* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Girls are among the most at risk from climate pressures - but helping them can create wide ranging benefits
Climate change is one of the greatest injustices and tragedies unfolding right before our eyes, and the worst effects are felt by those who play the smallest role in causing the crisis: girls.
As countries meet for the 22nd Conference of Parties in Marrakesh to discuss how to implement last year’s Paris Agreement, much of the discussion will be around mobilizing the promised $100 billion by 2020 required to take action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Countries have realized it will be critical to take urgent action to drastically mitigate, and reduce the global emission of harmful greenhouse gases causing climate change well beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.
While doing so, countries had agreed to help the poorest adapt to impacts already occurring, such as increasingly intense storms, flooding, and prolonged droughts.
Last year alone, about 160 disasters occurred in Asia, and the situation is likely to worsen. The region’s rapid urbanization and population growth are only exacerbating the degree of the problem.
Yet not all populations – particularly poor, marginalized individuals and communities – experience these impacts in the same way. Climate change will wreak havoc on the lives of girls, who already suffer disproportionately in times of natural disasters and extreme weather crises.
When families struggle to produce crops because of changing rainfall patterns, or when they lose their homes due to rising sea levels or flooding, girls are the first to be taken out of school to help supplement the family income.
Jhamu, from Bangladesh says, “families think it’s easier to stop their (girls) schooling. It is not the same case with boys.”
When climate change impacts hit, girls often bear the burden. Of the many complex reasons, one is that girls are expected and required to help with household chores, provide supplemental income for families and care for younger siblings. Girls are seen as either assets or financial burdens.
If a girl is removed from school, she is less likely to be educated, informed and have access to timely and life-saving information, like where to go in the event of a disaster, or how climate change impacts their lives.
In an area of rural Nepal - where crop failures occur frequently and abnormal rainfall is apparent – 59 percent of girls surveyed had never heard of climate change.
Additionally, a government partner from Bangladesh shared that girls are the last to leave their homes in the wake of a disaster: “It is difficult for rescue teams to find the girls… they leave their homes later than boys during cyclones.”
“There is a mass tomb of victims of Cyclone Sidr (a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 2007) and most are women and girls.”
In the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, keeping girls in school not only helped teach girls and other children about how to respond in a disaster, but it helped minimize the risk of child trafficking and girls falling into a viscous cycle of exploitation and poverty.
Keeping girls in school, and equipping them with knowledge and information ensured they were not set back permanently by climate impacts, and they had access to a better future.
GIRLS PART OF THE SOLUTION
Despite this common knowledge and evidence-based research, few investments are made in girls. Even though billions in finance are now available for climate change adaptation, relatively little financing is reaching girls.
Increased finance that supports adaptation programs could go a long way if the funding is spent on girls.
By targeting girls as beneficiaries of climate adaptation programs, we also have the opportunity to address the root causes of inequality and transform the roles of girls in their communities.
An example of how girls can be part of the solution is the story of Shimu from Bangladesh. After learning about climate change in school, she played an active role in disseminating critical knowledge about adaptation practices to her community.
Shimu led the community to prepare for seasonal floods, devised several solutions to ensure clean water would not get contaminated by flood waters, and developed an early warning system to alert the community of potential climate impact-related risks, such as disease outbreaks or flooding.
Shimu’s story demonstrates that girls can be leaders and innovators of climate solutions.
Countries at COP 22 should not overlook the powerful promise behind investing in girls. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change needs to be reconsidered to account for girls.
Programs need to work for and with girls; not only to decrease their vulnerabilities, but to enable girls to play an active role in their future.
Governments must scale-up climate financing as rapidly as possible and outline how they will promote action focused on girls.
Ensuring that adaptation strategies at all levels are geared towards girls, and that countries are held accountable to report on how they are reaching girls, can lead to transformative change. We cannot have an inclusive, climate-resilient future without thinking about girls.
Kimberly Junmookda is a regional climate change specialist for Plan International.