Australia’s failure to deliver on climate promises puts women's lives at risk

As Labor prepares to discuss Australia’s role in the world at its annual policy conference, women leaders visiting from Kenya and Vanuatu, two countries facing the worst impacts of the climate crisis, are calling on the Australian Government to urgently scale up its climate ambition.


“As our big sister in the Pacific, Australia must stand with us. They must listen when we tell them that the continued expansion of fossil fuel production poses an existential threat to our communities, and they must invest in our collective survival by taking urgent action to phase out fossil fuels. It is only by working together to increase climate ambition, action, and solidarity that we will create a safer world for everyone,” said Flora Vano, Country Manager of ActionAid Vanuatu, which is supporting a network of 9000 women to respond to the increasing impacts of the climate crisis in the island nation.

As the climate crisis fuels one of the worst droughts on record across the Horn of Africa, Susan Otieno, Executive Director of ActionAid Kenya has raised alarm about the urgent need for greater support for women and their communities who are on the brink of survival: “The world has forgotten this crisis, but for women and girls in the region the impacts of climate-induced drought are never-ending. Women in the communities where I work have told me this is the worst drought in living memory. They are the ones who are the first to sacrifice their wellbeing, health, and safety to support their families. They won’t eat so their children can eat. They will risk their safety going further and further in search of water and as a result put themselves at risk of exploitation. They face rising violence at home as resource become scarcer.”

The two women leaders are in Australia ahead of World Humanitarian Day on August 19 2023 with a strong message for the Australian government to listen to the voices of women living through the realities of climate related humanitarian crises, and urgently scale up its support for countries struggling to adapt to growing climate impacts.

As climate disasters increase in severity and frequency, the rights, safety and dignity of women and girls in the world’s most marginalised communities are coming under increasing threat.  Both leaders believe investing in women’s leadership is essential in responding to the growing crises that have engulfed both countries.

“I have seen first-hand how women in Kenya, when given the opportunity, can transform their communities for the better. However, consecutive failed rainy seasons are testing us all and as climate-induced humanitarian disasters worsen, women and their communities are running out of coping mechanisms. Without the urgent scaling up of international funding for women-led climate action, women and girls will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis.” adds Susan Otieno, who is leading response efforts to the Horn of Africa food crisis where an estimated 60 million people are at risk of famine.

In Vanuatu, communities are still recovering from the twin cyclones that struck in March impacting 80% of the population – an unprecedented disaster fuelled by the climate crisis.

“The cyclones destroyed homes, decimated women’s livelihoods, and intensified violence against women. Without the tireless efforts of women leaders from the Women I Tok Tok Tugeta (WITTT) Network, who played a critical role in supporting communities to prepare and respond to this disaster, it is likely we would have experienced greater devastation,” said Flora Vano.

With support from the Australian Aid Program, the WITTT network led early warning efforts to the cyclone using bulk SMS to reach 40% of the population on the Digicel network.  On the island of Tanna, which was worst hit by the twin cyclones, 3000 women from the network worked alongside the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre to assess damage and distribute relief to affected communities. The broader network delivered 17 tonnes of locally grown vegetables and root crops to three of the worst hit islands and local hospitals.

“As we continue to recover, the question on everyone’s mind is how long do we have until the next climate catastrophe, and with each second we waste on climate inaction how many more lives, homes, livelihoods, traditions, and cultures will be lost,” added Flora Vano.

The Australian Federal and state governments provided $11.6 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies in the 2021-22 financial year. In comparison, Australia contributes only 10 per cent of its international fair share of global climate finance, which is AUD$4 billion per year. Our average contributions sit at only AUD$400 million per year over the period 2020-2025.

ActionAid Australia Executive Director, Michelle Higelin is calling on the Australian Government to urgently step up its climate finance to low-income countries ahead of COP28: “For women living in climate-vulnerable countries who have limited resources to adapt, coping with climate disasters is becoming harder and harder. When it comes to accessing resources and funding, women and women’s organisations are falling through the gaps as developed nations like Australia fail to deliver on their climate finance promises,” said Michelle Higelin, Executive Director at ActionAid Australia.