We have seen it all - earthquakes, droughts, floods and urban flooding. However, the year 2022 will go down in history for opening the floodgates to a new age of disaster risks upon Pakistan and the world. This year witnessed unprecedented rains and torrential floods unmistakably linked to climate change that inundated large areas of the country. Causing colossal damage to economy, lives and livelihoods, these events made Pakistan the first major case study of large-scale hazards related to newly emerging climate patterns.
Pakistan has resolved to make itself more resilient to climate change and rebuild affected areas in a sustainable and green manner and speed up green transition. Green transition means moving from the fossil fuels to renewables and sustainable forms of energy. While Pakistan prepares to face new challenges and adopt green technology on a large scale, it must have a sharp focus on gender inclusivity and adopt gender inclusive policies.
Such a focus is needed because disasters put an uneven burden on vulnerable sections of society, particularly women. On the other hand, any transition provides an opportunity to undo past mistakes and ensure a better deal for marginalised sections.
According to the United Nations, seventy per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 per cent of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80 per cent), but they own less than 10 per cent of the land.
Women also represent a high percentage of poor communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, particularly in rural areas where they shoulder the major responsibility for household water supply and energy for cooking and heating, as well as for food security.
Even before disaster hit Pakistan, the country was on the way to join the club of nations that are resolved to make a green transition and become resilient to the climate shifts.
In 2021, Pakistan adopted updated National Climate Change Policy. The goal of this policy is to ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the economy and to steer Pakistan towards climate compatible development.
In July this year, the Ministry of Climate Change adopted a roadmap to incorporate gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate change discourse and actions by launching Pakistan’s first-ever Climate Change Gender Action Plan (ccGAP). The aim of the Climate Change Gender Action Plan is to ensure that women can influence climate change decisions.
The government has also announced plans to launch solar power projects of around 14,000 megawatts this year. Owing to hike in electricity prices following the rise in fuel cost, the government is kicking off 9,000 MW projects under ‘Solar Energy Initiatives’ on priority.
An important aspect of green transitions is Pakistan’s growing collaboration with Denmark. Last year Pakistan became a part of Danish Energy Transition Initiative (DETI) alongside Brazil and Colombia. This initiative aims to accelerate the implementation of renewables, energy efficiency and sustainable energy planning.
This year, Pakistan signed the Green Framework Engagement Agreement with Denmark in order to seek support on the path to green transition. This agreement is also intended to improve Pakistan’s capacity to handle the impact of climate change through mitigation and adaptation.
Alongside green transition, Denmark also enjoys expertise in the social development and Pakistan should seek Denmark’s assistance in making nation’s green transition more gender inclusive.
In order to promote gender equality in renewable energy, women must be included in all levels, including policy and decision making. As women are direct recipients of green energy, their involvement in decision making and policy development will support better and more inclusive solutions. At the same time, as home makers in vulnerable communities, women are often more subject to energy poverty than men. A study by the International Labour Organization in 2012 revealed that indoor air pollution from wood and other burning materials caused 4.3 million deaths, of which 6 out of 10 were female. Access to clean energy can go a long way in protecting women in poor communities.
Just as climate change is taking jobs away, green transition will open up opportunities for new jobs. Doors of these opportunities must be opened by developing their skills, providing them employment and ensuring harassment free and safe working environment.
When affirmative action is taken, women join non-traditional work even in most conservative communities. The Thar Coal Project in Sindh has offered jobs of drivers and technician to women in one of the most conservative communities in the country and women have readily joined. There is no reason that the same could not happen in the area case of cleaner technologies, hopefully on a much larger scale.
In fact, renewable energy can open job opportunities at the level of communities. Women can be trained to work as technicians and entrepreneurs at the community level. This will reduce dependency on expensive and polluting fossil fuels, like kerosene.
The solar lamps are lighting villages and communities, enabling longer work and study hours and bringing greater security to many, especially at night. Similarly, biogas will provide clean fuel to families and reduce their dependence on firewood, thus saving trees and promoting health.
Women can be great advocates for sustainable energy, empowering themselves with knowledge and employment and promoting the cause of sustainable energy. Empowering women at both community and industry levels will strengthen economic and social progress and support governments to deliver gender balanced, sustainable energy for all.