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FEATURE STORYMarch 5, 2023

Dr Binbin Wang, China: Stubborn Optimist, Open-minded Social Scientist, Lifelong Learner

Dr Binbin Wang, China

World Bank, 2023

Each year for International Women’s Day, the World Bank meets women across East Asia Pacific who are challenging, creating, and leading the way in their fields.

Dr Binbin Wang is Executive Secretary General of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, hosted by China’s Tsinghua University. A climate activist and social scientist, Dr Wang has been involved with the UNFCCC process since 2009, and offers cross-cultural expertise on global climate governance and policy. 

Describing herself as a stubborn optimist, Dr Wang is working to accelerate bottom-up actions and joint efforts between China and the world towards the global net-zero transition.

What inspired you to work in the field of climate change? 

In March 2009, I went to Gansu and saw corn crops damaged by sudden hail in a small village. The villagers told me that it was getting drier. When it was time to rain, it would unexpectedly hail, and the year's harvest would be gone. Farmers depend on the weather for food. If the weather changed, it directly affected their livelihood. This is the climate reality I witnessed. Climate change is not only the melting of glaciers in the far north and south poles - it also directly impacts people's lives. A few months later, I went to Copenhagen to attend COP15, which began my climate journey combining research and action.

This year's theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.’ In your opinion, how can digital technology, and innovation, deliver greater gender equality?

In his speech ‘The Gender Power Gap,’ UN Secretary General António Guterres said that centuries of discrimination and deep-rooted patriarchy have created a wide gender power gap in our economies, our political systems, and our corporations. There is even a gender gap in our response to the climate crisis.

Initiatives to reduce and recycle are overwhelmingly marketed at women, while men are more likely to put their faith in untested technological fixes. Women economists and parliamentarians are more likely than men to support pro-environmental policies. That speech helped me to be aware of and think deeper about gender issues.

Recent research found that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency – essentially, the extent to which they embrace and use digital technologies – women are better at using those digital skills to gain more education and to find work. It’s good news for women around the world. I hope that more and more women can and seize the opportunities brought by technological progress to become better selves.

What does climate change mean to you? 

In the past ten years, climate change has gone beyond my work level and become internalized into a mission. The climate crisis is a common challenge for all mankind and needs multilateral cooperation from all countries. 

All of mankind is experiencing a green revolution of replacing fossil energy with new energy, which is a new historical opportunity for everyone. 

A net-zero future requires interdisciplinary professional background, involving politics, economy, environment, biodiversity, sociology, and psychology, and more. A lot of new knowledge needs to be learned, which makes me very excited. My daily motivation is to accelerate bottom-up actions and joint efforts from China to the world for the global net-zero transition. 

How have you seen issues of equality evolve in the climate change arena? 

Rural areas are directly affected by climate change, and women there are also the most directly affected by climate change. Frequent extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, affect their health, increase their extra living burden, and affect the livelihood development of the whole family. 

There is still great potential for research on climate change and gender. There is relatively little research and attention on how climate change impacts urban women, for example.

What are the key ingredients to succeeding in addressing the challenge of climate change?

The key to tackling climate change and achieving carbon neutrality is to carry out cooperation at the national, regional, and global levels, promote the active participation of governments at all levels, the private sector, the media, international organizations, social organizations, academia, and the general public, and take action from different perspectives. We can only achieve our goals when everyone is aware of the importance of this issue and everyone takes action on their own.

What are some of your favorite projects, or significant people you’ve worked with in your career? 

I can think of two favorite projects. One is the ‘Homeward Bound’ global women's leadership training program. At the end of 2018, I was selected to go to the Antarctic with 90 female scientists from 28 countries to discuss climate solutions. Putting aside all the halos of identity, we found so many similarities between us, which inspired us to support each other in the community and not be alone on the way forward.

Another favorite project is the ‘Climate X’ campaign of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC). This campaign emphasizes the synergy between climate action and the other 16 sustainable development goals and encourages people to step out of their own silos, communicate more, and find collaborative, innovative solutions from a cross-cutting perspective. I got the support of 15 member universities of the Alliance when I shared this idea with them. We designed activities at the national, regional and international levels, selected global youth ambassadors, designed the Global Youth Summit on Net-Zero Future, and proposed the Global Youth Climate Week. These events have had far-reaching international impacts. I felt grateful because I met many like-minded friends and interesting souls.

In the field of climate governance, Minister Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, is a global leader with wisdom and open-mindedness. He has persisted in the environmental protection and climate front for nearly 40 years, participated in the global climate governance process for 15 consecutive years, and devoted his life to this cause. 

In 2016, I invited Minister Xie to visit a fishing village in Vietnam. Minister Xie reflected that the trip made him realize that addressing climate change can promote economic development, protect the environment, improve livelihoods, and conserve biodiversity. And all those tasks can be fulfilled in a synergetic approach. At that moment, I found the key towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in China? 

The first is to improve women's awareness, improve their sense of self-worth; respecting themselves, accepting themselves, and then becoming brave.

In China, gender equality is a basic national policy. The proportion of women in the power structure has increased significantly compared with the past, but there is still a long way to go. Improving women's rights and interests should not only be a topic of concern to the Women's Federation but should also enhance public awareness and create a women-friendly public environment.

What advice would you have for women in China who are still studying or early in their careers? 

Pursue your dreams bravely. Don't be bound by prejudice and judgment. You create the future, and the path may also be brand new. Only with courage can you reach a beautiful fulfillment. 

**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.


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