Like Kyoto before it, Paris became a kind of accidental byword for sustainability, thanks to its role in the city’s eponymous climate accords. But aside from its symbolic power, the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has also been at the forefront of environmental policy, sometimes controversially so.
Her decision to shut down the city to cars for one day every year, and to ban older models, has provoked vitriol from some citizens. And this year, she took over as chair of C40, a global network of megacities (generally those with a population over ten million) dedicated to combating climate change. Mayor Hidalgo is not only the first female mayor of Paris, she is also the first female chair of C40. As a part of her tenure, she has launched the Women4Climate mentorship program in her city, with ten young women paired with ten experienced female mentors, including the mayor herself. According to Silvia Marcon, who works in C40’s office of the chair, Mayor Hidalgo is part of a trend.
“In 2014, we only had four women mayors in the network,” she told VICE Impact. “And at that time, C40 had about 84 mayors.” Today, Marcon says, out of 92 mayors in the C40 network, 16 are women, with more running for local office every year. And it is this specific intersection of gender and climate that Mayor Hidalgo’s leadership of the C40 has brought to the fore.
Climate change is what is known as a force multiplier -- any stresses on a society, any existing issues with infrastructure or inequality alike, will be exacerbated by rising seas or extreme weather. And, as recognized by the UN, the WHO and others, in those places where women are already facing precarious social positions, worse health outcomes and face greater economic insecurity, the perils of a changing climate will affect them more severely. But if women are at greater risk of being victims of climate change, it also means they can be uniquely positioned to fight it. It’s a duality Marcon was keen to emphasize in the program, not only women’s “vulnerability” but also, she says, their “agency.”
In 2015, Clara Duchalet was pursuing a masters in European Affairs at École de Sciences-Politique, one of France’s elite grandes écoles. But when COP21, the climate change conference, took place in Paris, she says she “completely changed course.” Though she still pursued her masters, she reoriented herself to focus on sustainability. Out of a grad school project, her new C40-backed venture Véplouche, was born.
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Duchalet’s project (a combination of the french words for bicycle and peel) is aimed at collecting food waste from restaurants for composting and bio-fuel. While C40’s other projects cover issues from investigating the adoption of renewable energy in Europe to the creation of green space along Paris’s Canal St. Martin, Duchalet’s is one of two that focus on food supply. The other, a program to create a standard sustainability certification for restaurants, finds its mentor in Alexandra Palt, the head of sustainability for L’Oreal, who are also the corporate partner of the initiative.
Palt sees the partnership with C40 on this program as a natural fit. Not only are the vast majority of L’Oreal’s customers women, the cosmetics company has also made a major push to improve its sustainability; between 2005 and 2016, it increased its production by 29 percent while simultaneously decreasing its carbon emissions by 67 percent.
“What is really great about this is that when you apply for this program, you don’t need to have a business plan ready,” she told VICE Impact. “You can really work around an idea.”
That freedom and space for candor is built into the program. Sessions are closed-door to encourage frank and free conversation among the class of mentors and mentees. Duchalet recalled the mentorship program’s meeting with at Paris’s City Hall with all the mentors and mentees together, including Mayor Hidalgo, Alexandra Palt and Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador to the COP21. (Duchalet’s own mentor is Karine Bidart, the co-CEO of Paris&Co, the economic development agency for the city.) But it was her commonalities with that high ranking group, as a woman trying to succeed in the same world, that impressed her most.
“I was surprised because I felt the same way as them,” she says. “That we always had to be the first in the class, to prove ourselves. And it was so relieving to hear them talk like this.”
The space for women to discuss their work and professional experiences freely and openly is just as important than ever. Indeed, the Women4Climate mentorship program has proven so popular by the end of this year, ten more C40 member cities will have launched the initiative. Next up? Mexico City, currently seeking applications.
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