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Osama Faisal/AP, Osama Faisal

Eco-activism

Helping Women By Saving The Planet

The United Nations Center for Climate Change unveils its 2013 Women for Results Lighthouse Activities, which aim to help women in developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

Teaching women in South Africa to plant trees, thereby lowering CO2 levels and enhancing a village’s food security. Training entrepreneurs in Ghana to build bamboo bikes, a form of green transportation that creates jobs and is soft on the local environment. Working with Maya in rural Guatemala to build fuel-efficient brick stoves, to help save the forest and keep lungs healthy.

These are just a few of the new Women for Results Lighthouse Activities that the U.N. Center for Climate Change chose to fund this year via its Momentum for Change Initiative. The activities marry public institutions and private initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions and help the poorest of the poor adapt to the effects of climate change—putting the projects right in line with the goals of Momentum for Change, which hopes to translate high-level commitments to action on climate change and sustainable development into real progress on the ground. Last year’s crop of lighthouse activities included financing for energy-efficient kilns in Peru and a plan to promote clean transportation (rickshaws, electric buses) in Sri Lanka. This year, the center will display the new projects on its website and showcase the activities during the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Warsaw next week.

The lighthouse activities show “that it is possible to address climate, that we’re not too late, that it is not necessarily expensive or horribly complex,” says Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Critically, the projects place women at the center of the quest to save the planet’s natural resources while improving their own lives. The initiatives, Figueres says, “are led by women and/or benefit women and children directly in many different countries, and show that women are not just vulnerable to climate change but that they actually can and are taking matters into their own hands and have begun to use their imaginations and their entrepreneurial skills to address many of the issue of the impact of climate change.”

To pick just one of this year's lighthouse projects to illustrate how this looks on the ground, The BOMA Project works in rural Kenya to target the most vulnerable women in the community—truly the poorest of the poor, families who are rarely reached by microcredit and have no capacity to take out a loan. The program provides a cash transfer (“a start-up grant”) of $100 to small groups of women to create their own businesses (often some form of basic trading of essential goods), then follows their progress and provides mentorship and a second disbursement of $50 six months later if the business is still operational. So far, the project—which launched in 2005 in the Marsabit District of Northern Kenya—reports that it has a 93 percent success rate and has lifted 28,000 women and children out of extreme poverty.

“It is definitely in the developing countries in which women are most vulnerable,” Figueres tells The Daily Beast. “Because the majority of women in developing countries are the ones responsible for growing or gathering the food that is necessary for the family. Women are responsible for the preparation of that food. It is very often those women who are responsible for providing the energy, if they have it at all; it is women who are responsible for going to get the water their family needs. So there’s that very, very difficult nexus of food, energy and water, one where women in developing countries stand right at the heart of it.”

The statistics are daunting—according to the U.N., by 2030, the world will need 50 percent more food, 45 more energy, and 40 percent more water. “And a lot of that is going to have to come via women, at their own personal expense and at risk to their safety and their health,” Figueres says. “So it does put a huge onus on us to reach out and to be able to empower women, in particular in developing countries … and be able to give them the tools and the appropriate technologies that are necessary for them to continue to take care of their families, and provide their families with the sustenance they need—but do so in a manner that is much more respectful of women’s time and energy, and much more environmentally sustainable.”

Figueres, whose father was the longtime president of Costa Rica (she calls him her “personal guiding light”), says she believes deeply in the “moral imperative to the climate challenge” and the importance of projects like Women for Results and the Momentum for Change Initiative, with their potential for transforming the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations in a sustainable way. Her father, she says, “devoted himself to protecting the well-being, in particular, of those who are most vulnerable and ensuring that the policy environment and the political environment was one that would be equitable, so everyone would have an opportunity. And I see myself doing exactly the same thing, only at a different level, because I do it at the global level.”

“Women are not just vulnerable, but they are actually powerful potential agents of change,” says Figueres. “And it’s not just the moral imperative, but also the excitement and thrill of a different kind of revolution—an energy revolution, an economic revolution that can take us to a very, very different world.”

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