THE BLOG
12/05/2014 05:20 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

The Power of Women in the Face of Climate Change

All eyes are on 2015. It's a big year for global development. The target date of the Millennium Development Goals is approaching. Representatives of UN Member States, citizen advocates, and technical and policy experts are shaping the sustainable development goals that will make up the new global development agenda. Increasingly climate change sits within the development framework. And after more than 20 years of UN negotiations, a legally binding and universal agreement on global climate action seems to be within grasp.

But don't turn your calendar to 2015 just yet. There is important work to be done to ensure the foundation is right for bold action. Representatives from around the globe are gathered in Lima, Peru for the 20th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 10th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 10) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

What is on the agenda in Lima will set the stage for what will appear on the next universal climate agreement, to be decided in Paris in December 2015. This moment deserves our attention before we move on to the business of 2015. Sustainable development, climate change, population, and reproductive health are interconnected and the solutions must match this complexity. A successful climate action plan must include a strong commitment to women's empowerment and reproductive health as one of the pillars to address the great climate change and environmental challenges of our generation.

The reality is that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and need to be at the center of this conversation. For example, women spend more and more time collecting water due to changing weather patterns, like drought and flooding. When women are spending two to four hours collecting water a day, they have less time to care for their households and participate in the economy. Climate change also affects subsistence agriculture where women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of this work. Decreased production influences their ability to provide food for their families and communities.

Solutions to reduce inequality, foster sustainable development and mitigate climate change need to equally involve women. One such solution is supporting women and girls in their right to decide the timing and the spacing of pregnancies as well as family size. This step increases maternal and child survival rates, increases capacity to participate in local economies and fosters resilience in the face of environmental changes. The benefits for women and girls as well as their families and communities are indeed numerous.

Globally there are 222 million women with an unmet need for family planning. Research from the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund, among others, indicates that some of the dramatic benefits of access to quality, voluntary family planning would include decreasing unintended pregnancies by more than two thirds, averting seventy percent of maternal deaths and forty-four percent of newborn deaths, and lowering unsafe abortions by seventy-three percent. Satisfying the unmet need for family planning services contributes to increased education and employment opportunities, especially for women, reducing staggering gender and economic inequalities.

The blueprint for integrating reproductive health into climate action was set twenty years ago. In Cairo at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, 179 countries agreed that population and development are interconnected.

Voluntary family planning is an important part of the solution set for sustainable development. When women have the power to plan their families and ensure the survival of their children, they often choose to have fewer children. Slowing population growth is one way to reduce carbon emissions and relieve pressure on the earth and the climate.

I'll be tracking the conversation coming out of Lima on sustainable development, climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights. I wish the delegates courage and vision to act boldly. But where there are gaps, we must all be ready to run this last mile.