The level of advancement that the energy sector has made in the last few decades is transitioning the world into a new century in terms of how we consume energy and in turn mitigating the threat of climate change. But beyond the environmental consequences, climate change has rippling fundamental effects on vulnerable communities of women and minority ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender groups in particular (I will be using the term vulnerable communities throughout this piece to talk about women, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic minorities, and LGBTQ+ communities).

The 2015 Paris Agreement states: “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights…. as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”. Yet, those most vulnerable groups are often excluded from decarbonization and sustainability talks. The industry often focuses on the latest technological advancements, or solid business models, cost efficiency, economic and environmental advantages. The focus needs to shift to be more inclusive of vulnerable and marginalized communities and on the urgency of taking immediate steps to combat climate change simply because people’s lives are at stake.

Climate threats directly affect vulnerable communities more than others. Take heat waves for example, which kill more people than other natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and wildfires according to a recent LA Times investigation. Most of those who suffer during heatwaves are the most vulnerable due to age, illness, or simply the fact that they can’t afford to skip work and stay indoors under the shade. Women, the homeless, and LGBTQ+ people are also disproportionately affected by heatwaves. Women, particularly pregnant women in the US suffer most from heat and air pollution. Scientific research shows evidence of heat and air pollution negatively impacting the health of the mother and the fetus and affecting the outcome of a pregnancy, potentially resulting in stillbirth, premature birth, or low birth weight. 

Climate threats also indirectly exacerbate the difficult situations that vulnerable communities have to endure regularly, as other reports have shown that gender based violence dramatically increases during natural disasters disproportionately targeting women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people. Indigenous women and girls in resource extraction project sites in Canada and the US have been victims of murder and sexual exploitation. Recently, during the Cop26 summit this year, Indigenous activists rallied on November 9 to shed light and protest this kind of abuse and targeted death of indigenous women and girls at resource extraction sites, linking femicide with ecocide. The effort for turning to green energy also comes at a cost for minorities and low-income groups. Some efforts for generating clean renewable energy have displaced many communities like the dam in Brazil, for instance.

The examples and stories proving the intersectionality of climate change effects and gender, race, and socioeconomic status are numerous. Women, in particular, face the greatest threat as they comprise the largest group of people living in poverty across the world. To put that in numbers, according to a recent UN report “Seventy per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 percent of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80 per cent), but they own less than 10 per cent of the land.”

The energy industry as a whole has a multifold obligation to fulfill as it works towards its objective of decarbonization. Vulnerable communities are at the forefront of climate change, they should be at the focus of the plans to find a solution to climate change. Renewable energy  technology should aim to serve those who need it the most and educate them about the new options. Implemented solutions or extracted resources should not benefit a group of people at the expense of another.

Zpryme recently published a piece by Badar Khan, President of National Grid Ventures & Global Head of Corporate Development, National Grid plc. In it he says “Personal income shouldn’t dictate whether someone has access to the benefits of electric transportation like cleaner air.” I would expand on that and say that personal income, gender, ethnic or racial identity shouldn’t dictate whether someone has access to clean air and energy resources. Vulnerable groups must be included in the rolling out of green energy sources plan to make sure vulnerable groups are equipped with the knowledge and the skills to navigate a greener and more affordable future.

The pandemic’s unofficial slogan was “we’re all in this together”, which is constantly repeated in other iterations when discussing climate change. Whether applied in the context of the pandemic or the climate change or any other public scale disaster it is simply not true. The way we collectively suffer during those natural disasters is simply not equal and thus the solutions to such catastrophes must address that same level of inequality.