12/06/2010 09:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Investing in the Resilience of Poor People on the Frontlines of Climate Change

If we've learned anything from this summer's destructive floods in Pakistan, unrelenting drought in the African Sahel, or the killer heat wave in Russia, is that we better get ready. Because the "future" of climate change is already here.

While scientists cannot conclude that any of this summer's dramatic whether events are definitively caused by climate change, they are consistent with scientific predictions of global warming and a sign of what's to come.

We need to take action quickly to prevent the worst case scenarios, but we must also invest in the resiliency of those communities already affected by our changing climate. As negotiators from around the world head to Cancun for the UN Conference on Climate Change, they must work together help these communities adapt.

While we will all feel the impacts of climate change at some point, the hardest hit now are the poorest and most vulnerable nations where governments are often the least equipped to respond. And where leadership falls short, conflict and violence can occur, threatening to undermine global stability and security. In fact, a study conducted by a panel of retired US generals and admirals found that climate change could increase the risk of violent conflict in 46 countries and named climate change a "serious threat multiplier for instability" in some of the most volatile regions of the world.

And among the world's most vulnerable people, it is women who are suffering the most.

Poor women in developing countries are typically responsible for providing their household's water, food and fuel supply and they are less likely to have the education, opportunities, and resources they need to adapt to climate impacts. When disaster strikes, women have less access to resources to cope and are more likely to die than men during disasters. And when hunger increases, women are the ones who sacrifice their nutrition for the benefit of their children and family.

A woman's role is crucial to their families survival and by working with these women to teach ways to adapt to their changing climate, effectively saves lives and teaches new ways to farm, fetch water and protect the environment they depend on.

Women are also fighting back. They are finding new and innovative ways to cope by cultivating drought resistant crops, planting floating gardens, and building mangroves to protect villages from dangerous sea surges. But they can't do it alone. We must help them.

As an ambassador for Oxfam America, I serve as a "Sister on the Planet" to advocate for those most adversely affected by the impacts of climate change in the developing world. On behalf of the "Sisters on the Planet, I also urge you to join this fight.

Global warming is a global problem that requires a global solution. While Congress missed the boat on bringing comprehensive climate change legislation to life this year, we can still move forward today in supporting policies and programs that help build the capacity to adapt and change in vulnerable communities around the world.

It's encouraging that President Obama hasn't given up. His negotiators in Cancun can provide the leadership needed to create a fair, accessible and accountable global climate fund. Such a fund can build on US commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord last year, make a difference in the lives of the poorest around the world and sow the seed for a binding global climate agreement in the future.

Now is the time to invest in women in vulnerable communities so they can fight climate change and feed their families. After all, empty promises don't protect from dangerous storm surges or help alleviate the impacts of drought.