EPA Climate Justice Blog: Women and Climate Change, Part 2

Corinne Hart, EPA

Long-term impacts of climate change, as well as acute disasters, exacerbate inequalities and make equity issues across the globe painfully apparent. Women particularly are at serious disadvantage. The following posts offer complementary perspectives on how women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events, and climate change as traditional gender dynamics play a significant role in determining their proximity, exposure, and ability to respond to climate change impacts. Second of two parts. 

RELATED: EPA Climate Justice Blog: Women and Climate Change, Part 1

Cooking Shouldn’t Kill

Rwanda hosts more than 60,000 refugees, many of them fleeing violent political clashes raging around the region. The Gihembe Refugee Camp is home to more than 20,000 of these displaced persons, all of whom are faced with the challenges of daily living, including clean and safe housing, water, and food. I recently visited the Gihembe camp to better understand how agencies like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are trying to address the cooking energy needs of the refugees they serve. As we walked around the camp, we saw women cooking over open fires inside small, smoke-filled brick structures, with thick black soot covering the walls. Their simple stoves burn wood, animal dung, or crop waste.

The use of inefficient technologies and cooking fuels like firewood produce high levels of indoor air pollution and force women and girls around the world to endure incredible hardships to secure the energy needed to cook their families’ meals. After walking long distances to search for fuel and carrying heavy loads of firewood, they are rewarded by being exposed to deadly smoke that kills over 4 million people every year. The World Health Organization recently reported that almost 600,000 deaths in Africa are attributable to household air pollution. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children who spend the most time near the domestic hearth. Cooking is essential. It shouldn’t be lethal.

Women and girls are the first to feel the health impacts of traditional cooking practices. In addition to the health burden from smoke inhalation, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change – carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon. In turn, the availability of water – clean water – and food, threaten the most vulnerable. For example, in South Asia, black carbon particles (more than half of which come from cookstoves) disrupt the monsoon and accelerate the melting of the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers.

The wide-scale adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels can mitigate climate change impacts, particularly by reducing emissions of CO2 from non-renewable harvesting of biomass and by reducing emissions from short-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs) and black carbon through improved combustion efficiency. Clean cooking solutions are both effective mitigation and adaptation strategies, reducing emissions and pressures on natural resources, while at the same time strengthening energy security and empowering women. Additionally, more efficient and cleaner stoves can reduce and prevent deaths from household air pollution and can save women up to 160 hours or $200 per year, allowing women the time and income needed to pursue opportunities of their choice. In the U.S., reducing residential wood smoke is being undertaken by the U.S. EPA. This year, the agency has proposed new standards that govern the manufacture and sale of new residential wood heaters.

There is a growing sector focused on creating awareness about this issue, enhancing the performance and availability of technologies and fuels, and strengthening enterprises so they can scale production and distribution. The effort spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership of over 950 organizations across 6 continents, is taking a market-based approach to ensure that culturally-appropriate cookstoves and fuels are available and accessible to those who need them. In addition, with a 30% increase in fuel efficiency from an improved cookstove, a family in Rwanda purchasing fuel could save enough money to send two children to school.

Women are at the heart of the Alliance’s approach and we are working to ensure that women are empowered to continue to take the lead in their communities and contribute to the development of solutions that meet their needs. Fully utilizing women’s expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit can release untapped potential and lead to new approaches. Women represent a powerful force that must be leveraged if we are to address this serious global environmental health issue.

Corinne Hart is the Director of Gender and Humanitarian Programs at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership comprised of governments, civil society groups, and corporations. She designs and manages the Alliance’s strategies and programs on gender, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian response and has experience working throughout Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. She recently spoke at the June 2014 EPA event on Women as Climate Leaders. Reprinted with permission from Environmental Justice in Action: Blogging About Efforts to Achieve Environmental Justice in Overburdened Communities, a blog from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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andre's picture
Submitted by andre on
With 7 billion people at the most recent population counts. The real issue with particular reference to 'refugee's' is too many people. This issue is tied to water usage and other scare depletable resources also.