Sung-ok Lee is the Assistant General Secretary of the Section of Christian Social Action, Women’s Division of the United Methodist Women.
For many in government and industry circles, the discussion around the topic of climate change crisis focuses on energy efficiency, cap and trades and adjusting environmental policy to meet financial and economic ends. For people all over the world, it’s a very real crisis, the effects of which they are already witnessing. But for many people of faith, including me, climate change is a primary moral challenge of our time, and the upcoming United Nations Summit on Climate Change gives us a unique opportunity to call attention to the need to reverse this dangerous trend.
As believers, we see the need to tackle climate change as a matter of social justice. Yes, it’s true that we cherish and want to preserve Creation, but we are also keenly aware that while the poorest 1 billion people on the planet are responsible for only 3 percent of total emissions, they disproportionately bear the brunt of the devastating effects of climate change as their homelands suffer exacerbated droughts and floods, unpredictable rain patterns and crop failures. By contrast, the U.S. and other wealthy nations have benefited greatly from growth and prosperity fueled by carbon-based economies. Although our nation comprises only about 4-5% of the world’s population, we are responsible for about 25% of historical emissions.
I am also concerned about the effects of climate change on women and girls the world over. This week, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) released a report called State of World Population 2009. What it reveals in terms of the impact of global warming on women and girls around the world is startling. The report points out that the female half of the world’s population is indeed disproportionately more affected by the effects of climate change.
While it’s true that all around the planet people are feeling the effects of global warming, women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable because they tend to make up a larger share of the agricultural workforce and typically don’t have access to income-generating opportunities. Because they are in charge of households and family care, women are limited in their mobility, so that when tragedy strikes in the form of weather-related natural disasters, they are highly susceptible to the loss of livelihood, home, loved ones or event their own lives.
UNFPA’s report highlights how girls often drop out of school to help their mothers secure food, water and energy. As climate affects their livelihoods, women often bear the increased financial burden by taking on extra jobs to support their families. Of greater consequence is that while stuck in this cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality, these women and girls are unable to build the necessary social capital – like education, political power, and influence in their communities – to effectively take on climate change.
As global leaders gather in Copenhagen next month for the UN Summit on Climate Change, a four-person delegation of United Methodist Women committed to social justice will travel to Denmark to lend their voices to the women and the many others who are not able to attend and speak for themselves. The team hopes to meet fellow advocates and learn what other organizations and governments the world over are doing to combat climate change. The delegation will not only to press for strong, binding and fair greenhouse gas emissions targets, but will also demand that the U.S. join other nations to provide adaptation aid to the most vulnerable communities.
It is crucial that the governments of the U.S. and other industrialized nations responsible for greenhouse gas emissions implement effective and comprehensive, science-based approaches to reversing global warming. As women of faith and advocates for social justice, we see it as our duty to hold global leaders accountable and ask that they assist developing nations to adapt to climate change, address energy poverty, and grow in ways that reduce poverty while protecting the environment.