How to Save the World: Educating girls for climate leadership

By Renata Koch Alvarenga, Director of EmpoderaClima

Climate change has been taking over the news lately, with the Amazon fires in Brazil, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and the United States, and worrying statements about climate policy from global leaders. This chaotic scenario has us wondering what we can actually do to help, and a simple answer, which is not taken seriously enough, is educating girls for climate leadership. 

As we have been outlining in our articles at EmpoderaClima, girls are more acutely affected by climate change than boys. For example, during droughts, girls  have to help their families in the household and have no choice but to stop attending school to fulfill those responsibilities. This narrative must change, and it is time to acknowledge the power of educating girls to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

For effective climate action to achieve the Paris Agreement, which has goals to be met starting next year, in 2020, education needs to walk hand-in-hand with gender, because knowledge is the tool that can turn girls into agents of change to advocate for sustainable development in their own communities.

A research by the Brookings Institution shows that nations with higher rates of females as climate leaders and that have more access to education for girls, have less vulnerability to climate disasters. This is because education provides skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation and communication, which are necessary tools to build resilience in a community facing the impacts of climate change.

Education of young women for climate leadership can be manifested in many ways, including investing in the development of technical skills that focus on sustainability for a greener economy in the near future, led by female experts in the workplace. Knowledge acquired in school by young girls can also help strengthening resilience to climate disasters, as they are able to use the skills learned to get good jobs and support their families.

Education for climate action can even be a tool for promoting girl's rights to their reproductive health, which not only ensures that they have control over their bodies and reproduction, but also addresses issues like population growth - a big theme for climate mitigation. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 232 million women that choose to avoid pregnancy do not have access to reproductive health resources, or even simple information -- and education would not only bridge that gap, but help in the global transition to a low-carbon economy through family planning and female empowerment.

In the past, most climate strategies - both in the local and global level - have been gender-blind, which means they haven't really considered women in any of their approaches for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This has taken a positive turn over the years, with the increased influence of the Women and Gender Constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - UNFCCC (a shared platform of civil society and NGOs that represent women's rights at the climate conferences), innovative policies in climate finance, having the Green Climate Fund as the biggest example with its gender-sensitive criteria for funds, and initiatives by the Parties of the UNFCCC, such as the Gender Action Plan.

Specifically in education, there are efforts within global climate policy to include gender. Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is the term used by the UNFCCC that refers to education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues - also known as Article 6 of the Convention. 

The first guiding principle for ACE activities is taking a gender approach, which means promoting women's participation in decision-making through education and public awareness. Some of the ways this is done is through leadership programs that provide skills for girls to become environmental leaders, and programmes that teach strategies to cope with climate change for girls in rural areas.

All of these actions at the global level show that the education of girls is on the forefront of climate policy discussions, and this also needs to happen at the local level, especially in rural areas and poor communities, which are more vulnerable to climate change. Research done in this field suggests that every additional year of education for girls leads to an increase in the number of women participating in their government delegations to the meetings of the UNFCCC, including the annual Conferences of the Parties (COPs). 

Therefore, the more effort we put into educating girls, the more we develop new leadership for climate action - an important tool in the increasingly vulnerable planet we live in. As the writer Shabana Basij-Rasikh put it, "educating girls is one of the most cost-effective, high-impact ways for every nation on earth to fight the rising temperatures and atmospheric changes that threaten us all. It’s a simple and basic reality."

EmpoderaClima believes that knowledge is empowerment, and thus, we focus our work on sharing content about gender and climate justice to youth everywhere.  Supporting education initiatives is simple, and it can go a long way for elevating gender equality and climate action everywhere on the planet.

For more information on the intersectionality between girls' education and effective climate action, please refer to our Research section. 

Photo credit: Jeenah Moon/Reuters