"Social inequality impedes successful adaptation to climate change"
Climate change is not only a question of correlations in the natural sciences, but also a question of politics, economics and society. In my research, I examine which socio-economic factors have an effect on how well a society can adapt to climate change. Whether a country can adequately protect its citizens against the consequences of climate change also depends on the societal conditions. This includes financial resources, education, strong institutions and also gender equality.
When we better understand how adaptation works, we can also recognise more easily in what way it can be hindered or helped. In the scenarios produced by our climate model, we run through what happens when certain variables change in social systems. A commonly used instrument is the so-called 'Shared Socio-economic Pathways' tool. These scenarios - future predictions underpinned with numbers, not prophesies - detail five different paths of socio-economic change up to the year 2100 and how global greenhouse gas emissions or population growth will develop in accordance with them.
One scenario, for example, describes the 'Path of Sustainability', in which renewable energies, education and health are invested in heavily. Another describes the 'Path of Fossil-Fuel Progression', in which technological progress is spurred on actively and high greenhouse gas emissions are accepted as part of the process. I develop additional components for these scenarios to help create more accurate predictions. The adaptability of a society has not yet been adequately depicted in the models. When we are able to improve this, we can calculate which countries will be particularly at risk, which adaptation strategies are most effective at reducing the effects of climate change and how a society has to change to benefit from this. This is really about the next few decades because, although climate change is already taking place today, it will only intensify in the decades to come.
I work with a lot of data that other researchers have collected and data provided by the World Bank, the United Nations and other organizations. Using maths and statistics, I prepare and analyse the data. In so doing, I spring from role to role: climate researcher, economist, mathematician, social scientist, or even political scientist. It can be very challenging. I spend a lot of time familiarising myself with new topics, yet at the same time, I know I cannot be an expert in every field. Data analysis is the core of my work, and through this analysis, the relationships that explain the sometimes surprising interactions between politics, economics, society and climate development are revealed.
One topic is particularly close to my heart – the topic of gender equality. The question of equality between men and women is not necessarily immediately connected with the topic of climate change. But we know from several studies that women are hit harder by the climate crisis than men. This is because of the social norms and structures in which we operate. In many countries, women have reduced access to education, they have limited job opportunities and a lower income. They are often responsible for housework and caring for family members, and as such they take on more unpaid work. As a consequence, a woman perhaps cannot afford the seeds of heat or disease resistant plants, even though this might secure her livelihood. These inequalities stand in the way of adapting to the effects of climate change, and this impacts the entire society. Indeed, if we disadvantage half the population, it has consequences for everyone else. It is vital to highlight such connections.
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