COP21 Reflections – The real impact of climate change

During COP21, Development Three Managing Partner, Adriann (Annie) Agle participated as a negotiator, organizer, and panelist. Below is a copy of a speech she gave highlighting the real impact of climate change

Annie Agle’s Speech:

I came to the issue of climate change following my experiences working on the ground during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and in conflict zones in the Middle East. During and after Hurricane Sandy, it became very apparent to me that climate change was going to amount to one of the greatest global challenges to women and youth.

My background to that point was in case management, academic research, and policy around the issues of honor violence, rape in conflict zones, forced marriage, and human trafficking. While I am used to working on emotionally charged issues, the cases of human trafficking and domestic violence I dealt with and monitored during Hurricane Sandy remain some of the most haunting of my career.

“During and after Hurricane Sandy, it became very apparent to me that climate change was going to amount to one of the greatest global challenges to women and youth”

As anyone working on the ground in subject areas like these knows, the worst cases are the ones you felt were preventable. And what happened to women and their children during and after Sandy was preventable.

That night, when the power went out in my well to do neighborhood far from the river, I knew that shelters across the Tristate Area would have to be evacuated and that hotlines for domestic violence victims would be down at a critical moment of need. I knew that in every major port around the city, gangs would capitalize on over-stretched law enforcement and use the opportunity to bring in more victims of human trafficking.

Sure enough, Hurricane Sandy resulted in multiple closures of domestic violence shelters across the TriState Area that resulted in an estimated 10,000 displaced women and children. Many crisis lines were indeed disrupted and then overwhelmed when they got back on line. In Brooklyn, warehouses, which held rape kits to be used as evidentiary support in trials, were flooded, rendering the findings inadmissible in court.

And perhaps most tragically, after much warning and hounding by brave organization heads, several shipping containers full of girls and women who had been subjected to trafficking were discovered by law enforcement officials in Jamaica Bay. According to an informant from a sister organization, many were already dead due to exposure, and those who had not succumbed to the cold were taken on buses to the Mid-West because every shelter along the entire length of the East Coast was at full capacity.

“Hurricane Sandy resulted in multiple closures of domestic violence shelters across the TriState Area that resulted in an estimated 10,000 displaced women and children”

All of these outcomes were foreseeable but were not prevented because there were too few women with backgrounds in these fields leading planning and response efforts. I know from follow up conversations with New York City government officials that no one had considered the specific impact the storm would have on vulnerable women and children.

While there had been some concern around shelter capacity and an increase in rape and domestic violence, no coordinated effort was launched to fortify the organizations on the ground. And while special funding became available to shelter networks and displaced individuals, it was haphazard and after the fact.

This isn’t to say that New York City officials failed in their responsibilities…they did a bit…but not completely. One of the greatest challenges posed by climate change is the influx of variability it adds to the equation of delivering social assistance. It’s hard to know how seriously to take these events, and politicians are put in the awkward position of having to guesstimate at how many preventative steps to take. We are now in a position to say, that any potential weather event or climate change trend needs to be taken with grave seriousness.

Reflecting further on Hurricane Sandy as a case study, it’s particularly sobering to realize that the lapses in services geared towards helping women in need occurred in one of the most resource abundant cities in the world. Generally, the TriState Area has infrastructure to handle and address human trafficking, domestic violence, rape, etc…all of those safety and response networks were in place, but had not given the support needed to scale to meet a predictable increase in demand.

And it’s a bit nerve wracking to extrapolate the extent to which these issues must be … being dismissed and left unanswered during climate disasters in less systematized parts of the world. Which means that we need to engage with scientists, gender experts, and organizers of all generations to help provide the support and education to communities that will allow them the support and flexibility to collectivizes to provide security nets to ensure that women are not unduly affected by climate change.

It think the other problem climate change poses is just how overwhelming it feels…It’s very difficult to know how to approach a solution with regards to protecting women from the instability that climate change brings, but the good news is there are innumerable organizations like WEDO and their sister organizations who recognized what I was slow to come to terms with. These organizations have already established track records of successfully mitigating the threats climate change and weather disasters pose to women.

Now, it’s up to leaders in systems of centralized power to accept the advice given by these organizations and community leaders and lend them the assistance and political support required to adapt and address to the issue at hand.

“Reflecting further on Hurricane Sandy as a case study, it’s particularly sobering to realize that the lapses in services geared towards helping women in need occurred in one of the most resource abundant cities in the world”

As we move forward as individual activists, organizers, and governments, women and youth cannot simply be seen as beneficiaries or vulnerable demographics, they need to be engaged as full and equal partners when it comes to climate change solutions with regards to humanitarian issues. I’m very hopeful that under the leadership of individuals like Saket and those organizations working on the ground that the interests of women and youth can be protected, but it requires a more inclusive process.

Based on these experiences and those shared by other field experts, I can say categorically that the relationship between climate change and diminished security for women isn’t a hazy corollary; it amounts to a simple case of cause and effect.

Thank you very much indeed. It’s an honor to find myself among so lofty a panel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Interested in how you or your organization can pursue genuine social commitment? Start the conversation! We’re here to help and would love to hear from you. 

        

Stay Posted

Subscribe for updates. Don’t worry we won’t spam you.