if she was asked to attend the United Nations climate summit in New York City, that she would sail there, adding that she had learned that travelling to New York via container ship would have the smallest carbon footprint. Talk the talk and sail the sail.

Thunberg is perhaps the woman whose climate action has resonated the most around the world recently. Her frank voice cuts through the spin, debate and confusion surrounding climate change — at COP24 in Poland last year Thunberg called out world leaders for their inaction, telling them they were “acting like children”. And Thunberg's power does not stop there. Her initial simple act of protest, sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament with a sign reading "school strike for the climate" has snowballed into an international youth-led movement. The next major global school strike for climate is set for the 15th of March, and thus far almost 500 protests have been listed on in countries from Japan to Chile to Iran.

The connection between women’s empowerment and climate solutions is undeniable. The intersection of climate solutions with social structures, however, does not stop there. As evidenced in the Green New Deal’s proposals, the way forward in solving the climate crisis is not through one sole path. It must not only be inclusive but expansive, and women have to be part of the solution. Emily Contador-Kelsall is a Journalism and International Studies graduate from the University of Technology Sydney and is a content creator for 1 Million Women.

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