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This year’s global climate talks must not ignore girls’ education, says former Australian PM

Words: Robert Langkjær-Bain

Photos: Ken Hermann

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Gender equality should be high on the agenda when leaders gather at the COP26 climate conference in November, says Julia Gillard.

World leaders meeting at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) must remember that fixing global warming goes hand-in-hand with getting more girls into school, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said today.

Speaking at Tomorrow Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gillard said that both education and health “need to be squarely on the table” at November’s talks.

Gillard told 5: “It’s crucial that gender equality is taken into account when we’re thinking about strategies to deal with climate change. We know that if we educated every girl on the planet… she would go on to become a woman who is likely to marry later, to choose to have fewer children. If that had been done 10 years ago, peak global population would have been two billion people less. So female empowerment, women’s equality and sustainability strategies go hand-in-hand, and girls’ education is the link.”

“I would describe myself at this stage as a very cautious optimist”

Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard, photographed at Tomorrow Festival

As well as improving life prospects and reducing inequality, education and family planning for girls and young women is seen as a key way to fight climate change in the longer term, by curbing population growth. In fact, Project Drawdown, which researches climate solutions, rates it as potentially more impactful than offshore wind, public transport and electric cars.

Currently, Gillard said, women and girls are more likely to be poor and socially disadvantaged, putting them at greater risk from the effects of climate change. But they’re also underrepresented among decision makers – meaning their talent and perspectives aren’t being used to help tackle the problem. Gillard told 5: “We want the A-team on the field, and if you believe, as I do, that merit is equally distributed between the genders, it should be half men, half women, and that’s not where we are now.”

Julia Gillard speaking at Tomorrow Festival in Copenhagen

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One of Gillard’s achievements as prime minister was the introduction of a carbon pricing scheme to force Australia’s big polluters to pay for their emissions – but the law was repealed just two years later by the subsequent government. Even so, it proved that effective climate action is possible, she said. “When carbon was priced you did see emissions coming down, and then when the newly elected government got rid of the price, the emissions started to go back up… It did work.”

Gillard, who served as Australia’s first woman prime minister from 2010 to 2013, now chairs several organisations including the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and the Global Partnership for Education.

When asked today how optimistic she is about the outcomes of COP26, Gillard said, “I would describe myself at this stage as a very cautious optimist.”

5 Media is a media partner of Tomorrow Festival


  • Find out more about Tomorrow Festival – continuing on Saturday 4 September – here
  • Watch Julia Gillard’s TED Talk with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala here
  • Check out Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala’s book Women and Leadership
  • Watch Julia Gillard’s powerful speech from 2012, calling out misogyny in Australia’s politics and media
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