UN launches campaign to enlist women in boardrooms to take up climate issue

Women working in financial services are opening a new front in the battle against climate change, with the launch of a UN-backed initiative to take global warming concerns into business boardrooms.

The Two Degrees of Change group will face a major task, as women are still poorly represented in politics and in most major international forums

The Two Degrees of Change group will face a major task, as women are still poorly represented in politics and in most major international forums

Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management and a long-time campaigner for women in boardrooms, is spearheading the new “Two Degrees of Change” initiative. Under it, women will be encouraged to raise climate issues with their company boards, and demand companies and investors take action to stave off the threat of dangerous warming.

The name comes from the pledge made by governments at the historic Paris climate conference in December to limit global warming to no more than 2C, which scientists say is the threshold of safety.

Morrissey, who set up the “30% Club” named for her target to see 30% of board seats in big companies going to women, told the Guardian: “This is about having more women in senior roles [in business] focusing on climate change and changing the narrative. We need female voices in our boardrooms on this.”

Shareholders would benefit, she said, as the risks of climate change are still poorly taken into account in many companies, and traditional financial services companies have yet to make the major changes likely to be necessary in strategy.

Morrissey added that many women were more aware of climate change as a pressing problem than men at the top of the financial services sector. “Women are often interested in these areas more than men, and interested in a long-term view,” she said. “Many women find themselves working within an established culture at old-fashioned companies.”

Forming a network dedicated to helping women would be beneficial for businesses as well as the climate, she said: “Women see how change can happen within their companies, but they need encouragement and empowerment to speak out.”

She was joined at the launch on Monday in London by Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief who led the successful negotiations at Paris, and Rachel Kyte, former vice president of the World Bank leading on climate change and now senior representative for the UN on sustainable energy, as well as a roll-call of City women specialising in green issues.

Figueres also highlighted links between the issues: “There is a clear parallel between the progress we’ve seen on gender equality and climate change in the last six years. Evidence suggests a greater presence of women the boardroom and in senior leadership can help increase the corporate focus on climate change.”

The UN’s climate change arm, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has championed the representation of women through its “Women for Results” grouping.

Figueres called on companies and leaders of all kinds to participate in the new business-focused movement: “Just as political will brought an agreement in Paris, so the collective will of the right people in business can create momentum around the actions needed to tackle climate change.”

Figueres has been one of a number of women who have played a key role in shaping climate change negotiations, who also include Connie Hedegaard, former EU climate chief; Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme; Mary Robinson, UN special envoy for climate change; and Kristalina Georgieva, formerly of the World Bank and now vice president of the European commission, often tipped as the next UN secretary general.

Women have played prominent roles in international environmental politics for decades, driven by such figures as Gro Harlem Brundtland, who defined the concept of sustainability in her landmark 1987 report; Joke Waller-Hunter, a leading official drafting the Kyoto protocol; Margot Wallstrom, former EU environment commissioner; and Wangari Maathai, activist and Nobel peace laureate.

The Two Degrees of Change group will face a major task, however, as women are still poorly represented in politics and in most major international forums.

At the Paris climate talks, the former UN commissioner for human rights and ex-president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who now leads her own Climate Justice Foundation, told the Guardian she was disappointed by the poor representation of women at the talks. “This is a very male world [at the conference],” she said. “When it is a male world, you have male priorities. If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about people?”

Fiona Harvey

This article first appeared on the Guardian

Edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network


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