Why an Advocate for Girls and Women Cares About a Climate Change Conference

Photo credit: Lameck Luhanga/Girl Up

Bernice Tokoli is an adolescent girl in Ghana who suffers from asthma, which was made worse by the smoke she breathed from cooking with wood in a traditional stove - smoke that also polluted the environment and contributed to climate change. Thanks to a program supported by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Bernice learned about the benefits of clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels, which protect public health and the planet.

Bernice's story is just one example of how closely connected people and the planet really are.

I've spent my adult life, from my time in politics to the news industry to my current position as the head of the United Nations Foundation, advocating for the rights and well-being of girls and women - which is why my focus right now is on the United Nations climate change conference.

From November 30 to December 11, world leaders are gathering in Paris to reach a new global agreement to fight climate change - one of the biggest issues facing humanity, especially girls and women, who are on the front lines of both climate challenges and climate solutions.

Scientists are more certain than ever that climate change is real and caused by human activities. We are already feelings its impacts around the world, and women and girls are bearing the brunt.

For example, women are more likely to live in poverty and make their living through subsistence farming - making them vulnerable to drought, heat waves, and extreme weather events that threaten food production, their livelihoods, and the security of their families.

In many communities, girls and women are tasked with gathering wood to cook and water to drink. As resources become scarcer, girls and women have to walk farther to gather them, often for hours - depriving them of educational and economic opportunities and putting them at risk of physical and sexual violence.

Additionally, as Bernice's story shows, cooking with wood over rudimentary cookstoves releases toxic air pollution that harms the health of women and children and contributes to climate change. In total, the World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die each year from indoor and outdoor air pollution.

The good news is we have solutions that can transform the lives of girls and women - solutions that are also environmentally friendly.

For example, clean cookstoves and fuels save women time and protect their lungs. Solar lamps provide light so girls can study at night and walk to latrines in the dark. Solar technologies allow midwives and doctors to deliver babies safely in the night, helping to stem the tide of maternal deaths in low-income countries. And sustainable farming practices enable women to more securely feed their families.

The United Nations Foundation - through initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the Energy Access Practitioner Network - is working to tackle climate change and improve the lives of girls and women by working with girls and women to expand access to sustainable solutions.

As Rachel Kyte, the new CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, recently wrote, "We cannot solve the greatest crisis this generation faces if we only use half of humanity's ingenuity, strength, wisdom, and stamina."

Around the world, women aren't passively receiving sustainable solutions; they're actively leading the way in developing and deploying them.

Women entrepreneurs are selling solar technologies and clean cookstoves in their communities. Women scientists and inventors are turning ideas into innovations. And women are speaking up for climate action in their homes and towns.

These women are leading the way to a new era of sustainable development. Now we need the governments of the world to step up their efforts and come together around a strong climate agreement in Paris - one that speeds up the global transition to sustainable energy and puts us on the path to a low-carbon future.

We have climate solutions; now we need more climate action - for girls and women and for all of us.

Please join me in raising your voice for strong climate action by joining the #EarthToParis movement at EarthToParis.org.

This post is part of an "Earth To Paris" series produced by The Huffington Post and Earth To Paris, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on Earth To Paris, "an innovative campaign and convening strategy to drive awareness and host events that highlight the connection between people and planet and the need for strong climate action," and is part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.