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Climate change and women’s vulnerability: the decarbonization spirit

“The challenge of the 21st century lies in the reshaping of an economic model closely linked to the requirements of sustainable development. To this approach, it is imperative to add the reorganization of educational systems, a crucial element without which all our efforts may be in vain. Yes, decarbonization and energy efficiency are and will be on everyone’s lips for many years to come, but it is essential that this green awareness is integrated into initial training in education for a better understanding and awareness of energy/climate issues,” said Jonathan Dery, President of Vivo Green.

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Photo: Aurore Deligny, President of Rafael Health Prevention; Jonathan Dery, President of Vivo Green and Alain Tolédano, President of the Rafael Institute, on February 7, 2022, in preparation for a course on preventive and integrative health – Paris 8th march 2022 – Getty

Thinking that global warming will be limited to less than 2°C as announced during the Paris Agreement is a utopia. We will not achieve anything without changing both our consumption habits and especially our industrial production methods, if we do not want to reach increases of 3°C to 4°C by the end of this century, or even much earlier.

Climate change is affecting the world with extreme weather conditions such as drought, heat waves, heavy rainfall, and floods. Climate change means physical risks where the financial losses from the severity and frequency of climate disruptions would weigh heavily on our economy.  According to the latest IPCC report, the most fragile countries could lose up to 80% of their GDP by 2050 and nearly one billion people could be living in high-risk coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels. As Aurore Deligny, President of Rafael Health Prevention, also points out, “it is important to remind that women are the most vulnerable to climate change. Globally, of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty, 70% are women. In Senegal for example, women spend an average of more than 17 hours per week collecting water. The natural resources scarcity also impacts women’s working time: they have less time to engage in remunerated activities and the youngest are put to work to the detriment of their schooling.”

And yet solutions exist, as highlighted in the latest IPCC report, which introduces a set of solutions for “resilient climate development”, specifying that “climate risks for people can be reduced by strengthening nature”, such as the “greening” of cities, reforestation, and crop diversification, without having to resort to excessive investments. This is the challenge taken up by Max Fontaine in Madagascar with Bôndy, which proposes to its partners to contribute to the reforestation of the island in order to sequester carbon while generating alternatives for local communities. There are some models that are kind to nature and at the same time develop the economy and human living conditions. To date, Bôndy has planted 320,000 trees with 400 partner farmers.

Unfortunately, physical risks are closely linked to companies facing liability risks, i.e., companies that are responsible for financial and legal impacts for having contributed to the increase of negative externalities with respect to the climate or for having neglected to take climate risk into account in their decisions. It is certainly sometimes difficult to implement an efficient and profitable change management strategy for our industries, but investments are necessary to avoid the risk of transitioning to a +4°C planet. Indeed, the impact of a company on the climate is based on its carbon footprint, which quantifies the flow of GHG emitted each year.

Reputational risk must now encourage companies to be transparent and to anticipate their environmental and social constraints that have an impact on climate change. This should be correlated with companies’ ESG commitments in their economic development model by measuring the progress made in considering the impacts on the planet.

In France, for example, the “Grenelle 2” law introduces the notion of “right to environmental information” where public and private actors are obliged to make accessible the way their sustainable development imperatives are taken into account. It is an obligation to present a social and environmental report, for the moment defined only for companies with more than 500 employees. It is a reflection that internally allows companies to assess the impact of their activity on climate change but also allows stakeholders to analyze the commitments and therefore the performance of the company in environmental matters. This brings us to the importance of standardized reporting and the definition of a methodology for assessing the carbon footprint that is standardized and accessible to all, to measure the impact of corporate climate risks and the measures taken. A better understanding of the future will require a detailed analysis of companies’ carbon data and strategic thinking, involving employees, managers, and stakeholders. “That is why Vivo Green is working with its partners to help them mature their thinking,” says Jonathan Dery.

However, industries are not the only ones targeted by decarbonization issues. Decarbonization is also a major tool for prevention and promotion in the field of health. Indeed, ‘health-environment’ seeks to preserve the common conditions for good individual and collective health. The goal is to promote a transition more oriented towards prevention than cure by developing a health system that is more sober in its care practices. For a country like France, carbon emissions in the health sector represent nearly 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Purchasing and the supply chain for drugs and medical devices are the main contributors. In addition to this, there is the obsolescence of healthcare buildings, which consume a lot of energy, the very low publication of carbon footprints despite legal obligations and, above all, the lack of knowledge about carbon emissions in the healthcare sector (particularly among students and healthcare professionals).

And yet the challenges are considerable. Beyond the transparency required in the content of carbon assessments, it is essential to combine prevention with sobriety in care practices and the operation of health care buildings, while mastering decarbonized supply chains and integrating the sustainable dimension in calls for tender.

It is therefore in the public interest to support the health sector in the implementation of ecological transitions. The objective is to propose ideas and tools allowing the sector to be part of a sustainable dynamic while continuing to be efficient and effective without being confronted with existing and future regulatory constraints.

According to the latest IPCC report, it is urgent to introduce more sobriety by encouraging a change in the food supply chain combined with waste reduction. It is a question of transforming our lifestyles by implementing sustainable agriculture combined with circular economies.

The transparency issues that arise from the decarbonization of our economy and above all the previously unexploited opportunities are compliant with national and international markets that are undergoing a major change in carbon footprint. The issue of resilience in the health sector, for example, is strong since the prosperity of societies depends on the full health of their populations. With the rapid alteration of our environment and the degradation of ecosystems, the health system will have to face an increase in pathologies and anticipate the consequences. 

To illustrate this point, Ms Aurore Deligny specifies that “cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. In France, they are the second leading cause of death after cancer, with more than 140 000 deaths each year, and they are the leading cause of death in women. Several lifestyle and environmental factors could increase the risk. The most important behavioral risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol but environmental factors, such as air pollution, have also been identified as risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Exposure to ambient air pollution can reduce life expectancy up to several years and was responsible for approximately 24% of the global burden of ischaemic heart diseases in 2012.”

This is why it is now crucial to create a real health system that is more oriented towards prevention, where awareness of both health risks and issues is essential.

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