This World Earth Day, we cannot afford to despair

This World Earth Day, we cannot afford to despair
The climate crisis is worsening, and whilst global leaders continue to fail us by choosing profit over protecting the planet, we must each take action locally to reverse alarming predictions of severe poverty, writes Eleanor Monbiot.
4 min read
22 Apr, 2022
Climate protest held outside the United Nations. [GETTY]

Climate change – two words that trigger waves of emotions from anger, to frustration, exhaustion, denial, and a loss of hope. Most of all, it brings an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

On World Earth Day, it all feels so much worse.

Every single one of us has by now experienced a climate change event, whether it’s extremes in temperature, flooding, drought, or hurricanes. However, the risk and impacts are not equally felt.

Depending on whether your food supply relies on rain-fed agriculture or on UberEats, you are likely to experience climate shocks very differently. And this deep inequity is not being addressed by world leaders from a local or global level.

Governments have failed us by putting profit before people.

Without urgent action, climate change could push an additional 130 million people into poverty.

The Middle East, for example, is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. In Iraq, 7 million people are at risk due to the lack of water and it is the fifth most vulnerable country globally in terms of impacts on food availability, extreme temperatures, and associated health problems.

The potential for increase in migration, conflict and civil unrest is greatly impacted with these stressors. Schools are now closed due to lack of water, further trapping children into the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.

75% of the world’s rural poor rely on natural resources such as forests, lakes, and oceans for their livelihoods. Climate change is severely undermining this and putting many lives at risk. It is predicted that 600 million people will suffer from malnutrition by 2080, as crop production is set to drop to a third by 2050.

Climate change is the biggest threat to being able to break inter-generational poverty.

''This World Earth Day, we can all make the commitment to reduce our own negative contribution, and to respond more aggressively to the effect of climate change on the most vulnerable: women and children.''

Another overlooked aspect of the crisis, is the gendered elements.

Empowering women and girls in developing countries is one of the top ranking demands in the list of solutions for curbing climate change. Providing education and family planning would reduce carbon emissions by 85 gigatons by 2050.

Indeed, in agriculture, men usually control the finances resulting in mass production of specific profitable crops that drain soil nutrients. When women grow and cook food for the household, they cultivate more varieties for taste and nutrition, protecting both biodiversity and soil resilience against droughts, floods and disease.

Rural women who are educated tend to see higher crop yields, providing better nutrition and financial stability for their families. 

There are of course many inspiring people who have worked very hard to pressure governments to make the urgent global changes needed. Whilst we should rightly never stop advocating to hold them to account, we must do more to regain control by taking responsibility of our local environment in order to stop feeling like helpless victims.

We cannot wait for our governments to act, in order to break the cycle of climate driven vulnerability and poverty we must support communities to develop projects that challenge the status quo by seeking to diversify agriculture and income sources. We must adequately support and expand innovations that seek to overcome the effects of climate change. And, all of this work must include local women in order to cater to their needs, insure the success of the projects and contribute to building a more equal society overall.

This World Earth Day, we can all make the commitment to reduce our own negative contribution, and to respond more aggressively to the effect of climate change on the most vulnerable: women and children.

Eleanor Monbiot OBE is the regional leader for Middle East and Eastern Europe for World Vision. She has over 30 years of working in the humanitarian sector across emergency response and development, driven by her passion to see justice and opportunity for all.

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