Women Leaders And Climate Change
This post is part of a series by guest bloggers Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block, senior chemistry students attending the COP16 conference in Cancun under the sponsorship of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement.
I arrived a bit early for a session yesterday titled "Women Leaders and Climate Change" and was noticed by someone getting ready to speak, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. I must admit I did not know who she was at the time. We made eye contact, and then I walked up and introduced myself to her. We were the only people in the room and had a casual conversation for a couple of minutes.
She told me a story of a time when she had a dialogue with her daughter as a small child, about five or six years old. Her daughter asked if her father was miserable. Figueres was baffled that her child would ask such a question, and asked her daughter why she would say this. Her daughter replied, “Since he is a man, he can’t make all the decisions and does not have all the power anymore.”
In one of the talks at the session, Ambassador Patricia Espinosa, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs and president of COP16/CMP6, began with a quote: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” The audience was mostly female and lightly laughed after this comment. According to the woman leaders, generally, women suffer more in developing countries than any other group. In these places, it is the woman’s job to walk hours to collect clean water or to travel great distances for firewood to cook food with. Cooking on an open fire produces black soot, which is extremely bad to inhale and can take years off a general lifespan. Because women are busy managing these tasks, they often forfeit their chance for an education. And the session speakers consider these women to be the most vulnerable population to suffer due to climate change.
Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, made the point that climate change needs to be more “people-centered” and that a greater communication outreach needs to be accomplished. This outreach needs to be more tangible and known by the masses. Other speakers commented that the vocabulary used needs to change and be more general and that the youth needs to become more involved and support their movement. Being the youngest member in the audience, I felt a few stares directed my way.
As young chemists, we should be interested in and questioning the chemical roles of climate change. When presented with the facts of the rising levels of CO2, we must understand how this affects the climate. Developing countries and the women completing their daily chores in these areas will feel the effects of the changes first and hardest. The women leaders at this session have spoken for the underprivileged women in the past and want to continue helping them; they feel as though it is partially their duty.