Heat waves and floods caused by climate change affect rural women more than men because they exacerbate inequalities, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in a new report.

By IPS correspondent

The study, “The Unjust Climate”, says that “in low- and middle-income countries, female rural household heads suffer significantly greater financial losses than men each year”.

On average, female-headed households lose eight percent more income from heat stress and three percent more from flooding than male-headed households.

In an average year, poor households lose 4.4 percent of their total income due to flooding compared to better-off households.

This translates into a per capita loss of $83 due to heat stress and $35 due to flooding, for a total of $37 billion and $16 billion respectively in low- and middle-income countries.

The study shows that if average temperatures were to rise by one degree Celsius, these women would face a 34% higher total income loss than men.

Since the Paris Agreement was adopted by a majority of countries in 2015, there has been a consensus that climate change should limit the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) by 2050, and no more than two degrees by the end of the century.

Given the significant differences in agricultural productivity and wages between women and men, the report suggests that climate change will widen these gaps in the coming years if no action is taken.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu stressed that “social differences based on location, economic status, gender, and age have a major impact on people’s vulnerability to the effects of the climate crisis”.

FAO analyzed socio-economic data from more than 100,000 rural households (representing more than 950 million people) in 24 low- and middle-income countries and integrated this information with geo-referenced data on daily temperature and rainfall over 70 years.

It then examined how different climate stressors affect people’s income, work, and coping strategies according to economic status, gender, and age.

The effects vary not only by gender but also by socioeconomic status.

Heat stress, or overexposure to high temperatures, exacerbates income inequality for poor rural households, who suffer five percent greater losses ($17 per capita) than their better-off neighbors, and the figures for flooding are similar.

At the same time, extreme temperatures exacerbate child labor, affect the lives of the elderly, and increase the burden of unpaid work on women in poor households.

This disproportionate burden of domestic and care responsibilities limits women’s land rights, prevents them from making decisions about their work, and hinders their access to information, finance, technology, and other essential services.

Similarly, youth-headed households are more likely than older households to find off-farm employment opportunities during extreme weather events. This makes their incomes less vulnerable to such events.

Extreme weather events also force impoverished rural households to resort to strategies that are not compatible with climate adaptation, such as reducing income streams, selling livestock, and stopping spending on their farms.

The study shows that rural populations and their vulnerabilities are barely visible in national climate plans, both in terms of contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that warm the atmosphere and in the national adaptation plans of the 24 countries analyzed.

Only 6 percent of the 4,164 proposed climate actions mention women, 2 2 explicitly mention youth, less than one percent mention poor people and about six percent refer to farmers in poor communities.

Furthermore, only 7.5 percent of all climate finance tracked in 2017-2018 went to climate change adaptation, less than three percent to agriculture, forestry, and other land uses, and only 1.7 percent (around $10 billion) reached smallholder farmers.

Agricultural policies also miss opportunities to address gender equality and women’s empowerment. An FAO analysis of such policies in 68 low- and middle-income countries last year found that 80 per cent of policies did not take women and climate change into account.

The report calls for investment in policies and programs that address the multidimensional climate vulnerability of rural people and their specific constraints, such as limited access to productive resources.

It also recommends linking social protection programs with advisory services that can promote adaptation and compensate farmers for losses, such as cash-based social assistance programs.

And gender-transformative methodologies that address discriminatory gender norms could address the entrenched discrimination that often prevents women from exercising full agency over economic decisions that affect their lives.