The list of solutions to climate change usually focuses on technology: solar power, electric cars, devices that suck carbon out of the atmosphere. But one impactful solution is often overlooked.
At TEDWomen, TED’s conference focused on women and girls, environmentalist Katharine Wilkinson explained why gender equity is a critical piece of addressing climate change. “Gender and climate are inextricably linked,” said Wilkinson, one of the authors of Project Drawdown, a book that takes a deep dive into the most effective ways to fight global warming, and found that empowering women and girls was one of the top solutions.
Women and girls face more risks as the climate changes, from higher odds of being killed during a natural disaster to a greater risk of being forced into an early marriage or prostitution if prolonged drought or floods destroy a family’s finances. But improving gender equity can also directly impact emissions.
In lower-income countries, female farmers grow most of the food on small farms. But women don’t have the same access to resources as men who farm–from credit to training and tools. “They farm as capably and efficiently as men, but this well-documented disparity in resources and rights means women produce less food on the same amount of land,” said Wilkinson. When farms are less productive, that leads to deforestation, as farmers clear more land to grow the same amount of food. If women had the same tools as male farmers, Project Drawdown calculates that they could grow 20-30% more food on the same amount of land. That translates into 2 billion tons of emissions that could be avoided between now and 2050.
Gender equity in education also matters for the climate. One-hundred-thirty million girls still don’t have the right to attend school. When girls go to school, it changes many things–their health, their financial security, and their agency. But it also means that they’re more likely to marry later and choose to have fewer children. Family size is also obviously impacted by access to contraception; hundreds of millions of women say that they want to decide when to have children, but aren’t using contraception. If women have the right to choose to have smaller families, it could lead to one billion fewer people inhabiting Earth by midcentury, and dramatically reduced demand for food, electricity, and other basic services. That could mean avoiding 120 billion tons of emissions.
“If we gain ground on gender equity, we also gain ground on addressing global warming,” Wilkinson said.