Women have been severely underrepresented at high levels of policymaking around global environmental concerns as well. In the climate arena, the need to improve women’s participation in negotiations was explicitly recognized by COP 7 in Marrakech in 2001 as the impact of gender balance on decision-making became more evident.
Why is this a problem? Studies show that collective intelligence rises with thenumber of women in a group. Engaging a critical mass of women is linked to more progressive and positive outcomes and to more sustainability-focused decision-making across sectors.
Yet, women have remained a notable minority in climate negotiations at both the national and international level, in the global scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in media debates about climate.
Women’s representation in bodies and boards in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ranges from 36% to 41%. The numbers drop to 26%-33% for female heads of national delegations. Only one in five authors of the 2014 IPCC fifth assessment report, and eight of 34 IPCC chairs, cochairs, and vice-chairs are women. Importantly, even though media coverage of climate change has increased significantly, only 15% of those interviewed on climate have been women.
The top 15 female climate champions
When it comes to the necessity of including women at all levels of climate policy, there is no better argument than the stories and successes of the dynamic women who are already making a difference. As an academic and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, I have drafted a list of 15 women climate champions – from activists to artists.
The world’s top climate policymaker today is a fearless Costa Rican woman, the daughter of José Figueres Ferrer, the president elected to three nonconsecutive terms who abolished the standing army and founded modern Costa Rican democracy. Referred to as “climate revolutionary,” “bridge-builder,” “advocate and referee” and “UN’s climate chief,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate change convention, is “climate change summitry’s force of nature.” A relentless optimist, she reminds people that “Impossible is not a fact; it’s an attitude.”
Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president and climate change envoy, emphasizes that we are at a point of inflection because of the growing pressure and motivation to create a more sustainable economy. Kyte has championed groundbreaking global initiatives on carbon pricing and performance standards for sustainable finance, catalyzing a race to the top among global investors and shifting priorities in financing institutions.
Ceres president Mindy Lubber leads a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly US$10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Through Ceres, she has changed the thinking around climate change by alerting corporate leaders about the risks to finance and business from climate change.
A venture capital investor, Nancy Pfund, one of Fortune’s Top 25 Eco-Innovators, is leading the impact investment movement, having invested in sustainable energy companies such as SolarCity, BrightSource Energy, Primus Power, Powergenix and Tesla Motors. With others, she has demonstrated that earning money by investing in socially beneficial enterprises can be profitable.
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