Cop27: Lack of women leaders impairing global climate response - Mary Robinson

Women tend to have lots of questions on ‘lifestyle changes we need to make to live more sustainably’

Having more women as political leaders would ensure the response to the climate crisis was more effective and underpinned by its greater empathy, according to climate justice champion Mary Robinson.

Speaking at Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, where the gender issue has been to the fore like never before at Cop summits, the chair of The Elders leaders group highlighted how she was struck by the group photograph of world leaders taken last week which was dominated by men.

“I’m annoyed just seeing that photo from the opening day of the leaders here. Come on, 21st century?”

“Part of the problem of why we don’t have enough empathy to understand what’s happening in our world and the gross inequality that is ruining everything is because women are not the top people,” she added.


“I genuinely think if we had more women at the top table, we would have more empathy and understanding of why we need to fix a broken system that isn’t prioritising the right things.”

Coinciding with Cop27, the UN published the latest available data on sustainable development goal (SDG) 5, which shows the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030.

“Raised ambition and accelerated action for our planet absolutely require the full and equal participation and leadership of women and girls, in all their diversity,” it noted.

“Without gender equality, there is no climate justice. Gender equality is the crucial missing link in the achievement of all our grand plans, including the Paris Agreement and subsequent Cop outcomes,” it highlighted.

Only 47 per cent of data required to track progress on SDG 5 are currently available, “rendering women and girls effectively invisible”, it said.

‘Disproportionate impact’

UCD professor in environmental policy Cara Augustenborg said some years ago she came to realise the importance of women’s involvement in climate decision making and communication, and why that mattered. “At the time, I saw climate as a purely scientific problem that was gender neutral,” she added.

It did not take much research to learn that climate catastrophe disproportionately impacts women, she said. “In developing countries, it is women tasked with the challenge of sourcing water and food, both at risk from our changing climate. It is women who stay behind to protect their children from extreme weather events, sometimes at the cost of losing their own lives.

“In developed countries, it is women who make decisions directly linked to climate action, such as what kind of car to buy or how to get children to school; what renovations to make on their homes; what type of holiday to take; and what kind of food to buy for families,” said Prof Augustenborg, who is a board member of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

In the past, there were almost no women speaking publicly about climate change, “and we couldn’t expect people to change if they didn’t feel their voices were represented publicly”.

Women tend to have lots of questions about “new technological and lifestyle changes we need to make to live more sustainably and they appreciate hearing advice from another woman who faces similar challenges to them”.

This is her third Cop summit, having attended Cop21 in Paris and Cop22 in Marrakesh. “At both those Cops, I was dismayed at the largely male-dominated conference. I couldn’t believe it was mostly men deciding the fate of our climate and future generations with little intervention from women who represent both a significant proportion of the victims of climate change but also as the potential changemakers on the ground.”

At Cop22, when she asked an Irish negotiator how they intended to address the absence of women on their negotiating team, the response she got was: “I suppose you want me to have a sex change.”

She confirmed a marked change at the current Cop. “While you can fault this Cop27 for a lot of things, the one thing that seems vastly improved is the presence of women at the event in general and specifically on negotiating and civil society groups like Ireland’s, which is largely female this year,” Prof Augustenborg said.

“For me, it’s a relief to know this momentous challenge is being considered from all angles, including the experiences of both men and women.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times