Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo

Editor’s Note: As Anne Hidalgo kicked off her presidential campaign over the weekend, seeking to become France’s first female leader, we are sharing again this 2017 interview. 

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo isn’t just turning the City of Light green. Elected in 2014 with the support of environmentalists, she has become an international advocate for more resilient cities and a leader among the world’s mayors.

As chair of the C40, a network of 91 megacities committed to addressing climate change, Mayor Hidalgo has emerged as a forceful champion of cities as the most agile and effective implementers of the Paris Agreement. They can and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard the environment, even if national leaders like President Donald Trump decide to bow out.

In the first interview in our series, Women Mayors Talk Climate Change, we speak with Mayor Hidalgo about reducing air pollution in Paris through restrictions on cars, expanded clean public transportation and reclaimed space for pedestrians — and how she’s going global with what her city has learned.

She also explains how and why climate change and environmental problems impact women disproportionately — and what she’s doing to empower the next generation of women leaders, in business and beyond, to join her in stepping up to the global challenge.

What are the greatest environmental challenges facing your city? And, as mayor, how are you addressing them? 

One of the most urgent challenges that Paris and all major cities worldwide are facing is air pollution. Air pollution kills more than 3 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization, and the majority of these deaths occur in cities. The toxic emissions released by both petrol and particularly diesel vehicles are poisoning the air that we breathe, while also contributing to global warming.

To protect the most vulnerable in our communities, our oldest and youngest citizens, and to deliver on our commitments to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we must tackle air pollution.

In Paris, we have restricted the oldest, most polluting vehicles from entering the city thanks to the creation of a low-emission zone and the implementation of Crit’Air stickers, combined with the development of clean public transportation. By pedestrianizing the right bank of the river Seine, we have created a wonderful new space for Parisians and those who love Paris, to enjoy.

Paris and London have recently announced plans to make data available on the real world emission of new cars to help consumers make informed choices about their impact on air pollution and climate change. We have also committed, with Mexico City and Madrid, to ban diesel vehicles by 2025, which cause the most damage to public health, from entering the city altogether.

The impact of climate change is already being felt in every city worldwide. It is our duty as mayors to prepare for the changing climate in the years ahead. In Paris, we must prepare for warmer summers, wetter winters and more extreme events like heat waves or flooding.

Parisians enjoying the river Seine pedestrian area (Credit: James Mitchell)

Paris’ Adaptation Strategy, which was recognized with a prestigious C40 Award in 2016, is building the city’s resilience to the challenges posed by climate change and future resource scarcity. By 2020, we will have planted more than 20,000 trees, and 1 million square meters of green roofs and walls, which all help to combat the “urban heat island effect” experienced by big cities. We are also ensuring the resilience of Paris’ food supply by rolling out 33 hectares of urban agriculture in Paris by 2020, and setting the goal that 25 percent of food consumed in Paris will be locally produced by 2050. 

Climate change hurts women and children disproportionately. Why is that, and how does it play out in your city?  

Women disproportionately suffer the impacts of natural disasters and severe weather events because of sexist social structures and the unequal distribution of resources and power. As climate change makes these natural disasters more frequent and more intense, it is women, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, that will suffer the most. Ninety percent of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women. Surveys suggest four times as many women than men died in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

European cities like Paris are not immune to these risks. A prolonged heat wave that affected much of Western Europe in 2003 was one of the most deadly in recent memory. Studies suggest that 65 percent of the French casualties during that heatwave were women.

Women are bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Women are also massively under-represented in the political spaces where decisions are made on climate policies. If nothing changes, then women will inevitably suffer the most in the years ahead as the effects of a warming planet become more extreme.

While there is plenty of research on the effects of climate change on women in developing countries, there is a major gap in the research around the effects of climate change on women in cities. One of the key objectives of the Women4Climate initiative will be to carry out that first-of-its-kind research.

Was there an incident or moment in your life that drove you to focus on climate and the environment? 

When I was a deputy mayor between 2001 and 2008, I was in charge of the first Climate Action Plan for Paris, which in 2007 was probably one of the most ambitious of this kind in any major city. Today, thanks to organisations like C40 — a network of 91 of the world’s great cities committed to tackling climate change and a group that I chair — ambitious Climate Action plans are becoming commonplace in cities.

Back in 2007, Paris was a genuine leader in the scale of our ambition with this plan. I have never looked back from that desire to lead a green transformation of Paris and to share our knowledge and experiences with all the other cities worldwide.

What role can local business — and women entrepreneurs in particular — play in addressing your city’s environmental challenges? 

The urgency of the climate crisis means that we need every part of society to play their part, including mayors, national politicians, citizens and business leaders. Fortunately, the private sector is absolutely stepping up and committing to urgent action, just as cities are. Just look at the hundreds of CEO’s who have publicly criticized President Trump for his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

A key part of the Women4Climate initiative will be a mentoring scheme for the next generation of young women leaders in climate change. We have already launched our first call for applications for young women in Paris to join our Women4Climate Brigade. The successful participants are likely to include young women entrepreneurs and startup founders. They will receive support advice and mentoring from some inspirational women leaders, including Alexandra Palt, chief sustainability officer at L’Oréal, which is the founding sponsor of the Women4Climate initiative.

Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo with C40 mayors
Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo (center) at a Paris City Hall press conference with C40 mayors, 2015 (Credit: C40)

What do women leaders like you bring to the table that’s different and important? 

The fact is that women have to work ten times more to get the same opportunities as men. And they have then ten times less the right to fail. It is a fact that every woman has experienced in her life. That is why it is so important for successful women to empower the next generation of women leaders, supporting and mentoring them. I am convinced they will be better than us, and our responsibility is then to help remove some of the obstacles they will face. It is our duty to face the future.

As a C40 chair, I believe that climate crisis will force us to change the world, as we can’t keep on burying our heads in the sand. With the Women4Climate initiative, we want to anticipate and prepare the better tomorrows our children deserve. And these tomorrows will only be better if they consider gender equality as an undeniable point of equilibrium. The Women4Climate initiative will help to deliver that better tomorrow.

Now that President Trump has decided to exit the Paris accord, what is your message to Americans who want to take action on climate change?

I’d like to send a message to all of the inspirational young women in America, who feel their current president doesn’t represent their views on climate change and so many other issues. If you are concerned about the future and you want to see transformation in your community, you can’t afford to wait for someone else to make it happen.

As chair of the C40 Cities, I know that the mayors of 91 of the world’s greatest cities are committed to action on climate change, but there are also forces and politicians out there who would deny the science and hold back our progress.

We can only deliver the bold, ambitious change that is needed with the support of the millions of citizens who share our concerns. So young women, and men, who care about this issue need to speak out, whether through joining a local environmental group, writing to your elected officials to tell them your views, or running for public office. Your voice is key and the moment to act is now.

(This interview was originally published on June 29, 2017.)