akisawyerr2_ JEWEL SAMADAFP via Getty Images_women in climate JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Climate Leadership Needs More Women

Despite widespread recognition that women are underrepresented in climate and conservation fora, the problem persists. Given that women face the greatest risks from environmental crises and have been shown to deliver better environmental policy results, this status quo is both unjust and shortsighted.

FREETOWN – “The higher you go; the fewer women there are.” This observation by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmental trailblazer Wangari Maathai, reflects a reality familiar to all women who have aspired to leadership positions, and it has gained a new meaning for me as the climate crisis has intensified. Though it is already clear that women and girls will face higher risks and greater burdens because of climate change, they remain significantly underrepresented in climate and environmental negotiations.

In 2019, the United Nations Gender Composition Report noted that the number of women represented in UN Framework Convention on Climate Change bodies was not in line with efforts to create gender balance. In response, member states adopted a gender action plan at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in 2019. The plan recognized that “full, meaningful, and equal participation and leadership of women in all aspects of the UNFCCC process and in national- and local-level climate policy and action is vital for achieving long-term climate goals.”

And yet, by the time COP26 rolled around two years later, little had changed. The United Kingdom’s COP26 presidency was predominantly male-led, and just 11 of the 74 African national representatives were women. Moreover, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity appears to be exhibiting a similar tendency, with male negotiators outnumbering women negotiators by around 60.

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