2015 is a special year for the  Women’s Institute as it celebrates its centenary.  To mark Climate Change week, Ann Jones, Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes-Wales revisits some of the WI’s environmental campaigns and projects and calls on the Welsh public and governments to get behind the urgency of tackling climate change.

The first Women’s Institute in Britain was formed in Llanfair PG on 16 September 1915.  Since then, the organisation has grown to become the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK with over 212,000 members in 6,600 WIs.  In Wales, we have 16,000 members belonging to about 500 WIs.

Since its formation in 1915, the WI has campaigned on a wide range of issues that matter to women and their communities. Protection of the natural world has long been a priority for the WI.  As far back as 1927, WI members lobbied for action on pollution in the seas. In 1988, the WI added its voice to the debate about CFCs and their effect on the ozone layer, pressurising the government and manufacturers to take action. The UK government signed up to binding international targets the following year.  How many are aware that a WI anti-litter campaign in the 1950s was behind the formation of Keep Britain Tidy which continues to operate today to protect  and enhance our environment?

The threat of climate change is a concern to our members and in research conducted by YouGov for the NFWI ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York last September, 74% of the women surveyed in Britain said that they believed that responsibility for addressing climate change was in their hands and that action was needed now. This finding does not surprise us as it is women and children who suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change around the world.  Challenges for future generations was also a top concern for women when considering the threat of climate change.  Although we in the UK may escape the worst of the effects of environmental changes  in our generation, it is our future generations which will be hit – our children and grandchildren – as well as those living in more vulnerable nations around the world.

Climate change is an area in which women are uniquely placed to make a difference; as consumers, educators and change agents in their homes and communities, encouraging the adoption of lower carbon lifestyles and passing on green values to the next generation.

Our members have shown their commitment to protecting the environment and tackling climate change over the years through engagement in a range of projects and campaigns led by the NFWI.

A 2005 resolution on protecting natural resources inspired a nationwide action day that saw WIs return excess packaging to supermarkets, encouraging retailers to reduce waste.  Back in 2007, I became one of 13 WI EcoTeam leaders in Wales.  The EcoTeams comprised of small groups of WI members and others who came together once a month for four months to learn more about climate change and share fun, easy and practical ways to make their daily lives more environmentally sustainable – while making friends and saving money, in the knowledge that they were doing their bit to help the planet.  More recently, our Women Reaching Women project educated members and their wider communities about world poverty and climate change, with a focus on how women are affected. Our projects have shown that through making small changes to our everyday lives, we can all make a difference in reducing our impact on the planet.

2015 is an important year for climate change and we need to see strong commitments by decision-makers.  NFWI-Wales is a member of Stop Climate Chaos Cymru; through the coalition we have been calling on the Welsh Government to show leadership in tackling climate change by implementing an ambitious cross-governmental climate action plan and setting climate targets into legislation. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill presents a unique opportunity for politicans in Wales to pass ground-breaking legislation to tackle climate change and protect the enviroment; the inclusion of strong climate goals and targets will be crucial for it to make a difference to our future generations.  NFWI welcomes the recent pledge by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to work together to tackle climate change and in December we very much hope to see governments across the world unite in demonstrating their commitment by pushing for ambitious climate targets at the United Nation Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris.

Find out more about the WI at www.thewi.org.uk