The concept of “social protection” has not yet entered mainstream climate thought. But that is about to change.
Later this year, the UN climate negotiations are expected to discuss its role in supporting and protecting the most vulnerable communities affected by climate-induced loss and damage.
Given that in 2020, almost every country in the world has rolled out new social protection measures to help households and economies cope with the Covid-19 pandemic – including cash transfers, food aid , sick pay, paid time off and replacement school meals – the vital importance of such programs in helping communities overcome crises have proven to be successful.
Now is the time to ensure that countries put in place social protection systems capable of responding to the shocks caused by the climate crisis and to ensure that they are gender sensitive, as we know that women, girls and the most marginalized are the hardest hit by the impacts of the global warming crisis.
Climate change is increasingly affecting the rainfall patterns and crops of farmers. Floods and cyclones destroy fields and homes. Farmlands and villages are disappearing under rising sea levels. Warming waters are affecting fish stocks.
Too many communities on the front lines of climate change are losing their livelihoods, economies, food security and homes as climate change disproportionately affects the south of the planet.
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People who do not have deep pockets cannot cope with the loss of a seasonal income or the rebuilding of a house, and often find themselves carrying more debt. They may not have the resources to plant crops next season. They may be forced to abandon agriculture, leave their land and migrate to urban areas where life can be even more precarious.
Women farmers make up almost half of the agricultural workforce in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet their gender means that they often face barriers in accessing land, finance, markets and agricultural support services, and may have additional responsibilities to collect water and feed families, which makes the challenges of climate change all the more extreme. The impacts of climate change can plunge households, regions and entire economies into a spiral of poverty that is difficult to escape.
Social protection tools offer enormous potential to help women, farmers and communities become more resilient to climate impacts, recover more quickly from disasters, or even change jobs or resettle in security if necessary.
ActionAid and the new Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung report Avoiding the spiral of climate poverty: social protection to deal with climate-induced loss and damage describes how such measures can help protect human rights in a range of climate scenarios, and how governments and UN negotiations can put in place effective gender-sensitive social protection systems.
Programs that can be scaled up to provide income support, food transfers or temporary jobs in response to disasters can be a vital lifeline for farmers facing climate-induced crop losses, for example. One-time payments can help rebuild homes destroyed by flooding. Employment guarantee programs can be combined with building climate-resilient community assets and infrastructure, to help those facing the loss of their livelihoods as a result of sudden disasters or impacts slowly evolving.
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And there are many other forms of social protection that can be tailored to meet the needs of women and vulnerable communities, helping them bridge the gap and get back on their feet faster.
Sometimes communities receive this kind of support after disasters, especially from humanitarian agencies. But there is a clear need for systematic and comprehensive coverage, planned and implemented by governments, and ready to act as quickly as possible.
Rather than waiting for disaster to strike and starting from scratch, preparedness and early action can minimize the domino effect of deepening poverty that disasters can trigger.
Strategic design such as early warning systems to trigger an early response to low rainfall, or inclusive community processes to reflect on changes caused by sea level rise, can also help address climate impacts in the future. slow onset, which can occur gradually over many years, and are often less immediately noticeable.
If systems are not designed to specifically address inequalities and gender biases, however, women and marginalized members of the community may be excluded from support systems and fall through the cracks. Policies and programs must therefore take into account the reality of women’s daily life, their responsibilities and barriers to participation, and ensure that inclusiveness and gender sensitivity are built into the system from the start.
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It is increasingly recognized that ‘one-size-fits-all’ systems that provide coverage to anyone meeting certain criteria are more effective in reaching those most in need than efforts to specifically target them, because the data collection process on low-income people can be costly and inaccurate, while spreading discrimination and creating additional barriers for marginalized households.
Along with adaptation and disaster risk reduction approaches, government strategies to minimize and address loss and damage must therefore include the establishment of gender responsive, universal social protection systems designed to respond to shocks. such as those caused by climate change.
If done well, the implementation of social protection measures can bring multiple benefits for development, build resilience and respond to climate impacts. A combination of international climate finance, debt relief and progressive taxation can generate the resources needed to put these systems in place.
With the United Nations Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) due to discuss risk management approaches later this year, now is the time for governments to support and scale up social protection systems that can help. communities to recover more quickly from the increasing impacts. of climate change.
Teresa Anderson is Climate Policy Coordinator at ActionAid International