It’s all good and well to talk about climate change adaptation, and about the tools and strategies that people need to cope with rapidly altering weather patterns; but until talk translates to more inclusive action, communities will continue to bear the life-threatening brunt of shifting and aberrant weather patterns.

Delegates to a Climate Change Adaptation and Gender Mainstreaming dialogue  that took place at SANBI’s Pretoria National Botanical Gardens on 8 and 9 March, discussed action that is being taken to help people manage the impact of climate change. Excellent adaptation strategies and implementation plans exist and are being rolled out. However, plans and strategies need to be more inclusive of the people most affected by climate change if they are to be optimally impactful.

Science has done an excellent job studying and understanding climate change, delegates at the Dialogue for Gender Mainstreaming in Climate Change Adaptation event heard. Now, community voices and local and traditional knowledge must be included in the application of climate change adaptation science.

The event was co-hosted with  the National Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in partnership with the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day (marked on March 8), the meeting had a strong gender focus, and explored the many ways in which South African women and girls battle the reality of climate change, and the impact of climate change on food production, water availability and housing reliance.

While there have been many projects piloted and implemented in various districts across the country, there is a lack of integration and so women and girls – and especially rural women and their families – are hampered in accessing tools to help them manage and survive climate change. Adaptation tools developed by rural women were showcased. These presentations gave clear evidence of benefits that may be derived when climate science and climate change adaptation responses become inclusive in their application.

SANBI’s Board representative, Dr Molokwane, opened and welcomed all participants to the first Climate Change Adaptation and Gender Mainstreaming dialogue to be held at a National level in South Africa.  ‘As part of our mandate  which focuses on the biodiversity science policy interface, SANBI is particularly interested in the ways that biodiversity and ecosystem services can support this programme of work,’ said Dr Molokwane.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

EbA is recognised for its potential to support vulnerable  and rural communities who directly depend on natural resources and ecosystem services in adapting to climate change’, noted Dr Molokwane.

“The biodiversity sector has focused its efforts on understanding the climate science while the development sector has focused on the social impacts of climate change. This national dialogue brought the two approaches together to help us understand the nexus of climate change and gender,” said Dr Mandy Barnett, Chief Director of Adaptation Policy and Research at SANBI.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative in South Africa, Dr Ayodele Odusola, said climate change threatened development across the continent, and has especially notable negative impact on agriculture, fisheries, forestry and infrastructure investments.

“Africa produces around five percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Yet the people of this continent disproportionately bear way more than five percent of the impact of climate change,” he said.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable and will continue to be vulnerable as long as socio-economic marginalisation of women and girls persists, he added.  Inequity between the genders, and inequity between developed and developing communities become profoundly apparent when studying the impact of climate change. Women and girls in developing communities bear double the impact. Their lives are literally daily struggles to survive.

More needs to be done. Citing the Western Cape drought of seven years ago and the KwaZulu-Natal floods of April, 2022, Mikateko Sithole (climate change director at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment) said these events pointed to the very real survival struggle of thousands of people. When rainfall patterns change, people migrate, she said. This leads to conflict in communities with established residents resisting migrants. It brings about a skewed economic landscape, loss of employment, and it places stresses and burdens on the resources of target communities.

The issue demands a multi-specialist approach to adapting programmes that enable communities to manage climate change, she said. Critically, the formulation of such programmes must include women as decision makers because women and girls are the very people who have most to lose in the face of a changing climate.

Dr Katherine Vincent of Kulima Integrated Development Solutions told delegates that the intergovernmental panel on climate change had found gender and other social inequities (such as race, ethnicity, age, income and geographic location) compounded climate change vulnerability. Levelling out inequalities and involving women, girls and other marginalised people in decision-making was the best way to achieve gender and climate justice.

“Investment to shift social rules, norms and behaviours is essential to address structural inequalities and support an enabling environment for marginalised groups to effectively adapt to climate change,” she said.

Delegates agreed that dealing with the climate change crisis is an urgent task and communicating this urgency to communities was an agreed priority.

KwaZulu-Natal-based storyteller, Sibongile Mtungwa told the gathering that community members observed the changes in their environment but do not necessarily make the link to the human action that causes climate change.

At the end of the two-day event, delegates committed to making indigenous knowledge more visible in discussions about climate change; to raising awareness of climate change among women and girls living with disabilities; and to improving adaptive capacity in communities.

Gender mainstreaming and climate change must be part of spatial planning, delegates agreed, and there needs to be improved data availability for monitoring and evaluating interventions so that an ecosystem of community of practice in the face of climate change may be established and may grow.

For more information contact:

Nontsikelelo Mpulo,
Director Marketing, Communication and Commercialisation
South African National Biodiversity Institute
Cell: 082 782 7143

Editor’s Notes

SANBI is South Africa’s only nationally accredited entity of the Green Climate Fund, with expertise in biodiversity research and policy. With the Global Environment Facility and Adaptation Fund, SANBI  is uniquely placed to unlock a programme of investment in ecosystem based approaches for climate change, that places women, girls and gender considerations at the centre of climate change adaptation response design and implementation processes.

SANBI recognises and accepts this challenge and, together with its many partners, is making steady progress towards unlocking significant investments for this work.

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