Helen Clark: UN Foundation breakfast on women's voices for the top

Dec 7, 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Challenges and Opportunities in the Green economy
Tuesday 7 December 2010, 8.30am

 It is a pleasure to join you today for this breakfast of women leaders.  I have been asked to give a brief overview of how climate change impacts on women, and on how to support women’s involvement in finding solutions and in the green economy.

Emerging research suggests that women in developing countries are especially vulnerable to climate change.  In the first place, women are important primary producers of the world’s staple crops, which are so affected by uncertain rainfall and drought.  In Africa women are responsible for eighty per cent of small scale agriculture.  When women’s role in this sector is accompanied by their often unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, then they do stand to be disproportionately affected by climate change.

Increased water stress and water insecurity in many countries mean that women and young girls are having to walk even further to collect water and biomass for fuel for cooking and heating.  In Kenya, fetching water may use up to 85 per cent of a woman’s daily energy intake.  In times of drought, women will spend up to eight hours a day in search of water.  That impacts on their health, and the time available to engage in productive activities.

The extra vulnerability of women can also be a matter of life and death in time of disaster.  Research now suggests that natural disasters cause more deaths among women than among men.  Women’s vulnerability to disasters is increased by factors like the feminization of poverty, low levels of education which hinder women’s participation in disaster preparedness training, and cultural constraints on women’s movements which may hinder their timely escape.  In the 1991 cyclone disaster in Bangladesh ninety per cent of the victims were women and children.

Yet while women in developing countries face these greater challenges from climate change, their specific needs and knowledge – and their potential as agents of change – have often been overlooked by policy makers and global climate negotiators.

In tackling climate change, women must be recognized as very much part of the solution too.  As stewards of natural and household resources, women are well-placed to identify and to adopt appropriate adaptation strategies and mitigation techniques.  And, when women participate in decision-making and are empowered, there will be many positive benefits for women, men, children, communities and nations.

There is now a huge opportunity to shape our responses to climate change in ways which empower women to contribute to the solutions and to benefit from the green economy.

In the transition to lower-emissions and climate-resilient growth, we need to look for the win-wins for creating jobs, achieving the MDGs, and reducing gender and other  inequalities.

UNDP actively supports women in developing countries to have their voices heard at the decision-making tables, to ensure that climate solutions and the  growth of the green economy involve and benefit women too.  Let me mention a few examples of this work.

Several years ago, UNDP joined forces with other UN and civil society organizations to form the Global Gender and Climate Alliance.  This initiative has advocated for government delegates and practitioners to take the gender dimensions of climate change into account in their work.  We also support women from developing countries to participate in the international  negotiating events – eleven women delegates have been supported to attend this COP 16.

At the policy level, UNDP works with the boards and secretariats of the various climate funds to raise awareness of the gender dimensions of climate change.  We are providing technical support to integrate gender considerations into the funds’ operational frameworks and decision making processes.  Through these efforts, we hope to ensure that both women and men are able to access and control resources which will enable them to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

At the country level, UNDP is currently developing a Women’s Green Business Initiative which will also have government and private sector partners.  It aims to promote green employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women.

The Initiative will be piloted initially in three countries – Bangladesh, Kenya and Rwanda.  It will provide advice and technical support to governments on how to promote women’s economic advancement and training and support services to assist women’s organizations and entrepreneurs to start up and scale up viable businesses which contribute to climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.  These could include businesses using sustainable agricultural practices, or businesses which develop, market, or install renewable energy technologies.

UNDP is also partnering with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,  a new public-private partnership led by the UN Foundation.

Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires causes over 1.5 million premature deaths annually, with women and young children being the most affected.  Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating forces women and children to spend hours collecting wood, often at great personal risk.

The Global  Alliance aims to help 100 million homes adopt clean and efficient cookstoves by 2020.  This will save lives, improve livelihoods, and combat climate change.  Women will be involved throughout, from developing the cookstove and fuel technologies to testing them out.  Female entrepreneurs will also be given opportunities to develop sustainable businesses in the area.

The time to act is now.  Governments, civil society organizations, foundations and the private sector must support win-win approaches which support growth  and sustainable development on the one hand, and protect our climate and the environment on the other.

We must also all commit to enabling women to play their full part in tackling and adapting to climate change.  All of us can be advocates for this, and for women’s concerns and needs being reflected in the emerging climate policy framework and the allocation of resources for climate change initiatives.

I now look forward to hearing the views of our panelists on the role of women in building a green economy.

UNDP Around the world