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Why Women are Crucial in the Climate Battle: an interview with Councillor Jennifer McKelvie

Joy Kwak

· General

Jennifer McKelvie is the City Councillor for Ward 25, Scarborough – Rouge Park, City of Toronto. A Scarborough – Rouge Park resident for 15 years, she is a graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough (B.Sc. Environmental Science) and is a Geoscientist. Her graduate (Ph.D. 2006) and postgraduate research was supported by numerous provincial, national and international awards. Prior to becoming Councillor, she managed industrial-academic partnerships and environmental research in the non-profit sector.

Councillor McKelvie is also the co-founder of the Women4Climate Mentorship Programme in Toronto. Following the programme’s launch in Vancouver and Montreal, Toronto became the 17th city to host the programme, joining cities across the world such as Lisbon, Barcelona, and Paris. Women4Climate is an initiative started by C40 Cities, which focuses on providing the training, skills, and networks needed for more effective climate action. This week, I had the opportunity to interview Councillor McKelvie on what she believed to be important elements of climate activism. Below, she shares her thoughts on empowerment and the impact of women in the fight against climate change. (Some of Councillor McKelvie’s answers have been paraphrased or shortened for the length of this article.)

Interview with Councillor McKelvie

Question: What is the importance of providing opportunities for “mentorship, networking, and collaborative learning” as featured in the Programme?

Councillor McKelvie: “The cornerstone of the programme is obviously mentorship but C40 also encourages networking and collaborative learning by mentors and mentees. In Toronto, we've added four Knowledge Labs to help the mentees develop and advance their project idea. The Knowledge Labs address idea development, financial and business planning, as well as communication and pitching. Mentees have the option to learn from their mentors, along with representatives from business, government and non-profit organizations but we also hope they learn from one another and form relationships that will help them later in their careers.”

Question: Why is it important to offer these kinds of programmes to women in particular?

Councillor McKelvie: “While women represent approximately fifty percent of the world's population, we have seen that worldwide, women do not have equal representation in government or in boardrooms. Women are also disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.They often have less access to resources, employment and property, while having more household and childcare responsibilities. That said, women are resilient and are stepping forward as leaders in addressing climate change. Women played a crucial role in negotiating the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 and we need to continue to amplify women's voices and give them a seat at the table.”

Question: Why Toronto?

Councillor McKelvie: “In the last several years, the City of Toronto has taken decisive action in addressing climate change. On October 2, 2019, City Council voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, adopting a stronger emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050 or sooner.

In offering a programme like Women4Climate at the city-level, we are uniquely positioned to implement changes and ideas faster. The mentees are working on projects that are either social innovations or tech-based and all are relevant to the City of Toronto's current climate goals. We need to encourage all types of ideas in order to strengthen our efforts in addressing climate change and we hope the projects developed during the mentorship programme can eventually be scaled to have a provincial and national impact.”

Question: What made you help deliver this programme in particular?

Councillor McKelvie: “I was fortunate to attend the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen in October of 2019. Before I left, Heather Taylor, the Chief Financial Officer at the City of Toronto encouraged me to look into Women4Climate. While I was at the Summit, I was inspired to hear about the action being taken by female leaders like the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, who has committed to planting 1 million trees in 2020 to help build resilience against flooding and absorb carbon dioxide. Right then, I knew we had to take action in Toronto. When I returned, Heather (co-founder, Toronto programme) and I began to work on bringing the programme to our City.”

Question: How have you worked for climate activism in the past and how do you work toward mitigation today?

Councillor McKelvie: “As a summer co-op student in Yellowknife twenty years ago, I helped collect samples and data from several hydrometric stations. Climate scientists were predicting that the arctic and subarctic would exhibit more warming than mid-latitudes. A decade later, I was fortunate to participate in a field campaign in Greenland assessing glacier-permafrost-groundwater dynamics. At the field station, local residents and glaciologists spoke of the retreat they’d seen in glaciers over time. It had become indisputable: climate change was dramatically changing northern landscapes at an alarming rate.

By 2017, the impacts of climate change were visible in my own community, as the parking lot of Rouge National Urban Park was flooded by record high Lake Ontario water levels. Climate change impacts are now being felt right here, right now, in Toronto. This urgency to act on climate change was a large part of what compelled me to make the transition from environmental geoscientist to politician. After my election in 2018, I was fortunate to be designated as the Mayor’s Environment & Resilience Champion. In that capacity, I have been striving to play an active role in the City of Toronto’s climate change, resilience and ravine strategies.”

Having women in the climate debate and on the frontlines of climate action is crucial today.

As Councillor McKelvie said, “while women represent approximately fifty percent of the world's population… women do not have equal representation in government or in boardrooms”. It is instrumental that women, particularly women from diverse economic, racial, social, and religious backgrounds, are leading climate discussions starting from today. Having more women in decision-making capacities will enhance global cooperation, lead to more inclusive policy decisions, and assist in the success of reaching collective global goals.

Call to Action: Learn more about Women4Climate Toronto here. Are you interested in learning more about women empowerment? You can read a fantastic summary of it here, or access an informative report here. Are you interested in taking action directly? You can donate to different programmes for women’s political inclusion such as the Women’s Leadership Project or Equal Voice. Finally, are you interested in taking climate action locally? Check out our Community Climate Hubs for information on how you can be a community advocate or a Climate Leader!

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