Monday, March 9, 2020

Why the Climate Movement Needs Women in Positions of Political Power

Countries with female political leaderships adopt more stringent climate change policies, so if we had more women heads of state we could expect to see more ambitious actions. This is the conclusion of a 2018 study which demonstrated that female politicians are better climate leaders than their male counterparts.

We are seeing an increasing number of women assuming positions of political leadership all around the world. In 2017 Iceland elected the Green Movement's Katrín Jakobsdóttir who is working to make Iceland a global climate leader.

In 2019 Slovakia elected Zuzana Caputova as its first female president, she is a lawyer and an environmental activist. In addition to addressing the climate crisis she has also vowed to combat corruption. Prior to becoming president, Caputova was best known for winning the 2016 Environmental Prize for her successful crusade to close a toxic landfill site in her hometown.

Perhaps the best example of female leadership can be found in Finland. The country is being run by women and the nation is thriving. Sanna Marin is prime minister and she heads a coalition with four other parties that are led by women. A total Twelve out of 19 cabinet ministers are also women. Finland has been recognized as a global leader for its international climate policy performance and it is ranked number one in Environmental Health. In almost every respect Finland is one of the most successful countries in the world.

At the beginning of 2020 Greece elected environmentalist Katerina Sakellaropoulou as its first female president. A landslide victory propelled the former top judge into Greece's highest political office. Sakellaropoulou also chairs an environmental law society and champions refugee rights. This is a positive step for a country with a significant gender gap. Compared to other European countries, Greece is far behind when it comes to the number of women in senior political positions. 

We have also seen other positive developments around the world last year. Ursula von der Leyen was elected as the European Commission's first female president. Brigitte Bierlein was tapped to be Austria's first female chancellor (she oversaw the country's caretaker government prior to elections that were held in September). Lebanon's Raya Haffar Al Hassan became the first female Interior Minister in the Arab world.

It is worth noting that many of these women came to power in the wake of corruption scandals.  Corruption detracts from environmental protections and the sustainability focused political leadership of these women combats corruption.

Although women are still underrepresented in politics, they are increasingly assuming leadership positions around the world. However, Americans do not appear to be ready to embrace a female president. This is suggested by the loss of Hilary Clinton in 2016 (although she won the popular vote by more than 3 million votes) and the failure of Elizabeth Warren's bid to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. She failed to secure support from primary voters despite having the most clearly developed environmental and climate policy positions of any of the candidates.

In an address at the WEF this year Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga gave a speech that communicated the urgent need for climate action. She urged the crowd of leaders to take stronger actions on climate change, telling them that the "world was on fire." She said politicians need to "take action in their own countries." In a private meeting she brought this message to the world's chief climate denier, Donald Trump. Sommaruga is emblematic of  the kind of climate leadership we so desperately need. Sommaruga was first elected as President of the Swiss Confederation for 2015 she returned to this post in 2020.

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