Are we on track for climate equity?

8th March 2022
Noor Salman
Associate Director – Environment & Sustainability

To be effective in tackling climate change, shared goals, responsibilities, and perspectives must be embraced in order to action and scale positive long-term change for the planet.

In this interview, Noor Salman, WSP Middle East’s Associate Director – Environment & Sustainability, and Nourah Abdulaziz S. Abualsaud, a Senior Sustainability Performance Specialist at The Red Sea Development Company discuss how increased education and diverse perspectives are integral towards solving the climate challenge and shaping future climate leaders.

  1. What role can women play in tackling the climate crisis?

Noor Salman: Exactly the same as men, perhaps even more in some instances. A 2019 study, by the World Economic Forum, found that national parliaments with more women pass more stringent climate policies.

Women also have higher caring instincts compared to men and can therefore lobby for stricter measures to tackling the climate crisis for the sake of their children and future generations. That’s not to say that men do not care about the climate crisis, but rather to say that women will always have a heightened maternal instinct to nurture when compared to men (due to socially-prescribed roles) and will more likely keep the successful livelihood and welfare of their children and families at the front of their minds – all whilst taking any decisions that may affect future generations.

Nourah Abdulaziz S. Abualsaud: According to the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) brief in Gender and Climate Change, “Women have proven to be leading the way towards more equitable and sustainable solutions to climate change. Across sectors, women’s innovations and expertise have transformed lives and livelihoods, and increased climate resilience and overall well-being”.

I cannot agree more with this statement. Women around the world are the primary caregivers for their families and communities, which puts them on the frontline of climate change, forcing them to face the inevitable changes in resource availability and the increased frequency of natural disasters.

  1. What will it take for more people from diverse backgrounds to break into these positions?

Noor Salman: Collective efforts and legislative reforms in developing countries are required to ensure that females continue their education as a priority. Studies have shown that during and after climate change crises, girls are less likely than boys to continue their education and therefore in the long run they end up working in informal sectors that make their livelihoods more vulnerable to economic and environmental future shock, which creates a never-ending cycle. Therefore, if it becomes mandatory for girls to continue their education, we can break this cyclic effect and expect that females within minority backgrounds will become more represented in climate leadership positions.

  1. What kind of impact can we expect to see with more gender balance in climate change mitigation?

I believe that female involvement in climate change action will improve conditions for communities while also limiting the exploitation of scarce environmental resources. If I was given the role of implementing climate change action today, the top issues on my agenda would be:

  • Equal pay for women and men and the elimination of gender-differentiated tasks and gender quotas for leadership positions to break glass ceilings that prevent them from reaching leadership roles.
  • Investment in social services such as childcare, parental leave, awareness for girls to encourage prioritising education to enable women to focus on creating change through climate change policies.
  • Stricter permitting and approval measures to balance environmental protection and economic development. I would personally veto projects that are planned in Critical Habitats or which could cause significant impact on sensitive ecological areas, and rather educate developers on the long-term benefits of investing further in innovative technologies to avoid disrupting those areas completely – for example, directional drilling which requires more infrastructure and utilities but can ensure the protection of ecological habitats at the surface as compared to vertical drilling.
  • Investment in renewable energy technologies, subsidies in renewable energy for all households, promotion of electric transport modes, and an increase in education and awareness on climate change across all levels with a focus the diverse roles we can all play as caretakers.
  • Investment in sustainable agricultural methods that use 10% of resources in comparison to conventional methods, and education and rollout within communities across all genders to spearhead these initiatives.

Nourah Abdulaziz S. Abualsaud: Throughout my career, I have met many incredible women around the world who have a great passion and love for the environment, and a strong urge to protect the earth and leave it in a better condition for their kids, loved ones, and fellow community.

The women I’ve met in Saudi Arabia are no different. Even though sustainability is a fairly new concept in the kingdom, historically, women in Saudi Arabia have been known for having a great knowledge about their surroundings, along with a keen ability to acquire new skills and to create awareness in the community when needed.

This ambition, determination, and awareness of sustainability is why women will always be a key part of both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

  1. With studies revealing women face higher risks from climate change, what measures can be taken to bring their diverse perspectives and experiences to the fore?

Noor Salman: Based on recent studies, women are more severely impacted by burdens from the impact of climate change. As a result of this, women can foresee and predict risks due to these challenges and focus efforts on mitigation and prevention even before the impacts are realised. Measures that improve women’s access to healthcare, education and political representation enable preparedness for future climate change impacts and therefore increase communities’ adaptability to combat those challenges in the future. Education is a key tool against climate change, and educating women enables them to have the necessary skills and confidence to be at the forefront of enabling political and social reform.

  1. What role can society, organisations, and academic institutions play in educating people of all backgrounds about climate change?

Noor Salman: I think it is essential that young girls learn about climate change, and that it is emphasised differently depending on where you live. For instance, I can compare my awareness to climate change growing up in primary school in the United Arab Emirates with that of my seven-year-old daughter, Laila. At her age, I did not know what climate change was, I was not exposed to recycling concepts, and I did not hear of the melting glaciers – I don’t think my parents did either! The only exposure I had was when we would visit our grandparents and relatives in Canada where we had to make sure we recycled plastics and carboard by segregating them in recyclable bins.

Whereas Laila now understands that stray plastics can kill animals in the ocean, she knows what sea-level rise is and its impact on ecosystems and cities. She also understands that we need to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics by ensuring we have reusable grocery bags in the car before we go out to buy groceries and preaches about segregation of recyclables in the house in the green bin. She is part of the Conservation Club at school where they learn about creating useful tools using recyclable materials, is a member of the Edible Education Club where they grow their own herbs and vines to learn about Food Security, and she talks to her friends and is proud of how her mom is a scientist who saved turtles on the beaches of Abu Dhabi by protecting them from foxes and other predators because they are endangered species.

Nourah Abdulaziz S. Abualsaud: Organizations like The Red Sea Development Company will also play a pivotal role in tackling climate change, allowing for a diversity of staff to come up with innovative solutions to help design a more sustainable future. I am really proud of my country, and I’m proud to be part of a company that is leading us towards a better future and encouraging us to take a stand and make the world a better place.

  1. How can we overcome bias related to climate leadership roles?

Noor Salman: As I’ve described above, increased efforts to overcome gender inequality can play a key role in how, cities, communities, and countries adapt, mitigate, and become resilient to the emerging risks posed by climate change. Given the timely launch last week of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, it’s worth noting that the number of women involved in writing the IPCC report has risen from 8% of authors in the first assessment report in 1990 to 33% in the current assessment team. Despite this, women have lower representation at senior levels in the formation of this influential climate report, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Task Group on Gender concluding that “the IPCC needs to do more to include the expertise and voices of women, even as numbers and policies improve”. Moreover, a United Nations Women study found that based on the current rate of female participation in political leadership across the world, “gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years”.

Bias in relation to traditional gender roles is a key culprit of this disparity as it has been ingrained in our minds for hundreds of years and will therefore take accelerated efforts to reverse. In equal parts it is welcoming to see that change addressing climate leadership inequities is evident, however slow that might be. We all have a part to play as we are the founders of future generations, and we can now make this change happen through our day-to-day decisions and behaviours. This change has to begin at a social / household level, with a need to sow the seed for positive changes towards equal responsibilities and opportunities from a young age and empower both young girls and boys to seek equality and stand up against unfairness in order for us to create stronger leaders and advocates to combat climate change.