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The Women on the Front Lines of Climate Change

Women around the globe are disproportionately affected by climate change, but this gives them an edge in preparing for an uncertain future.

At the United Nations climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, last November, Kayla DeVault, a delegate from Window Rock, Navajo Nation, felt an immediate kinship with the women of Imider, a municipality in the Atlas Mountains where locals have long protested a nearby silver mine. They say it has depleted and polluted their water supply without creating any jobs for them. (The mining company denies outright that it is harming the environment or the community.)

Back in the United States, DeVault had been organizing against the Dakota Access Pipeline; in Morocco, the women of Imider have been protesting the silver mine on and off since the 1990s. During the climate talks, DeVault made the nearly 200-mile trek south of Marrakech to stand in solidarity with the women of Imider. As she itemized the environmental and health problems troubling her people back in Window Rock — water contamination, emerging illnesses, violence against women — the women of Imider solemnly nodded their heads. They had been through the same.

It’s a struggle all too familiar to women all over the world. Twenty-six million people around the globe have been displaced by climate change since 2010; 20 million of those climate refugees — more than 75 percent of them — are women. But women are not merely victims of climate change: They also have the potential to create lasting solutions. In the global north, women make 80 percent of consumer decisions. In developing countries, the vast majority of water-collection and food-production tasks fall to women. Meanwhile, as Kalee Kreider notes, women are increasingly controlling the upper levels of climate diplomacy, from the executive secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to the working group in charge of implementing the Paris Agreement.

In this special series from Pacific Standard, we highlight the work of nine extraordinary women who are shaping the future of our planet, at all levels of the climate struggle.

  1. Christina Figueres (Costa Rica), former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  2. Kayla DeVault (United States of America/Navajo Nation), SustainUS delegate to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on behalf of Navajo Nation.
  3. Lidy Nacpil (Philippines), Coordinator of the Asian People’ Movement on Debt and Development; veteran civil society advocate for human rights and climate justice.
  4. Achala Abeysinghe (Sri Lanka),principal researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development and legal adviser to the chair of the Least Developed Countries group within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  5. Kalee Kreider (U.S.A.), climate consultant; climate change adviser to the U.N. Foundation; former adviser to Al Gore.
  6. Duduzile Nhlengethwa-Masina (Swaziland), Chair of the U.N. Framework Convention’s Technology Executive Committee.
  7. Hakima El Haité (Morocco), Morocco’s minister for the environment and host of COP22.
  8. Patricia Espinosa (Mexico), Executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  9. Jo Tyndall (New Zealand), Co-chair of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s ad hoc working group on the Paris Agreement.

Explore more stories from the March/April 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.