Last week I went to an event for Climate Action, and met two amazing women. Constance is a Ugandan farm and Ursula comes from a small island region in the north east of Papua New Guinea, and both have had their lives drastically changed by climate change. Now while we are still unable to attribute single events which happen across the world to climate change, but the general concensus these days is that extreme weather is made more frequent and rising sea levels are a by product of melting sea ice, again an impact of a warming climate.
Now for Constance, it is the first of these which has hit the region where she lives, destroying the seasons, and bring floods followed by droughts, wiping out crops and spreading diseases. Last months when I saw Mary Robinson give a talk at LSE, she spoke of the specific effects of this on women, who do much of the farming and have to travel increasing distances for water for their families, bringing more risks of heat related illnesses and attacks while wandering far from home.
In Constance’s community they have seen drastic changes in the way they live, without really understanding what was happening. It was not until she joined up with Oxfam to talk about her experience that Constance begun to understand what climate change was. She, like those in their community only understood that life was getting harder. She described the mudslides which hit neighboring communities, and how after evacuation the villagers would come back to nothing. The disruption of the children’s schooling, and to their family life, and how they have had to rely on the government or charities for new crops to replace those they lost.
For Ursula’s community the story is much different, while still meaning a major lifestyle change. Living on a small collection of islands for these communities it is sea level rising which is the problem, and Ursula has headed up a voluntary relocation from their homes to new sites on the mainland island nearby. They have been given three spots by the Catholic Church in the region and will be moving 1,700 people (half of the islands population) to the sites, to begin their new lives.
As much as 60 per cent of the land where Ursula grew up is now underwater, with one island being completely chopped in half. As they move, while hoping to keep their individual culture they also understand how important it is to adapt to live happily with the existing communities in the region. Not only are they relocating but they have begun an education campaign in the region, sharing their stories and building bonds with their new neighbors.
These two women were brought together by Climate Wise Women, a group looking at the impacts on climate change specifically on women, and has taken them across the world sharing their stories with those in the developed world. Insightful, bubbly and open, these women’s stories really open my eyes, and I’m many people will say the same, to the idea of what has been named climate justice.
Climate justice is all about the unbalance of the effects of climate change. While the developing word continues to pollute, and finds more and more barriers to the global process at the COPs and making a final agreement about lowered emissions, the developing world is already feeling the effects. These are the communities which as well have the least money and resources and are fairly powerless against the changes which are hitting their land.
As Ursula said at the talk:
For us in our country we do not have electricity, we do not even drive cars, we do not even own generators on the island. But what is happening to our island is that it is going down so fast, and we can not help it, we can not control what is happening
And so these brave women have left their communities, left their families and have travelled around the world to call for action. And in the UK they were joined by two other women, one from the WI and one from the New Economics Foundation, and together they urged for governments around the world to stop bickering over 1/2 a degree, and to really look at what is happening, because as Victoria Johnson from NEF said, really none of it is enough and we should all be doing much more.
Picture: Ursula Rakova – taken from the Tulele Peisa website