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Women Lead the World’s Most Sustainable Cities

In the fight against climate change, cities are proving to be much better combatants than the snoozing generals that are, all too often, national governments. Smaller and nimbler, cities are becoming showpieces of successful climate action, and the protagonists of this spectacle of municipal leadership are increasingly women.

The mayors of the top three cities in this year’s Sustainable Cities Index – Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen – are all women, but the trend is not unique to famously progressive Scandinavia; from Bogotá to Mexico City to Accra to Tokyo, female mayors around the world are distinguishing themselves as climate leaders. Indeed, 50% of the top 10 cities in the index are led by women. C40, the network of cities founded in 2005 by then London mayor Ken Livingstone to collectively promote climate action, has spawned a subgroup of female mayors. In 2014, they numbered four; three years later, they were 15, and their number continues to grow.

There’s no single explanation for this swell in female municipal leadership, and it’s risky to attribute certain qualities or strengths to women as a whole. Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek points out that while men are typically judged on their ability to deliver business results, women are expected to be caring and nurturing advocates for the weak and vulnerable, and for Mother Earth. To rise through the ranks in municipal politics, women have to prove their mettle in all areas, or, as Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has put it, “work 10 times harder than men.”

If any generalization can be made, then, it would be that by the time women land in the mayoral seat, they’ve learned how to fight. “You have to be unafraid,” says Gondek, whose first act upon being elected mayor of Canada’s oil and gas capital last November was to declare a climate emergency. Gondek felt the public statement was vital to Calgary’s future prosperity, framing it not in opposition to the oil and gas industry, but in keeping with a “transition and transformation” that has long since been underway but not yet become part of her city’s narrative.

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