Climate leadership for inspiration on Women’s Day and every day

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect, take stock of achievements and challenges and to find ways to work to move the needle forward in achieving gender equality. Supporting women who are stepping up today and every day will encourage more to lead on climate action tomorrow.
For inspiration, here are six examples of extraordinary leadership.
Christiana Figueres’ stubborn optimism
Christiana Figueres. Photo by Marcus Schreiber/Associated PressChristiana Figueres played a key role in negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 as chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She regards climate optimism as both a choice and a necessity to offer a persuasive vision of the future.
Speaking in 2018 she said: “Do you know of any challenge that mankind has had in the history of humankind that was actually successful in its achievement that started out with pessimism, that started out with defeatism? There isn’t. So optimism is a choice. And in as much as we create that vision and that future, then we begin to unleash an enormous amount of human potential and human dedication and determination to make that future a reality. That is why I am optimistic.”
Greta Thunberg’s fearless voice
Greta Thunberg. Photo by Courtesy of Greta ThunbergGreta Thunberg has inspired a generation through her ability to clearly communicate the urgency of the climate crisis but also from the courage required, day-in, day-out, to withstand and remain steadfast in the face of reported abusive criticism of a degree to which no teenager, or anyone, should be subjected.
Anne Hidalgo’s purpose-led decision-making

Anne Hidalgo. Photo by Inès Dieleman / Simple WikipediaParis’ mayor has championed climate action during her first term, tackling pollution and making the French capital greener. Key is the idea of the 15-minute city, where residents can find most of what they need—shops, leisure facilities, education—on or near their doorstep.
Her programme also includes planting thousands more trees to create mini urban forests, new parks, gardens and vegetable patches on roofs and working to pedestrianize the main highway along the right bank of the Seine, turning it into a long narrow park dotted with cafes. Mayor Hidalgo has been driven by taking the right decisions, not necessarily the easy decisions. “We have 10 years to act on the climate emergency. To act, not sit around for 10 years thinking and discussing how to act,” she said in a recent interview. “You have to be methodical and rational, criticize, analyze before acting, and once you have decided on a path, follow it.”
Sonika Mananhar’s relentless horizon scanning
Sonika Manandhar. Photo by: UNEP30-year-old Sonika Manandhar, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Aeloi Technologies and a 2019 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champion of the Earth has devised the Green Energy Mobility platform to bring big data, e-mobility and fintech together. Her work helps to accelerate climate action in Nepal by helping women own and upgrade their three-wheeler electric minibuses through low-interest impact financing.
Decarbonizing transport, with a focus on electric mobility, is one of the key actions to limit global warming to below 2°C by the end of this century, according to the UNEP 2019 Emissions Gap Report. Short journeys account for a majority of transport emissions in urban areas, and electrifying vehicles can help lower pollution levels.
When asked why others should consider green entrepreneurship her answer is simple: “Because that’s the future. That’s where the money will be in the future. The impact investment sector is valued at US$502 billion, and there’s the huge problem of climate change facing us—as well as a lucrative opportunity to solve it.”
Carolina Schmidt’s focus on the solution, not the problem
Carolina Schmidt. Photo by Wikimedia commonsCarolina Schmidt, Chile’s Minister of Environment and President of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) was the architect behind Chile’s feat of being right behind China in the size of its electric bus fleet.
“I saw it as an equation to be solved,” said Schmidt, speaking to a panel on e-mobility in Nairobi in February 2019. “I had to make the public and private partnership formula work in a way that was primarily an economic advantage for stakeholders.”
Schmidt’s focus on delivering the right incentives for the private sector aims to ensure that by 2022 Chile has 10 times more electric cars. “Between 2014 and 2018 we doubled our participation in renewables and clean energy,” she said. The second ranking might not last long for the relatively small market in Chile, but Schmidt has sent a powerful message to other countries.
Kibarisho Leintoi’s indigenous knowledge
Kibarisho Leintoi. Photo by UN-REDDKibarisho Leintoi is one of seven people selected by her community to represent the people of the Maji Moto community, near Narok county in Kenya. Her committee worked with Indigenous Livelihood Enhancement Partners, to successfully petition for a dam to protect her community’s water supply, which is becoming increasingly impacted by climate change. Kabarisho and the committee were supported in proposal writing and secured a sponsor. The community then managed the funds thanks to training on how to monitor and handle funds.
“It’s always better to involve us,” says Kibarisho, a 36-year-old Masai mother of eight children. “I know what I need for my family to live.” In the past, a little spring of water sufficed for the community, but to those who worked the land every day, year after year, they knew it would no longer be sufficient.
In 2020—the year the Paris Agreement goes into effect and when policymakers and other decision-making stakeholders must take urgent action to combat the climate crisis—it is vital to fully integrate the role of women.
Here are a few examples why.
Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Climate change can compounds economic disadvantages: nearly 70 per cent who those who live on less than US$1 per day are women. Women face unequal access to funds to cover weather-related losses or adaptation technologies. They face gender-based barriers preventing them from accessing land, financial services, social capital and technology, which render them vulnerable to food insecurity.
Women have a huge role to play in combating climate change. Women can – and do – play a critical role in response to climate change. They also often lead sustainable practices at home and in their communities. Women’s political participation has been shown to result in greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs, often increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines and delivering more sustainable peace. Locally, women’s leadership has led to improved outcomes of climate-related projects and policies. Conversely, when policies or projects are implemented without women’s meaningful participation, existing inequalities increase and effectiveness decreases.
Women are underrepresented as climate decision makers. Climate change affects us all but women are not equally represented in climate policy decision-making. Globally, only 8 per cent of cabinet members members are women. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent them from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policymaking and implementation.
For more information, please contact Niklas Hagelberg
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