Women 'uniquely placed' to inspire climate action, mayors say

Cities, which are home to over half the world's population, must involve all residents in efforts to adapt to climate change, said mayors.

women can lead climate campaigns
Women walk in the rain brought by Hurricane Irma in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, September 7, 2017. Image: REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares via Thomson Reuters Foundation

Women’s untapped communication skills make them “uniquely placed” to explain the damaging impacts of an overheating planet and spur climate action by the public, mayors said on Thursday.

From leaders to citizens, women must be at the centre of efforts to curb global warming if the world is to limit wilder weather and rising seas, said officials at a conference organised in Paris by C40, a global alliance of cities.

For Karla Rubilar, mayor of Santiago in Chile, the fight against climate change has one major problem. “The conversation by experts seems elitist, removed from reality, and people don’t always understand how it affects them,” she said.

“But women are good at listening and at communicating, which makes them uniquely placed to explain what action citizens can take,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the Women4Climate event.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said women had staying power.

If governments don’t want to step up on climate action, then they should at least get out of our way.

Clover Moore, Lord Mayor, Sydney 

“Think of the women in your families—how determined they are to nurture relationships and how they follow through with everything,” she said in an interview. “Now apply that to climate action: women just get the job done.”

The same is true of young people, said Santiago’s Rubilar, citing recent student strikes for the climate around the world and lawsuits against governments to protect future generations.

“Kids are the ones who can change their parents’ minds and are the leaders of tomorrow … so we must hear what they have to say (on climate),” she said.

Climate solutions too often ignore women and gender issues, perpetuating a bias of infrastructure and services designed predominantly for men, said a C40 report released this week.

It called for mentoring programmes to strengthen female leadership in climate action, and better evidence—including gender-split data - of how women are affected by climate change.

Cities in particular have a better record than national governments at “repeatedly and sustainably breaking the glass ceiling”, said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who chairs C40.

“In 2014 we were just four female mayors running the world’s largest cities—now there are 21 of us,” including Mexico City, Dakar and Bangalore, she told the event.

“But we must go further and make gender equality a reality at all levels of power,” she added.

‘Get out of our way’

Governments’ inaction or retreat on climate change—such as US President Donald Trump’s move to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement—has pushed cities to take matters into their own hands, mayors said at the event.

“If governments don’t want to step up on climate action, then they should at least get out of our way,” said Sydney’s Moore, who has run the Australian city since 2004.

“Unless we take accelerating action on climate change, then it’s going to be a devastating future,” she said, decrying the “irreversible” harm her country’s coal mining had done to the climate.

Under the Paris deal, governments have pledged to hold temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times, and ideally to 1.5 degrees C.

The world has already warmed about 1 degree C, scientists say.

But cities—which are home to over half the world’s population and produce more than 80 per cent of global economic output—must involve residents in efforts to adapt to climate change if they are to succeed, mayors said.

“Until people change their way of life—where they build their homes, what water they drink—disasters will continue to hit densely populated areas and the poor will become poorer,” said Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone.

In 2017, Sierra Leone’s capital was hit by devastating mudslides which killed an estimated 1,000 people and left thousands more homeless.

Since Aki-Sawyerr was elected last year as the city’s first female mayor in more than three decades, she has introduced measures to reduce flooding, such as unblocking gutters to allow rainwater to flow, and encouraged residents to minimise waste.

This story was published with permission from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org.

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