New Studies Find that the Same Tools that Empower Women also Combat Climate Change

As the mother of three daughters, I am routinely reminded of how important it is for women to make informed decisions about their health, their families, and their future.

The conditions and opportunities we have in the U.S. are not the same worldwide. According to international development experts, women who do not have access to basic health education, including information on contraceptives, are more vulnerable to poverty and illness. Women who are empowered through education enjoy greater human rights and better health.

Now two new studies have identified yet another benefit of empowering women: reduced global warming pollution.

According to research done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Futures Group, simply by giving women the tools to plan the size and timing of their families, population growth will slow and global carbon emissions will be reduced by between 8 and 15 percent—the equivalent of stopping all deforestation today.

This is an extraordinary proposition. Empowering women to make critical decisions in their own lives can also contribute significantly to solving the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time.

It also gives women a weapon to combat a major threat to their own survival. Studies show that  women are 14 times more likely to die as a result of storms and other extreme weather as men.

As my NRDC colleague Kim Knowlton has described on her blog, women are at greater risk because they comprise an estimated 70 percent of those living below the poverty line around the globe. Women also tend to be the caregivers for children, the elderly, and the infirm, which means they bear the heaviest burdens in times of emergency.

Women are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. As the papers released today illustrate, the same tools that enhance women’s health, economic power, and human rights will also help them combat the risks of climate change.  

In this way, the papers present an intriguing model for helping to improve lives while at the same time curbing carbon emissions. They offer another arrow in the quiver. They are also timely, as they will inform the review NRDC is currently undertaking on our potential reengagement on the complex, sensitive questions of population, consumption, and the environment.

But make no mistake—we still must press the world’s leader in government and business to make comprehensive changes to the way we produce energy and transport ourselves. We must advance the most effective solutions, including shifting to renewable energy, investing in efficiency, finding more sustainable ways to power our vehicles, and preventing deforestation. Yet as we do, we can also engage the world’s women as a potent force for change.

In her compelling synthesis of the new research papers, Kavita Ramdas writes, “Investing in women has already been demonstrated to be a primary strategy to ensure the health, safety, and development of societies.  We may now find that it is also an essential way to safely steward mother earth through some of her most challenging crises.”

Fittingly, Ramdas entitled her piece, “What Is Good for Women Is Good for the Planet.”