By UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and Ambassador Melanne Verveer
Climate change is a security threat and a vulnerability multiplier. It affects human security, food security, water security, energy security—and women’s security.
The security threat starts in places like the Sahel. South of the Sahara desert, the Sahel is hot and arid. Many locals are subsistence farmers who rely on the land for their livelihood. Climate change makes it harder for them to grow reliable crops, to find enough water, to find work and to raise a family.
A heat wave, or drought, or the rainy season coming too late pulls more families into poverty traps. The poverty trap is a downward spiral, often starting with crop failure and food and income shortfalls. Children are pulled out of school to help provide for their families. If food becomes scarce, women are often the first to sacrifice their meals so that others in the family get enough nourishment.
Sometimes, men and boys migrate away in search of food and jobs so they can find ways to support their families. At home, women shoulder the triple responsibility of caring for the elderly, supporting their children, and tending gardens and farms, all the while hoping and waiting for food, rain and relief.
The climate crisis in the Sahel ripples outward and can be felt continents away. Often those searching for food and jobs go to the nearest city and then to the next country. Some manage the perilous trip across the Sahara, even crossing the Mediterranean bound for Europe. The newspapers in Europe report hundreds of people arriving daily. If we could ask them about their stories, many would tell us about problems with water, rainfall and erratic weather. Some would tell us about the families waiting for them to send help.
The costs of these climate change impacts are tremendous. As economic opportunities evaporate in regions like the Sahel, the potential for competition and conflict over limited natural resources increases. Criminal enterprises can take root and grow from the soil of vulnerability.
Families desperate and torn apart migrate to other areas out of necessity. Climate change, in combination with other factors, will continue to displace people. Already, the UN refugee agency reports that the likelihood of being displaced by disaster has doubled since the 1970s and disasters now cost the world more than $250 billion dollars every year.
As the global community now embarks on implementation of the Paris Agreement and works to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we can transform potential calamity into climate security.
Climate action will have to be concerted and sustained. Momentum seen to date is simply not enough. We are still on course to see significant displacement of people and disruption of economies if we don’t act urgently.
Nations must adopt policies to achieve their commitments to the SDGs and the Paris agreement. We must seize the opportunity to write inclusive policies that move the world closer to the stable climate required for healthy social and economic development.
Climate change is a complex challenge that requires us to build bridges and forge relationships to reinforce each other’s efforts.
One example is support for women in vulnerable communities. Women are not just victims of climate change—they are also among the most capable to develop locally appropriate adaptive strategies.
Women's actions are crucial to overcoming the challenges of the changing environment, and they can be powerful agents of transformational change if they have access to resources. To understand the urgency for climate action is to be reminded of the women in the Sahel and other vulnerable places.
Together, through concerted and collaborative action, we can cut emissions and reduce risk. We can build resilience and improve the wellbeing of people. We can put in place policies that promote a just transformation of the global economy for everyone, including women, children and the most vulnerable.
We are all connected, and the effort to achieve the SDGs and implement the Paris Agreement is work towards a more stable and secure world, with peace and prosperity for all.