White House Women Leaders in Climate Change Finance and Investment

By Kristina Mader 

InfographicOn January 14, the National Girls Collaborative Project attended the White House event on “Women Leaders in Climate Change Finance and Investment,” the second in a series of events highlighting the role of women in efforts to address climate change. This event featured speakers from across the business and policy communities and aimed to increase awareness of and coordination on efforts to mainstream climate change into finance and investment decisions. It showcased success stories and perspectives of women finance leaders working to mainstream climate change into finance and identify opportunities for partnerships and actions that can promote the scale up and dissemination of climate-related finance and investment.

The President’s Climate Action Plan was provided as context for some of the recent efforts of the U.S. Government on this issue, emphasizing the importance placed on cutting carbon, strengthening the resilience of cities and states, supporting clean energy and technology jobs, and providing assistance to adaptation efforts in developing countries. Significant action and investment by both the public and private sectors is required in order to ensure these efforts succeed.

In order to ensure this and other climate change policies success, partnerships with the private sector are essential. This event focused on one aspect of the private sector, financial services, which encompasses investments. This sector has the potential for improving both climate preparedness and carbon pollution mitigation by creating new investment opportunities in sustainable solutions and low-carbon alternatives, as well as strengthening climate risk management. Globally the climate finance conversation also touches on ways in which to divest from “dirty” investments, for example, creating disincentives fossil fuel investing.

SpeakerSpeakers during the first portion of the event included Dan Utech, Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Domestic Policy Council; John Podesta, Counsellor to the President on climate change and environmental issues; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Senator Jean Shaheen (NH); and keynote Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. (Video)  

Two panels followed with speakers from a range of public and private entities, all of which highlighted various ways in which financial services are currently supporting sustainable initiatives and opportunities to scale-up proven local initiatives addressing key energy challenges.

Throughout the event – the role of women as leaders in this issue was illustrated, as evidenced many speakers noted, by recent statistics that found that not only do women care more about addressing climate change, but women involved in the financial sector – either as advisors or investors – are more interested in investments which are sustainable. According to a recent survey of financial advisors, women reported themselves as strongly interested in recommending sustainable investments to their clients (59% for women, vs. 34% for men). Surveys of investors found a similar difference, with 53% of female investors interested in environmentally responsible investments, compared to only 33% of men. This is further reflected when examining specific sectors, with men showing significantly more interest than women in non-renewable energy investment. When women serve in higher positions in the private sector, it often results in a greater focus on long-term sustainability, and a stronger record reducing carbon emissions through value chains.

In order to take advantage of new opportunities in the renewable energy and green technology sectors, Ms. Nancy Pfund of DBL Investments noted that women need to have the technical skills and expertise in subjects such as science, technology and engineering, along with a strong interest in entrepreneurship and business. The low numbers of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which have been well-documented by NGCP and its partners, is a major barrier to the ability for women to leverage these opportunities. On average, women earn only 18% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, computer science and physics. Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (Source).

As was noted by one panelist, “women’s leadership is going to get progress on climate change.” We need to break down the barriers and make progress now.


Kristina Mader works for the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security and is pursuing her M.S. in Global Affairs at New York University. Her research interests include climate change, natural resource management, and counterterrorism, with a focus on supporting gender-responsive policymaking.