Climate Change and Canada

Article excerpt

An Untapped Opportunity to Advance Gender Equality?

This year marks a period of reflection on Canada's action on climate change. A change in federal leadership and a planned review of national programmes provides a window of opportunity to recraft a path forward. Such a path could achieve significant and sustained cuts in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to climate change impacts. Although federal climate policy has been extensively criticized, the failure to address gender differences in government policies and programs has not been identified. This neartotal blind spot stands in contrast to Canada's adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action at the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in 1995 which commits to the integration of a gender perspective across government policies and programs.

Climate change is an environmental concern shared across Canada. The extent of media coverage on the issue, public outcry over government action or inaction, and results from public opinion polls reveal the sensitive and complex nature of the challenge. Climate determines how and where we live. Warming temperatures, changes in rain, snow, and ice patterns, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense weather-related disasters - such as floods, droughts, extreme heat waves, forest fires, and violent storms - have the potential to disturb ecosystems and pose a threat to human health, safety, and well-being. Reducing the impacts of climate change requires a shift away from activities and behaviours that increase the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, mainly through the combustion of fossil fuels.

Tackling climate change demands two complementary policy responses - mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves curbing the emission of GHGs. Adaptation prepares societies for future climate impacts and those that will take place regardless of mitigation. Women play special and gender-specific roles in both types of policy response, yet these roles remain poorly understood.

The lack of analysis and debate in Canada on the linkage between gender and climate change is typical. In United Nations forums mention of gender is recent; it first appeared as a discussion topic at side events complementing the 2002 and 2003 rounds of international climate negotiations. Dialogue that does take place focuses mainly on developing countries, where differences between men and women in income, education, economic opportunities, and access to and use of energy resources, highlight the relevance of gender in designing climate policies and programs. However, the Climate for Change project, funded by the European Commission in 2004-2005, and emerging evidence from other sources argue against assuming gender neutrality in climate policy in industrialized countries as well.

Based on a review of federal climate policies and programs to date, there are reasons why Canadian policymakers would be well justified in paying closer attention to gender issues in designing and assessing future responses to climate change. Gender equality refers to the ability of men and women to realize their full human rights and potential to contribute to society, and benefit from the results. It requires that society value the differences and similarities between men and women, and their varied roles.

Canada's policy response to climate change

Women remain under-represented in positions of power within Canadian governments. Today, one in five Members of Parliament are women. Participation rates of women in provincial/territorial legislatures and municipal councils are equally low. Within Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada - two lead federal departments on climate change female employment is below the federal public service rate as a whole. Men occupy most executive positions.

Canada bypassed the chance to foster increased participation of women in developing the national response to climate change after our decision to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. …