With the UN’s conference on climate change, COP26, underway in Scotland and 23 national governments declaring a global climate emergency, we are now at a critical juncture for climate action and environmentalism. With forest fires, mass flooding and unprecedented heat waves already a regular feature of the news cycle, we are now seeing the impact of climate change on the way we live. However, the impact of these changes is not felt equally.
Women are particularly at risk from climate change around the world, in part due to their caring and providing responsibilities and their statistical susceptibility to poverty. Women currently make up 80% of climate refugees according to UN data. However, despite calls for ‘gender-responsive’ policy from the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, women still face unequal representation in environmental decision-making, with only 30% representation on climate policy bodies. The She Changes Climate campaign report that only two in twelve of the COP26 senior team are women, in their words: ‘severely limiting the variety of voices, experiences and solutions brought to crucial [Climate Emergency] discussions.’
At the same time, faith groups are becoming more prominent in environmental spaces, drawing on rich traditions of stewardship and respect for the earth as an extension of the divine, as well as advocating for fellow believers in regions already facing the brunt of the climate crisis. However, many of these conversations are still being led by men, despite the many women rising to the challenges of the climate emergency behind the scenes.
WIN’s panel discussion ‘Time to Talk Climate’ was designed to bring together women from different faith backgrounds, including those outside of the major faiths, and feminist coalitions, to amplify their perspectives in this crucial moment for climate action. Our speakers – Dr. Jagbir Jhutti-Johal from the Edward Cadbury Centre at the University of Birmingham, Zarina Ahmad from the Women’s Environmental Network, and Prudence Jones from the Pagan Federation – discussed our responsibilities to the planet and to each other, as well as stories and personal accounts from environmental spaces.
The discussion highlighted that not only can the environment be seen as an extension of the divine but an extension of ourselves, recognising our own human nature as part of the natural world. Moreover, for both Sikh and Pagan communities, acts of environmental activism are increasingly integrated with acts of worship: both in the case of nagar kirtanprocessions and earth day litter picks.
However, while climate action can be a vehicle for inter- and intra-faith dialogue, the environmental sector is still dominated by white and middle class voices, as highlighted by our speaker Zarina Ahmad. Conversations around climate action must therefore be intersectional; previous natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina have made it all too clear how race, class and disability compound the impact of environmental crises, and the same dynamics are already at play in the exclusion or marginalisation of activists of colour from COP26.
With this panel, we at WIN affirm our conviction that women’s voices belong at every level of environmental discussions, and that our inclusion is vital for developing sustainable and effective solutions. In this moment of climate crisis, dialogue is no longer a buzzword but a crucial tool to ensure meaningful action. We must urgently move beyond what divides us – in labels like secular and religious, one tradition or another – to focus on collective action to protect the planet, our shared home.
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Lawton, G., Vaughan, A., & Marshall, M. (2021). COP26 news: Toothless net-zero plans and lack of disability inclusion. Retrieved 4 November 2021, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2296144-cop26-news-toothless-net-zero-plans-and-lack-of-disability-inclusion/
Sheclimate (2021). ‘So real it’s scary!’ Retrieved 11 Noveember 2021, from https://www.instagram.com/p/CVtDcCpNNJ3/
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