Climate Change: Expect the Unexpected

In the past few weeks, three different events/situations have kept me wondering about how climate change is impacting our lives in ways we cannot even imagine.

The first surprise came about during a meeting we convened in May, in Washington, DC, where USAID joined with the Global Gender Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to organize a technical workshop on gender and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

A learning exchange for 52 participants from more than twenty countries, the workshop discussions addressed the impact that REDD+ processes are triggering at the national level in relation to land and forest tenure reforms, among other crucial topics.

Women's ownership of agricultural land worldwide is only 5 percent, despite the fact that they produce, in some parts of the world, up to 70 percent of food.

Therefore, land tenure has become one of the areas in which many women's and gender organizations have been working. The reality is that trying to impact and reform policies related to land tenure is extremely complicated, and seldom are efforts realized by changes at the national level.

In our recent Environment and Gender Index, one of the indicators we use is the access to land by women in the agricultural sector. Coming out of the workshop, I compared the REDD+ countries against the list of countries where women have no/few legal rights to access or own land or access is severely restricted by discriminatory practices. To my surprise, of the seven lowest ranked countries (Sri Lanka, Ghana, Benin, Gambia, Uganda, Cameroon and Burundi), four are REDD+ countries - and, in three of them, Ghana, Uganda and Cameroon, we have developed gender-responsive REDD+ road maps, which are having influence on the land and forest tenure policies. As one of the workshop participants pointed out, we now see in REDD+ a means to introduce reforms in a much-needed area in our country. If environmental initiatives fully embrace the principles of gender equality and women's empowerment, they can have an unprecedented impact on improving the planet.

The second surprise came from a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University. They found that female-named hurricanes kill more than male-named hurricanes because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions and therefore do not respect them. The team examined 60 years (1950-2012) of hurricane death rates according to the hurricanes' names. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities. My first reaction was to laugh out loud, is this true? Then I came to realize how embedded and ridiculous the patriarchal system is.

The third surprise was the linkage between landmines and climate change. Yes, you read that right; it is not a typo. The story comes from the floods that Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina have been suffering. According to a U.S. Department Of State Media Note, heavy rains in the Balkans have caused widespread flooding that has led to the possible shifting and uncovering of some of the 120,000 landmines remaining from the 1992-1995 conflict associated with the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The floodwaters also may have washed away many of the markers delineating the minefields. In addition, the de-mining companies are facing clearance operations in new and unfamiliar circumstances - assessing large areas, clearing mines from landslides, and conducting underwater de-mining.

So there you go. Do you have any unexpected story related to climate change you might want to share?