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Climate Change Panel Looks at Leadership Roles of Women in Law

By Rich Blaustein

November 20, 2019

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Dacia Meng of Beveridge & Diamond PC (left) moderated a November 14 climate change panel that featured (from left) Jennifer Huang of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions; Montgomery County, Maryland, assistant chief administrative officer and climate change coordinator Adriana Hochberg; Monica Medina of Our Daily Planet; and NBC4 meteorologist Amelia Draper.

Women have been disproportionately impacted by global warming, but at the same time they have been leading efforts to address climate change, a key point underscored during the November 14 panel discussion Climate Change: Women Leading Innovation presented by the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

Cosponsored by the D.C. Bar Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Community and the Environmental Law Institute, the program looked at women’s roles and challenges in confronting climate change. Dacia Meng of Beveridge & Diamond PC served as moderator.

The panel covered a range of issues, including the Paris Agreement, climate change law and science, local efforts to address climate change, and gender inequality in the profession. The panelists stressed women’s innovation and resilience, both for their contributions to climate change solutions and their ability to fight gender discrimination in the field.

Jennifer Huang, a senior international fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, follows the developments of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its accord, the Paris Agreement. Huang pointed out that women are unequally represented in climate change diplomacy, yet they are disproportionately impacted by global warming, as in the developing world where increasing water scarcity causes women to travel farther and farther to provide water for their families.

Huang highlighted some international initiatives that address the leadership inequality, such as the UNFCCC’s Lima Work Programme on Gender and the Women4Climate initiative, a mentoring program to empower emerging women leaders in C40 cities.

Huang also shed light on the MeToo movement’s significance for women working on climate change, citing that meetings continue late into the night and can take place in hotel rooms, which puts women at risk.

Panelist Adriana Hochberg, Montgomery County’s assistant chief administrative officer and climate change coordinator, said her work connects local and global concerns, highlighting the Maryland county’s goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, with an intermediate target of 80 percent reduction by 2027. For this, Hochberg said five working groups and approximately 150 participants are putting together a climate road map to be issued in December 2020.

Nicknamed the county’s “climate czarina,” Hochberg also reflected on the gender-related challenges in her work. She recalled one person who spoke up in public saying, “In the community, we have a woman who calls herself the climate czarina, but what we really need is a czar.” Hochberg said she shrugs off comments like that, but she makes sure to speak up to get the credit her efforts deserve.

Monica Medina spoke about the resilience she and other women lawyers have had to cultivate as environmental leaders. Currently an editor, writer, and publisher of Our Daily Planet, Medina has worked for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as senior counsel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Defense, and in the private sector. While at the Defense Department, Medina worked to overturn the Combat Exclusion Rule, which had a climate connection, according to Medina.

“I do believe that climate change will be a national security issue, if it isn’t already,” she said. “And one of the reasons why we needed to put the old rule away is [that] women could not get to the highest ranks in the military, and unless women are in leadership positions, we don’t see as much climate work happening,” Medina said.

NBC’s Amelia Draper, who has a daily afternoon segment on climate change, told the audience that a meteorologist is typically the one scientist people encounter during the day. Her television station conducted research that found most people think climate change is real and feel there is hope. Also, one-third of Americans say they hear about global warming weekly in the media. Draper said her station’s climate initiative was intended to reflect these findings.

Beveridge & Diamond attorney Brooklyn Hildebrandt, who works on fisheries and coastal and marine matters, said she attended the event because women are underrepresented in climate change-related conferences involving engineering and law. “Events like these are important in that we have women here in a lot of interdisciplinary fields,” Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt is from Hampton, Virginia, which she described as experiencing significant flooding with rising sea levels. She returns to Hampton on her own to work with the community, emphasizing that resilience and outreach is key.

“I think in general women are taking the lead and reaching out across the aisle . . . and reaching across industries,” Hildebrandt said.