Discussing Climate Action in the time of COVID-19


As world economies slow down and we all adjust to life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of climate change is far from the minds of many. But the countries where ActionAid works are now facing a triple threat of health, economic and climate crises. And as Australia’s summer of record bushfires has showed, climate change won’t wait, it requires urgent action now.

With this in mind, on 31 March 2020, ActionAid and Women’s Agenda co-hosted the first in a series of online discussions with women who are leading action on climate change. Angela Priestley moderated conversation between panellists Zali Steggall, Independent MP for Warringah and author of the Climate Change Bill; Kim McKay, environmentalist and CEO of the Australian Museum; and Carol Angir, ActionAid’s Program Manager for Women’s Rights in Emergencies.

Scientists tell us we are at the beginning of a critical decade for climate action. Far from the Covid-19 pandemic being a reason to put climate action to one side, panellists highlighted it as an opportunity for a global reset to bring climate action and female leadership into focus. The time to act is now!

“If there is a lesson that has to be learnt out of this situation we’re in, it is that we have to listen to the science,” MP Zali Steggall said. “We know that we’re not flattening the curve when it comes to our carbon emissions, we’ve had about 10-15 years warning at least.”

Ms Steggall continued, “We know climate change will impact every aspect of our lives when it comes to our health, our environment, the economy, every aspect. So, we’re getting a taste of that at the moment with the pandemic and I think we all have the opportunity to learn from it.”

Environmentalist Kim McKay echoed Ms Steggall’s call to listen to scientists and maintain momentum for climate action. “When economic times are tough environmental and climate change issues disappear from the agenda. So I think we’ve all got a personal responsibility to make sure they don’t as this is literally a ten year gap that we have to take action… It’s not a time to give up,” she said. “Feeling that you’ve got a voice in this is incredibly important… and when you can join together that voice is strengthened,” Ms McKay said.

ActionAid’s Carol Angir highlighted the intersecting effects of the climate emergency and COVID-19 pandemic and emphasised how women worldwide are on the frontlines and leading responses to both crises

For example, most of us take for granted the ability to wash or sanitise our hands but for millions around the world it’s not so easy. Women already walk vast distances to search for clean water, a resource that is rapidly depleting as the climate changes. These women must now walk further to collect even more water for their communities to wash their hands and prevent infection.

Ms Angir noted that women are resourceful and natural leaders in caring for their communities noting how African women are using indigenous knowledge to make hand sanitisers while ni-Vanuatu women are using established female-led networks to share health messages to prevent virus outbreak. Women’s ability to act practically and in the interests of their communities must be valued in the conversations and policies for climate action.

Ms Angir ended the panel on an inspiring note with a rallying call. “Tapping into women’s leadership and potential is the new world order. It is women who lead the world and we can make a difference.”

In case you missed it, you can watch the virtual discussion below.

31 March 2020: Women Leading Climate Action

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