Amy Holly: Standing up for Irene: climate change and women

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      By Amy Holly

      This Sunday (November 29), I’ll be marching in downtown Vancouver carrying a huge image of Irene.

      Irene is a small-scale farmer from Zambia. She is one of the 3.5 billion poorest people who have the most at stake as global warming reaches epic levels.  

      I will be carrying Irene because for far too long Irene has carried me. She has been bearing the burden of my actions; of my contribution to the world’s ever rising CO2 emissions. She has been bearing the brunt of our shared failure to hold our government accountable to climate justice.

      We all know that climate change is a huge environmental issue, but it’s actually much more than that. 

      It is also a human rights issue, a poverty issue, and a gender equality issue.

      For too long, our leaders have ignored the images of stranded polar bears and burning forests. Maybe it’s time we looked at the human face of climate change.

      Yes, climate change will affect you and I; and on a greater scale our children and our grandchildren. But it’s time to acknowledge that our actions are making an even greater impact on the global poor than anyone else.

      Poor women are least responsible for climate change and most burdened by its impact

      • Women in the global south become even more vulnerable as rainfall becomes unpredictable. Walking greater distances to collect water means there is less time to earn a living or study. Quite simply, development is stunted. Long and remote treks also put women at a greater risk of violence.
      • The majority of the world’s small-scale farmers are women. Women produce the majority of the world’s food, and as crops fail, farmers and their families will suffer.
      • As drought leads to war, violence against women will surge.
      • When natural disasters strike, more women die than men.

      And the list goes on. As Irene and I march together on Sunday (with a team of some 20 Oxfam volunteers), we will be demanding climate justice because climate change disproportionately affects women living in poverty in every corner of this planet.

      We’re hopeful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna will do Canadians proud at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), taking place from November 30 to December 11 in Paris, France. Trudeau is a self-proclaimed feminist who has already shown the world that he means business by appointing a cabinet with gender parity and McKenna has an impressive track record as a humanitarian, UN advisor, and a human rights and social justice lawyer. They won’t abandon Irene and I, will they?

      For Paris to be a success, the world needs the 25,000 delegates attending to be bold and decisive as they come to a decision on what will be a legally binding agreement.

      There are two issues that cannot be ignored in Paris next week.

      If COP21 is successful we’ll be hearing about an agreement across the 190 attending nations regarding:

      • A commitment to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions so that we don’t cross the ‘point of no return’; the 2 degrees Celsius change tipping point that would mean there is no going back for Planet Earth.
      • The prioritization of adaptation funding; to make sure there are significant funds to support nations (and in particular the women) who are impacted by the climate change that they were not responsible for.

      Vancouver is aiming for the title of the World’s Greenest City by 2020, which is an even greater achievement knowing that Canada is the country with the ninth highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Per capita it is even more dismal; Canada is the fourth worst country for emissions in the world.  

      With a new government and a fresh momentum for change, we are all hopeful that Canada will lead the way in dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And as Vancouverites, we should be proudly at the forefront of Canada’s dedication to climate justice.

      The cancellation of Climate Action marches in Paris means that what we do on our doorstops is even more important. The world’s leaders will pay attention if we come out in force to stand up for our planet—and stand up for Irene. 

      Look out for Amy, Irene, and Oxfam Canada at the Global Climate March at the Vancouver Art Gallery on November 29 at 1 p.m.