Earlier this week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment stating: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” It is here and impacting all of us. This biannual report hones in on the realities in the United States, and builds upon a strong case made by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last month.
In the IPCC report, a collection of the world’s leading climate scientists acknowledged that climate change is impacting people’s lives, and highlighted population dynamics and the important role that family planning can play in reducing climate change vulnerability. The authors also highlighted the importance of family planning and reproductive rights—hugely important pieces of climate change adaptation that have previously been ignored by climate scientists and policymakers.
Unfortunately, the National Climate Assessment is not nearly as strong. Women are not mentioned once in the 1,300-word document. However, the impacts of population growth on our water, energy, and land resources are referenced numerous times throughout the report.
There is a strong emphasis on the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable populations—both from extreme weather events as well as basic resilience—due to a lower adaptive capacity. These vulnerable populations are described as including children, the elderly, the poor, some communities of color, and people with chronic illnesses. But, we must ask, where are the women? The unequal impact of climate change on vulnerable populations is undeniable, yet the National Climate Assessment does not acknowledge that women are a critical population, or that empowering women is key to reducing their vulnerability.
Conversely, IPCC scientists acknowledge that females are disproportionately affected by high temperatures and ozone air pollution, and declare that, “meeting the need for family planning services in areas with both high fertility and high vulnerability to climate change (such as the Sahel region of Africa) can reduce human suffering and help people adapt to climate change. This is also important in rich countries like the U.S., where there is unmet need for services as well as high CO2 emissions per capita.”
Climate scientists get it, women globally get it. It’s time for the U.S. climate community to acknowledge these links, and take the lead on creating a sustainable future.