Australia needs a national action plan on climate change with more women at the table

Australia needs a national action plan on climate change with more women at the table


The sheer scale of the Queensland and NSW floods has rightly rattled Australians. Like other recent weather events – from the Angry Summer heatwaves of 2013 and Cyclone Oswald, to Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 – these latest floods are unprecedented, causing untold disruption and suffering.

In grappling with their loss, some affected residents shrugged their shoulders and told journalists: ‘It’s Mother Nature. What can you do?’

Yet we have been warned for many years that climate change is increasing extreme weather events, including rainfall events like this one. What’s startling is the lack of joined-up planning to mitigate and anticipate such events.

The scientific predictions show that current policy settings, which still look much like ‘business as usual’, will have us reaching unliveable global temperatures within my grandchildren’s lifetime.

So in answer to those shoulder shrugs, while human-induced climate change continues unabated, there is something inevitable about our weather systems delivering devastating late summer rains after months of El Nina. But our destiny is not sealed.

The Women’s Climate Congress was founded in Canberra in the wake of Black Summer. Women came together in grief from the devastation caused by the fires and believing that we can work together across political differences to pivot the maelstrom before things get even worse. It has grown to a national organisation with members in most federal electorates. We recognise that while most states and territories are advanced in their plans, there is no nonpartisan national plan that we can all get behind; one that builds consensus, faces risks and provides assurance for generations to come.

Women’s leadership is critical to bringing this about. Why? Because women have been largely absent from the negotiating table and this lack of diversity in decision making has got us to where we are now.

A profound cultural shift is needed to break the political deadlock on climate action – to turn the tide of political culture from polarised discord to constructive collaboration. 

Women are still underrepresented both in numbers and in access to a policy agenda that retains its historical basis in male values and priorities. And while the number of women in our parliaments is increasing, our current system of governance and ‘win at all costs’ leadership style have been glacially slow to change.

But outside the halls of power, women have been coming together at events and gatherings – online and in their local communities – grateful to find a safe, women-only space to express their fears for the future, frustrations about these entrenched systems and their ideas to safeguard the planet for generations to come.

And in September, the Women’s Climate Congress will host a two-day ‘National Congress of Women’ event in Canberra and are inviting women across the country together to bring their voice to a Women’s Charter for Change on climate action. This event will build on two online events in November 2021 and April 2022 and other online conversations smaller circle work of the organisation to date.

In fact, history has shown that when women work together in this way – reaching out across difference, free from party political constraints – they have come up with some visionary plans.

One example of this is the International Congress of Women held at The Hague in April 1915, during World War One. This historic but little-known event saw 1300 women from warring and neutral countries adopt a far-sighted plan to end the war through mediation by neutral countries. Central to this idea was that, however hard it was to accept, there was some ‘right’ on each side. Described as a ‘most sensible plan’ by the (male) heads of government at the time, it was never implemented – but today, this plan and the other far-sighted resolutions from that Congress, read like an agenda for much of the human rights law we know today.

Applying the same idea today could end the political inaction on climate change that’s hurting us all. A participatory mediation process has the potential to provide a win-win outcome to a long and bitter political entanglement. But it needs all players to engage with the process.

To this end, the Women’s Climate Congress has proposed an independently mediated roundtable process with diverse stakeholders, seeking common ground upon which to base a nationally agreed plan for action on climate change. This would involve setting aside the ‘name and blame’ approach of party politics in favour of a collaborative nonpartisan approach.

The recent rise of independent candidates shows that there is community support for a nonpartisan approach. And climate change is not an ideologically left-right issue, as shown by a review of political leadership in the states and overseas.

The forthcoming election, which is coming on the heels of the worst floods on record in Australia, is a chance for all of us to vote for candidates on the basis of their willingness to put party politics aside for the sake of our young people and future generations, and submit to an independent process to develop a unified national action plan on climate change.

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