“We cannot afford to leave women out of leadership now that we need to achieve significant systems change”

By Bianca Pitt, Co Founder, SHE Changes Climate | November 9, 2021

We find ourselves in the 26th reiteration of the Conference of the Parties, a format that for many years has held the hope that we could achieve meaningful action on climate change. The topic at hand is a complex one and requires technical understanding and appreciation of detail. Whilst scientists and experts can provide the knowledge, it has been repeatedly pointed out that other factors are at play.

Why is it so difficult to achieve breakthrough results, even when we know what is at stake? Whole parts of the world will become uninhabitable. And yet, sometimes from those very regions, governments and delegations are blocking the very action that is required.

We clearly have a different problem, a leadership problem, that is now causing us to not move forward on the rescue of our ecosystems. When analysing the leadership structures of COPs since their inception, it becomes very clear: the missing elements from these conferences have been women.

This is despite the fact that the UNFCCC recognized the need for full participation of women by introducing the Gender Action Plan, which was signed by governments worldwide, including the UK, at COP25 in Madrid. It stipulates that women need to be equally represented at all levels of climate negotiations.

Women have been absent from leadership not only in international climate negotiations, but generally government and business. Despite being 50% of the world’s population, they still only make 10.9% of the world’s leaders. 0% of US presidents and only 3.5% of UK Prime Ministers have been female. Only 3.5% of US Supreme court justices have been female. Just 25% of all the world’s parliamentarians and only 20% of the world’s ministers are women. Only 7% of FTSE 100 CEOs, 16% of boardroom members are female, and only 2-3% of VC funding goes to female led teams. The numbers are devastatingly low wherever you look.

Across the world, women suffer through lack of representation, in politics, business, health, money and social status. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report concludes that since Covid the gender gap has increased by a generation and a half – it is estimated that the gap will take 145.5 years to close, if we don’t accelerate policy work and implementation. We must not think that this is a Women’s problem: A recent section in the Economist aptly stated: Nations that fail women fail.

Given we are now in a climate emergency the balance needs to be redressed now. We need to understand that the situation we are in is a result of the lack of participation of women in leadership positions. Levelling up the gender gap is estimated to bring $12 trillion to the global economy. Why would we wait any longer for this? This is a gain for all humanity, not just women. Nations that support women succeed.

The head of the European Central bank and ex-head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, was quoted as saying that if there had been more diversity in the finance sector, the 2008 global financial crisis could have been averted. What is coming to light is that women are naturally geared towards environmental protection. A recent Swedish study showed that women tend to spend their money on products and services that result in lower emissions – they are more likely to take public transport and choose staycations for their holidays.

Further research shows that countries with more female parliamentarians have stricter climate policy and a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions per capita. The same is true in business: women in the boardroom lead to better climate policy and policy implementation. Women are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties. They are more likely to create protected land areas. Peace talks are more likely to succeed with women. Adaptation outcomes are better and more inclusive. Women are known to demonstrate a more productive use of resources and to work towards greater economic benefits for a household. We cannot afford to leave women out of leadership now that we need to achieve significant systems change.

To make sure that we have the very best decision making, we need to have 50:50 vision at the top, male and female co-leadership. Would you choose to sail the world with one eye firmly patched up, particularly if rough waters lay ahead? Now is the time to take off that patch, get full vision, and decide together in which direction to go. Bringing in all perspectives, and getting a broad consensus does not only de-risk but also ensures full participation for implementation. If everyone is on board we can work as a team. If everyone is considered, results will cover all aspects. Changing systems is a difficult task, particularly if we don’t bring in different architects to re-design them.

What would the finance, energy, transport, food etc industries look like if women had co-designed them? This is now the critical question we have to ask as we level up rapidly. This will also take off the pressure of the many men who have tried to achieve meaningful results in the negotiating process. Bringing women into leadership is the key accelerating factor for climate action today.

COP has been repeatedly criticized for its lack of diversity. Now we can see that the absence of women in all their diversity is not only making negotiations more difficult, but that the absence of their perspectives is hampering the success of these negotiations. We have to face up to the fact that we are in a Climate Emergency today and emissions are still rising, despite 26 attempts to successfully curb them and avert disaster. We need an immediate moratorium on deforestation and fossil fuel extraction if we want to stop our ecosystems from collapsing. We need to take drastic action today, if we want to survive as a civilisation.

Ensuring that women are 50% of all the delegations, that each countries’ leadership has a female representative, that the President of next COP is either a woman or the role is even shared between a woman and a man, and the future High Level Champions for Climate Action are a man and a woman, is the quickest and greatest gain that a host country can achieve straight from the start.

COP is designed to provide broad participation from around the world, and nothing demonstrates that the host country has understood that, more  than showing that equal participation has been considered from the start.

We look to the next host country to demonstrate leadership by putting female climate champions forward to lead the process together with their male colleagues and broker the deals we now need to move forward. Their success will be all our success.

SHE Changes Climate is calling for at least a 50% representation of women, in all their diversity, at the top levels of ALL future climate delegations. To find out more, please click here.

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