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When more women are at the table in city government, the political discourse is often less adversarial and more constructive.
At a recent roundtable on women and climate change solutions convened by Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Environment, women from the Metro Vancouver area identified barriers to and opportunities for women’s participation and leadership in climate change solutions.
The discussion centered on the importance of creating inclusive spaces that foster climate leadership capacity building in government, the private sector and communities. In Canada, there are many examples of women’s leadership that show the impact on programs when women’s insight is applied to climate issues. So much more needs to be done to bend the curve on GHG emissions, and the renewable energy sector and production and consumption sectors provide examples of why and how engaging more women moves action on climate mitigation forward.
We believe women’s leadership in climate action needs to be central to meeting this existential challenge. As researchers at Simon Fraser University we believe that activating the leadership of women, and other traditionally marginalized populations, will unlock necessary innovations. We see this leadership activated at the private, household level already in the way that women are using their discretion as consumers and decision-makers to support low carbon purchasing. We also know that on average, more women, than men, support climate friendly public policy.
Women as climate leaders
In the public sphere, organizations and municipalities are working on initiatives that use a gender lens as central component to their climate action strategies. One organization, Women4Climate, promotes mentorship of women climate leaders. Another organization working in Vancouver, called Women Transforming Cities, emphasizes electing more women to city council. A program of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ called Diverse Voices for Change aims to increase the participation of women across diverse communities in advisory committees, local agencies, boards, and commissions. CAN-RAC (Climate Action Network Canada – Réseau action climat Canada), is a coalition of over 100 organizations from across Canada that uses its powerful coalition to spread information about ways to reduce impacts on the environment. Women Deliver, convenes global leaders to advocate for investments in programs at the intersection of gender equality, health, education, environment, and economic empowerment.
The impacts of climate change are becoming more evident in our day-to-day lives. In Canada, we are seeing rising sea levels, increased periods of extreme weather events like hotter summers and more forest fires, floods, and rapid loss of ecosystems. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that “more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 has been caused by human activity.” In September 2018, the UN Secretary General stated that we have a short window to sharply bring down GHG emissions or face even more dire consequences.
Municipalities across Canada are looking closely at how they can implement climate action within their jurisdictions. For example, the City of Vancouver has responded to the changing climate by creating the Greenest City Action Plan. The action plan set targets to guide the city to becoming the world’s greenest city by 2020 and their Renewable City Action Plan has the goal of getting 100 per cent of the city’s energy from renewable sources by 2050. And while Vancouver is on its way to reaching these goals, the climate crisis continues and cities must look for additional ways to spark climate action.
A major opportunity in renewable energy
While cities around the world are working on renewable energy transitions plans to reduce GHG emissions, women are systematically under-represented in this sector and face barriers that limit their advancement, or even their desire to be in the sector. Programs that recognize the value of normalizing women in trades and technology, particularly the renewable and clean tech sector, require industry and educational leadership. Taking a gender lens in policies and investments in the public sphere will ensure that this sector is truly reflective of our society as a whole.
The Leadership Accord on Gender Diversity of the Electricity Human Resource Canada offers a worthy example of efforts to create meaningful change. In the energy conservation sector, an equally important part of the renewable energy transition, it has long been recognized that women typically make the decisions about energy use at the household level.
"We believe women’s leadership in climate action needs to be central to meeting this existential challenge." #Climatechange #genderequality @Dialogger @womentcities @canraccanada
Campaigns that encourage energy conservation and other green household practices (e.g., recycling) often target women for this reason. This same attention needs to be made in the public sector. In order to awaken women potential in the growing renewable energy section, they have to be at the table.
Women key to tackling world's second most-polluting industry
Women need to be involved in policy because they are also major stakeholders for industries that drive climate change.
The apparel industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, second only to the oil industry. The carbon footprint comes from energy and water use, and the oil, fertilizers and chemicals used in the production cycle. Traditionally, women have high consumption patterns related to this sector, particularly with “ready to wear” clothes that were once produced in two cycles a year (spring and fall), and now are produced in over fifty cycles. This fast fashion, throw away culture is being addressed by the fashion sector, led primarily by women in such organizations as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and One Earth.
Their aims are to change sustainable production and consumption patterns at local, national and international levels by engaging and educating producers in circular economy practices and consumers about their choices. The Suzuki Elders, a program of the David Suzuki Foundation, have held community salons to bring attention to this issue and an Australian organization called 1 Million Women has mounted targeted campaigns to address consumption habits of women, challenging them to reduce their carbon pollution by 1 ton.
Clearly, making an impact in this sector will take an unprecedented level of alignment and collaboration among industry leaders and consumers alike.
We can learn from women’s approach to leadership in climate action – an approach that emphasizes sharing knowledge, encouraging collaboration, and fostering connections. Municipalities aiming to shore up the participation of marginalized populations will find that including diverse women more intentionally, and youth more generally, will discover that participatory methods implemented wisely may be the strongest action against climate change.
Human-induced climate change is happening. We are also the ones who are capable of stopping it.
Joanna Ashworth is the Director of Professional Programs and Partnership in the Faculty of Environment at Simon Fraser University and a Participedia.xyz Research Partner
Claire Buchanan is a student in the Masters of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University and a Participedia research assistant