Imagine a world with affordable, clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and decent work and economic growth for all. That is the world the United Nations imagined when it defined the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development with “the desire to create a future where there is no poverty, the planet is protected, and all the people enjoy peace and prosperity.”
But the reality is, that world can’t exist without the equal participation, and leadership, of women—as business and political leaders, investors, and contributors to the global economy.
Just look at recent events. Women leaders offer some of our greatest hope for meaningful change across many sectors of society. Yet we are still deeply underrepresented at the highest levels of business and government. Without women at the table we are hampering our ability to create sustainable cities that drive positive global change.
Women are more inclined to take a broader, more long-term view and are more willing to engage with difficult issues that have an everyday impact not only on a company’s bottom line but across our society as a whole. Companies with women on their boards are more likely to invest in renewable power generation, low-carbon products, and energy efficiency, while women in the U.S. House of Representatives have consistently outvoted their male colleagues in favor of environmental protections every single year for a decade.
Individual investors are also playing a growing role in these efforts—with women leading the charge. Women, who control $11.2 trillion of today’s investable assets, are having a profound impact on how businesses view their role in the world, encouraging them not just to grow, but to do so responsibly. In a recent survey, 65% of women versus 42% of men say that companies’ treatment of the environment, their employees and their communities are important factors in making investment decisions.
Climate change hits women hardest
As women leaders—one in government and one in business—we have witnessed and appreciate what women leaders globally have been willing to take on.
Women leaders should be at the table not only because of their effectiveness at addressing entrenched problems like climate change and sustainable urban infrastructure, but because these issues disproportionately affect them. This is why C40 Cities, the network of 96 great cities committed to taking bold climate action, decided to launch the Women4Climate initiative, which aims to empower 500 young women by the end of 2020—as we are convinced that the 21st century is the century of women leadership.
The Women4Climate initiative is a critical project because women, particularly in less developed countries, are more vulnerable to climate change disasters. For example, 90% of the people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women; 65% of those who died during the 2003 heat waves in France were women; and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, women were significantly less likely than men to maintain their pre-hurricane employment.
It’s time to reinvent our cities and achieve our sustainability goals holistically. Governments and policymakers are crucial to urban development initiatives, including improving public transportation systems and building more sustainable infrastructure. But through the work done by the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative—a joint project of C40 Cities and the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities—we also understand that transforming our cities will require substantial investment across a number of funding sources.
That’s one reason why Bank of America is committed to deploying $125 billion in capital toward low carbon and sustainable business by 2025. As part of these efforts, we pioneered the green bond market, helping, among others, cities around the world strengthen their infrastructure by unlocking private capital to support energy efficiency and other green projects. We are also working with other financial partners as part of our Catalytic Finance Initiative—to help decrease investment risk and deliver $10 billion in capital to high-impact clean energy projects.
Strengthening our cities will require collaboration across all sectors to implement forward-thinking solutions and connect capital to innovative solutions that provide both a social and business return. Women must be an integral part of this work to create a more resilient, sustainable future for cities of all shapes and sizes.
Anne Hidalgo is the mayor of Paris and the chair of C40 Cities, an alliance of cities devoted to addressing climate change. Anne Finucane is the vice chairman of Bank of America.