World Environment Day
Women can lead the transition to a cleaner, sustainable environment
By Rajendra K. Pachauri, Ph.D.
04 June 2014
Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Dr. Pachauri is the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), the leading body for the assessment of climate change, and is the
CEO of the New Delhi-based TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), an
organization that researches and develops solutions to climate change issues.
When it comes to climate change, no one is immune. Changes wrought by a
warming climate will affect everyone in every corner of the globe.
effects will be anything but uniform. Poorer, low-lying countries will suffer
disproportionately unless the global community commits to reducing and
ultimately eliminating the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. And
within this already disadvantaged group, women and their children in rural areas
are among the most vulnerable. As the IPCC’s Working Group II report pointed out
“Price rises, which may be induced by climate shocks as well
as other factors, have a disproportionate impact on the welfare of the poor in
rural areas, such as female-headed households and those with limited access to
modern agricultural inputs, infrastructure, and education.”
atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea
level has risen, and concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased – all
testaments to a warming climate. However, I remain hopeful that the rapidly
accumulating evidence of climate change and its deeply troubling consequences
for the future of our planet will prompt world leaders to take decisive action
soon to transition to a global economy powered by clean, affordable and
renewable energy. We have the technology to make the transition. We just need
the political will to support its global adoption.
Women will play a
critical role in this transition. Indeed, they may well lead it. After all, it
was a woman, Rachel Carson, who founded the modern environmental movement with
her book Silent Spring. And, as the World Bank has noted, women play an
essential role in managing natural resources and, in my experience, are often
more in touch with their natural surroundings. It is their voices that will ring
the loudest in support of policies that encourage the creation of a safer
environment for their children.
The transition to clean, renewable energy
will have benefits for women that go well beyond averting climate change. More
than 1.3 billion people around the world live without electricity – a particular
hardship for women who are forced to cook over crude cook stoves that emit
harmful particulates and who struggle to educate their children by kerosene or
Through a programme called Lighting a Billion Lives
administered by my institute, TERI, I have seen how the lives of women in poor,
rural villages have been transformed with small, locally based solar power. With
access to electricity for the first time in their lives, they and their children
are able to read at night and power small businesses. Gone are the wood-fired
stoves, kerosene lamps and their toxic by-products.
Let me tell you the
story of Baby Devi to illustrate my point. Ms. Devi was selected to administer a
solar charging station that our programme had installed at her village of
Mahmuda in 2012. With the new station, villagers were able to charge solar
lanterns that allowed them to start small businesses.
With her effective
management of the charging station, Ms. Devi was given the opportunity to train
women to make incense – something that would have been far more difficult
without the solar lanterns to light their work after sunset. Today, in addition
to renting out the lanterns, Ms. Devi runs an incense production facility that
employs a dozen women who now earn livable incomes.
Clean and affordable
energy is elementary to one’s quality of life, and for ensuring socioeconomic
development. Without access to affordable energy, it will be impossible to
eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education,
promote gender equality and empower women, or even to reduce child mortality and
improve maternal health.
And without access to affordable energy
generated by clean, renewable sources, it will be impossible to avert the
potentially devastating impacts of climate change.
So we have a choice:
continue business as usual towards an ever hotter and inhospitable planet, or
take steps now to create a healthier, more verdant and equitable world. The
choice is abundantly clear: If we treat Mother Earth with kindness, she will
return the favour.
For more information on Women and the Environment, check out the
editorial package on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.