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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

World Government Summit: Women and children bearing the brunt of 'truly horrifying' climate change, says Irena chief 

Oscar winner Forest Whitaker also tells Dubai event of need to invest more in young people

Adnan Amin, IRENA Director General, moderates the "Women and Youth: The Catalyst to Solve Global Challenges" session, with speakers: UAE Minister of Community Development Hessa bint Essa Bu Humaid and American actor Forest Whitaker, UNESCO special envoy for peace and reconciliation. Reem Mohammed / The National
Adnan Amin, IRENA Director General, moderates the "Women and Youth: The Catalyst to Solve Global Challenges" session, with speakers: UAE Minister of Community Development Hessa bint Essa Bu Humaid and American actor Forest Whitaker, UNESCO special envoy for peace and reconciliation. Reem Mohammed / The National

Women and children are bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change, the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) told attendees at the World Government Summit in Dubai on Sunday.

Adnan Amin said the failure of the international community to organise and take action today will lead to “exponential problems” tomorrow.

“When climate change meets with natural disasters, women and children are the first to be hit and the last to be helped,” he said, describing the climate threat as “truly horrifying”.

“[Women] have higher death tolls and lower recovery rates than men and in post-crisis opportunities, girls are two and a half times more likely to be disadvantaged, especially in their admittance to schools.”

“There remains a myth that women and children are somehow weak,” he said. “The evidence from humanitarian situations shows that resoundingly, women and youth know their own needs and how to meet them and it is time for us to listen to them.”

Forest Whitaker at the World Government Summit 2018 in Dubai. Valerie Macon / AFP
Forest Whitaker at the World Government Summit 2018 in Dubai. Valerie Macon / AFP

Mr Amin said society will have to face issues of climate change that are worsening – more climate-related disasters that will be more dramatic in the scale of the destruction we will witness. “If this persists, we will see more women and children whose lives and opportunities are cut short by climate-linked disasters,” he said.

“Disempowerment leads to disintegration and we cannot afford to marginalise more than half our population because of the nature of the threats we face.”

On Sunday, France's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also warned of the need for countries to come together to address challenges that are greater than any one can solve itself.

Last year, the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement in a blow to a deal signed by 195 countries.

“To transform Europe, and the world, we need change. It is all our responsibility and we cannot be content with the way the world is going," he told the audience.

“One does not transform the world against its will. Every time someone tries to impose on people, it does not work unless the world accepts it.

“There is a necessity for multilateral agreements and understanding. Of course there is always a show of strength, but that is not a lasting solution.

“There should be a collective effort. Our planet will transform itself, and we all have a role to play.”

The debate also heard from Oscar winning actor Forest Whitaker, founder and chief executive officer of the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative and a Unesco special envoy for peace and reconciliation. He called for a global grassroots movement of the masses to create behavioural change.

“When 52 per cent of the population is young and you have 70 per cent of people under 30 in areas of conflict, you have to create certain partnerships with [young people] to have any sort of change in the community.

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"We’ve tried to give them tools, to create a cadre of views and train [young people] in conflict solution, ICT, technologies, life skills and financial inclusion or social entrepreneurship.”

Founded in 2012, Mr Whitaker's charity trains young people in Mexico, South Sudan, Uganda and South Africa, who are then sent back into their community to train other youth people and begin social businesses. Some have changed environmental justice while others began urban farming projects.

“When they create change, they start to actualise their own ideas and fix what is needed in the community,” Mr Whitaker said. “What you see is, given the tools, opportunity, identity and purpose, those [young people] will effectively bring great changes.

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, said: “Climate change is the biggest threat we’ve ever faced, but it is also the greatest opportunity.

“We know this, even here at the heart of the oil economy. In the UAE, we’ve proven that climate action leads to more jobs, growth and more resilience and prosperity, including for women and youth."

In an ironic twist to proceedings, President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands was forced to cancel her visit to the UAE for the summit a few days ago as the country is being threatened by tidal floods.