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Need-to-Know: The Presidential Elections and Climate Change

2016 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. July and August tied for hottest months ever documented, with August marking an eleven-month streak of record heat. And the resulting droughts, floods and storms threaten people’s lives worldwide.

But there’s still good news. We have a chance to turn things around and repair our climate. But we have to act now and charge our next President to prioritize urgent, effective and just climate policy.

We already have the policy blueprint. Rural and Indigenous women, including MADRE’s local partners around the world, are implementing workable solutions to fight climate change. These women have envisioned the outcomes we seek and the healthy new world we want to build. Our policymakers must learn from their expertise and support their proven solutions.

What does that look like? Let’s take a closer look.

Why is climate change a feminist issue?

The US is the single largest historical contributor to global warming, but it’s rural and Indigenous women who are hit the hardest. Making up the majority of the world’s poor, women around the world lack resources and often have no safety net in place. As such, they are impacted first and worst by droughts, floods, food shortages, conflicts and diseases connected to this growing and man-made danger.

But women are more than victims of climate change. As those often responsible for securing food and water, and for caring for families and communities all over the world, they are vital sources of solutions.

Take, for example, our grassroots partners in Kenya, who implement local and sustainable strategies to help Indigenous women and families survive drought. They train women to harvest and conserve rainwater. They install clean water tanks in farming communities. And they plant tree nurseries to combat deforestation and protect local water sources from contamination.

Women worldwide, like our partners, play critical roles in combating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. And we must propel their solutions forward.

What does feminist climate policy look like?

US policymakers have repeatedly failed to make serious commitments to combat climate change. Earlier this year, the US finally signed the Paris Agreement, the latest global climate treaty. It’s a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. For example, women’s rights and Indigenous rights, while mentioned, are not included in any legally-binding section of the text.

What’s more, commitments made to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — a critical measure to avoid the worst climate catastrophes — are essentially voluntary and don’t go into effect until 2020. Without immediate action, and with no real enforcement mechanism in place other than political will, climate scientists argue that this crucial target will be missed.

The time to act on climate change is now. But how? Here are some of our demands for meaningful, feminist climate policies.

We’re calling on our next President to:

  • Take immediate action to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. We know that emissions of gases like carbon and methane into the atmosphere cause climate change. And we know that the world’s poor, most of whom are women, feel the effects first and worst. To significantly decrease emissions, our climate policy must:

​- Reduce US energy consumption, including by transitioning to clean and renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power.

- Ban fracking, the harmful practice of drilling deep underground and injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sands and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from rock formations. The process pollutes our drinking water and leaks greenhouse gases.

- Reject false solutions, like carbon trading, which puts a price on the right to pollute, and agrofuels, which have triggered land grabs and soaring food prices worldwide. These “solutions” fail to address the root causes of climate change or to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

- Ensure that all US policies work to protect our planet. For example, it’s incoherent and ineffective for the Obama Administration to sign on to the Paris Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The former sets targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions while the latter puts those targets further out of reach     through numerous provisions to benefit the fossil fuel industry.

  • Look to women on the frontlines of climate change for their expertise. As stewards of natural resources and the environment, rural and Indigenous women have genuine solutions to combat climate change. To center their expertise, our climate policy must:

- ​Support women’s local, sustainable protections against climate change, like installing seed banks in Nicaragua or protecting local water sources in Kenya. Local solutions like these are tailor-made to meet community needs, rather than top-down, undemocratic policies imposed on communities from the outside. And they offer guidance for sustainable practices that policymakers can adapt and replicate.

- Uphold the principle of free, prior and informed consent. Indigenous territories are often sites of large-scale resource extraction, from logging to mining. The principle of free, prior and informed consent ensures that Indigenous Peoples be consulted in all matters that affect them — with sufficient time and information to make a decision and without coercion of any kind. This principle helps protect communities seeking to counter destructive environmental practices and ultimately benefits us all.

- Promote sustainable agriculture, drawing from the expertise of smallholder farmers, especially women. This means supporting farming techniques that promote healthy communities and protect our environment, like organic pest management, crop diversity and others.

Support local women as critical first responders in climate disaster. Women often care for the most vulnerable in their communities, including children and the elderly. And they have the social networks in place to distribute emergency aid and vital information to those most in need after disaster. As hurricanes intensify and droughts worsen from climate change, women’s interventions will be more vital than ever.

- Protect women human rights defenders who risk their lives to stand up for climate justice, and withdraw support from governments that attack these activists.

- Bring women’s voices and solutions to climate policy decision-making spaces. International policymakers too often fail to see local women as leaders and innovators. Yet we need their input and expertise to build responses that protect people, communities and ecosystems.

  • Recognize the unequal burden of climate change, where the worst impacts are felt by those who contributed least to the crisis. To correct this glaring injustice, our climate policy must:

- Repay the climate debt we owe to the Global South. Industrialized countries have greatly overused their carbon emissions quota and must pay their fair share to solve the problem, including reparations to the Global South.

     We need to keep this conversation going this election and beyond.

     We can start by spreading the word about these demands! Here’s how:

  • Email this article to your networks
  • Post to Facebook or Twitter: #ISupportFeministForeignPolicy! Read MADRE’s demands for feminist climate policy:


September 22, 2016