Douglas Chapman: What will it take to get more women to the top table on climate change? – Left Foot Forward

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It’s vital women’s voices are included as agents of the change necessary to take action on the enormous climate challenges we face, writes Douglas Chapman MP.

Douglas Chapman MP is SNP Spokesperson for SMEs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The lack of women’s equal representation to men is marked in all sectors with influence over climate change.  This absence of female leadership is especially prevalent in the UK’s sustainability professions.

Britain’s ‘green ceiling’ in sustainability jobs

Those working in sustainability are at the cutting edge of the radical change required to power our green revolution and pathway to net zero. However, POWERful Women group and consultancy PwC UK’s ‘State of the Nation’ analysis reveals there is a “green ceiling” operating alongside the “glass ceiling” for women unable to break into the top levels of management within the energy industry.

The gender imbalance is marked, with only 24% of women on boards and 14% in executive director roles. Shockingly, more than two thirds of the 80 companies surveyed had no women in executive director roles at all. The report points out that this lack of diversity and talent “lowers companies’ ability to innovate and meet the urgent challenges of the energy transition”.

Lack of representation not restricted to the energy industry

This under-representation is not restricted to this industry. With just under six months to go to arguably the most important climate summit of this century, the UK Government’s COP26 Team has failed to properly address the lack of female representation at senior levels of decision making.

Many women are working behind the scenes on preparations for COP26 in Glasgow this November, and although MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan is now Champion for Adaptation and Resilience, the poor female to male ratio at the top table is a glaring omission which neglects to recognise the importance of women’s involvement in climate strategies.

Despite over 400 influential female leaders, such as former Irish president and Climate Justice leader Mary Robinson, and Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation calling on COP26 President Alok Sharma to address this issue, the gender imbalance remains the same. 

Former energy and climate change Ministers Claire O’Neill and Amber Rudd have also highlighted the UK’s responsibility as hosts of COP26 to ensure that negotiating teams from other countries attending address their own gender disparity to avoid the risk of women’s interests being further excluded at this important event.

Disproportionate effects of climate change on women

The disproportionate effects of climate change on women and girls have been well documented. For example, females are 14 times more likely to be impacted by natural disasters and climate breakdown than males. Women are more likely to be living in poverty, have less access to sanitary water and living conditions, and to basic human rights. Women and girls are also at risk of systematic violence as a result of instability brought on by global warming.

Gender inequality worsened by the pandemic

Inequality has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with women and girls taken out of education and the job market due to caring responsibilities or for financial reasons. As such, it is even more vital that women’s voices are included as agents of the change and transformation necessary to take action on the enormous climate challenges we face.

As US climate scientist Professor Katharine Hayhoe, points out: “Social science has shown us that the greater the diversity of voices that you have at the table – in terms of life experience, culture, knowledge, expertise, gender, race and other things – the bigger the range of possible solutions you’re able to come up with.”

When women’s voices are side-lined in industry and government by this invisible yet tangible green ceiling, attempts to tackle climate injustice and embed diversity and inclusion become mere buzzwords, more style without substance, with only half the story told.

Gender balance improves quality of decision making

Data and evidence-based research shows us that when organisations get their gender balance right, it improves the quality of decision making, implementation of strategy and effectiveness of action.

Women have played a critical role in our climate journey so far – for instance, Christina Figueres’ work as Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was crucial to the 2015 Paris Accord and an agreement to halt global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

Leaders working together on averting climate disaster need to reflect the people they represent – without this balance, we will all miss out.

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