I am depressed. World news has been relentlessly bad lately – with Canada suffering its own ‘Black Summer’, Lahaina on Maui Island, Hawaii burnt to the ground with an horrific death toll, and unprecedented heatwaves and fires ripping across Europe. We also hear that both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent is reducing at alarming rates; and new research published this week shows that thousands of baby emperor penguins drowned last year in Antarctica as sea ice broke up early and reached record lows.
How do we feel about all this? I for one am scared for the summer to come here in Australia, and deeply concerned for the future of my children and 5 grandchildren (aged 2-11 years). Why aren’t world leaders responding to these clear signals by declaring an international emergency? As noted by Liz Boulton this week (Redefining violence is key to planetary security), when there is a military ‘incident’ global leaders go into overdrive – but the mounting climate catastrophe garners little international response apart from yet another heartfelt plea from the UN Secretary General. I ask myself why the global agenda for what constitutes ‘security’ is out of whack with reality. Is it because those with the most power are stuck in old power paradigms and policy agendas, and/or repeating traumas from their past?
I founded the Women’s Climate Congress in January 2020 during the Black Summer fires to raise women’s voices and leadership towards urgent, collaborative, nonpartisan action to secure the climate in line with scientific advice. Given all that had happened that summer, it seemed like the natural thing to do. But nearly 4 years later, we are apparently facing another horror summer.
While the government has introduced a number of good measures to put Australia on a path to net zero emissions, which I am grateful for, the response to the dire news from Canada, Hawaii and Europe is muted. In the past week there has been some airing of warnings to households about preparation for the coming bushfire season (putting the onus on individuals to look after themselves) – but nothing to indicate that the catastrophic events overseas are prompting new heightened levels of action and ambition in relation to securing the climate, and new fossil fuel projects are still being approved.
I totally ‘get’ the constraints that governments have to work with to maintain votes and operate within existing legal structures and I know there are sincere people in the government who want change. But when does external contingency start to override the constraints? As a voter I may not normally want elected representatives to renege on election promises, but when there is a massive ‘curved ball’ coming straight for us, I would totally understand if they broke a few to avert disaster.
Since 2020, the WCC has grown to be a national movement of women with members all across the country and, based on conversations with many 100s of women, has developed a WCC Charter for Change with 11 themed action areas to secure the climate and promote human and planetary wellbeing. Furthermore, WCC is part of a rapidly growing and dynamic international women’s movement that is calling for much greater ambition on climate action and a systemic rebalance to create lasting change. Women are half the world’s population and bear the brunt of climate emergencies – yet are voices struggle to get heard.
We are under-represented at the UN Climate Change Conferences (COPs) and just about every other world forum. And even when we are present in higher numbers, highly developed feminist perspectives on environmental management. human rights and foreign policy play second fiddle to the status quo of resource use, extraction, growth economics and militarisation. It is clear to many that we need systemic change with new styles of leadership and that women must be at the forefront of this, working in partnership with men and collaborating across difference to solve the huge and complex problems we face. It is surely ‘the natural thing to do’.
At the next WCC online event on Tues 29 August, I am talking to 3 women – from England, Kenya and Australia – who are bringing new ambitious agendas to the fore ahead of COP28 and other international forums, in relation to women’s representation, the power of the fossil fuel lobby and the contribution of the ever-increasing militarisation of international affairs to carbon emissions and environmental degradation. We won’t have all the answers of course, but we will add our voices to the growing chorus of millions of women and men worldwide who are calling out the folly of the old paradigms and ushering in new policy agendas based on nurture of life and custodianship of the planet.