Thu, Mar 14, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Women the world over are building a climate-safe future

While they are often held back in the innovation and technology sector, women are at the heart of the struggle to fight climate change and improve lives

By Megan Rowling  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation

Illustration: Mountain People

When former UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Christiana Figueres spent 20 days on a boat with 80 female scientists in Antarctica in January, she observed more than icebergs, whales and penguins.

She also saw how easily those women gravitated toward a shared purpose of saving the planet.

“It wasn’t about: ‘How do I improve my career, how do I get to the top of my ladder?’ It was: ‘How do I use my skills, my expertise, my knowledge and my practice to contribute to a global issue?’” said the former Costa Rican diplomat, who leads Mission 2020, an international campaign to cut carbon emissions.

Figueres spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of International Women’s Day, which this year had a theme of promoting the role of women in innovation and technology.

While those areas offer “unprecedented opportunities,” women are held back by their under-representation in related professions and a growing digital divide along gender lines, according to UN Women.

Women on the “Homeward Bound” Antarctica expedition — all working in science, technology, engineering, maths or medicine — wanted to make sure their work would help address climate change, Figueres said.

“I do have the feeling that we women tend to be more collaborative, we tend to be more long-term, we tend to be more global in our thinking because of our innate stewardship role ... in society,” she said.

That sentiment is playing out back in her home country, which last month launched an ambitious economy-wide plan to decarbonize the country by 2050, aiming to show other nations what is possible in tackling climate change.

A key figurehead of that vision is Costa Rican first lady Claudia Dobles Camargo, an architect and urban planner who has coordinated many of the country’s “green” public transport initiatives, including an electric train project.

Andrea Meza, climate change director at the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy, said that women are spearheading her country’s push to produce no more emissions than it can offset through efforts such as protecting its extensive forests.

From the first female chief executive officer of the nation’s electricity utility to the planning minister and agriculture vice-minister, women in top government jobs are collaborating on a clean development vision for Costa Rica, she said.

“We are the ones with voices, and we want to demonstrate that women can lead in this area,” she said.

The same is happening at the local level too, she added, with women in rural communities driving efforts to fight climate change and improve lives.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that women are at the heart of that same struggle around the world.

Some of their efforts are gaining wider recognition through the UN Momentum for Change initiative, which recognizes successful climate projects run by and for women.

They range from a campaign to encourage women to cycle on the streets of war-torn Damascus to a “feminist electrification” drive in Haiti, and Indian women making compost from ceremonial flowers while cleaning up the Ganges.

“We must build smarter [and] we must build with the future in mind,” Espinosa said in e-mailed comments.

“Women must not only be a ‘voice at the table,’ but play a key role in planning, designing, building and managing how that infrastructure and those communities are built,” she said.

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