Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Top 10 Elected Officials Leading the Transition to a Low Carbon Economy

By Boyd Cohen

Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., CO2 IMPACT

One lucky 3p reader who retweets this article will receive receive a signed, hardback edition of Climate Capitalism. Click the Tweet button above and tweet this article to enter!  You must be following triplepundit for us to contact you!

In a prior post I profiled ten global business leaders of the climate capitalism movement.  Corporations, in my opinion, are best positioned to change our trajectory to a more sustainable, low-carbon society. However, I believe that courageous politicians across the political spectrum will continue to be instrumental in creating the appropriate incentives and regulatory signals needed to facilitate private sector investment.  This was evidenced by the more than 250 investors representing $15 trillion worth of assets who pleaded with political leaders to reach agreement on a post 2012 global climate accord.

Here are my top 10 elected officials who have shown courage in leading their communities, states and countries towards a profitable low carbon economy.

Drum roll... 1) Mayor Richard Daley (Chicago). This post was partially inspired by the fact that Friday, May 13th was Mayor Daley’s last day in office as the long-term visionary Mayor of Chicago.  Not without his critics (name an elected politician without them!) Mayor Daley’s impact was summed up quite nicely by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin the other day:

Richard Daley's vision has been clear-to make Chicago one of the best cities in the world and he pursued that goal with fierce determination. His leadership transformed Chicago from a Rustbelt manufacturing center to a cultural center…He has worked relentlessly to make Chicago the most livable big-city in America and the most environmentally friendly city in the world.
2) Mayor Gregor Robertson (Vancouver). Less known south of the border, Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson shows significant potential as a climate capitalism promoting politician. Like Governor Schwarzenegger (below), Mayor Robertson has shown a willingness to take on controversial issues such as promoting bike lanes over parking spaces.  Mayor Robertson was a successful green entrepreneur (co-founded Happy Planet) prior to entering politics. Since becoming Mayor he partnered with the Carbon War Room’s Green Capital Global Challenge, to put Vancouver on the path towards being the greenest city in the world by 2020.


3) Chancellor Angela Merkel (Germany). I know that very few people would have ever included this conservative head of state on this list.  Many would say she has fought the transition kicking and screaming.  However Chancellor Merkel has begun to boldly lay out a clean energy future virtually unrivalled by any other leader in the industrialized world.  An article published on May 9th articulated Chancellor Merkel’s surprising turnaround on energy and the environment.  Some of her change of heart can be attributed to the unfortunate nuclear disaster in Japan, but regardless of the cause, the new vision for Germany currently being laid out is quite impressive.  Just a few of the big, hairy audacious goals include: phasing out nuclear (25% of Germany’s current electricity generation) by 2022, reaching 50% of energy from renewables by 2030 while reducing CO2 emissions by 40% in 2020 and 80% by 2050.

4) Prime Minister David Cameron (UK). Once again a conservative head of state is showing that he understands the benefits of the transition to the low carbon economy.  Prime Minister Cameron recognizes that this transition will lead to job creation and economic growth while hopefully mitigating the worst of climate change.  In his own words:

Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda…Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world and we must have a much greater sense of urgency about tackling it….The instinct to protect and enhance the world around us has been at the heart of Conservatism for generations….
5) Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (California). The Gubernator had his day in the California sun as a Republican governor.  His legacy as Governor is mixed. The Mercury News summed it up this way:
He leaves a legacy of landmark environmental laws, public works spending and the first steps of significant political reform. Yet Schwarzenegger also leaves California a financial basket case, with the nation's lowest credit rating and a staggering $25.4 billion budget deficit -- far larger than the $10.2 billion deficit he inherited from Davis.

Regarding the climate, former Governor Schwarzenegger will always be remembered for helping to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act to promote cost-effective ways of combatting global warming.

6) Elizabeth May, MP (Green Party Leader, Canada). I recently wrote about my optimistic feelings regarding the election of Canada’s first Green Party MP, Elizabeth May.  While many assume the Green Party is full of tree-hugging, anti-capitalist liberals, Canada’s Green Party has a clear focus on integrating environmental and climate protection along with growing the economy.  As the Leader of the Green Party, MP May will now be able to promote climate capitalism at the federal level.  I recently suggested in Corporate Knights that Elizabeth May and I team up to a debate with Canada’s “fossil” Prime Minister, Stephen Harper on the topic of climate protection and the economy.  Armed with the Green Party’s Smart Economy platform and Climate Capitalism, I feel we could win the battle with facts about how communities, companies and countries are already profiting from the transition to the low-carbon economy.

7) Former Governor Christy Todd Whitman (New Jersey). Former Governor Whitman, like Governor Shwarzenegger, is a Republican.  But her conservative political affiliation does not restrict her from seeing the big picture regarding climate change.  Governor Whitman, a former Director of the EPA in the Bush Administration, is a board member for the bi-partisan American Security Project (ASP).  The ASP recently published a report called Pay Now, Pay Later regarding the costs of inaction on climate change.  Governor Whitman was quoted in the press release:

Too often the debate about climate breaks down over cost, with many Americans rightfully concerned about what limiting pollution would do to our economy.  But what this series of reports shows is that there is a cost on the other side of the ledger, too.  There will be costs to our economic security from climate change—and significant ones at that—if we do nothing but continue business as usual.
8) Former Mayor Martin Joseph Chávez (Albuquerque). Former Mayor Martin Chávez, no affiliation with Hugo, was a bold leader for Albuquerque, New Mexico. During his tenure, Mayor Chavez won several national and global awards for environmental and climate protection such as the World Leadership Award for Water Conservation and Utilities, the EPA Climate Protection Award, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Climate Protection Award, Siemens Sustainable Community Award 2008, and Best Cities for Jobs and a Career from Forbes Magazine.  Former Mayor Chavez is now the Executive Director for ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives).

9) Former Mayor Greg Nickels (Seattle). Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the founder of the highly influential U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.  Recognizing cities are at the front of line of many of the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change, former Mayor Nickels launched this program which now has more than 1,000 participating mayors from around the U.S.  As Tom Cochran, Executive Director for the U.S. Conference of Mayors commented:

Mayors have single-handedly taken action on climate protection efforts and in many cases, creatively launched local energy efficiency programs to help reduce our carbon footprint in American cities.
10) Mayor Karl Dean (Nashville). The efforts by Mayor Dean were first brought to my attention by my co-author, Hunter Lovins.  Elected in 2007, Mayor Dean has made sustainability a priority for Nashville.  His goal is to make Nashville the greenest city in the Southeast and has begun to take steps to do so as he reported in the Nashville Scene.
Climate change is a real issue that cities have to think about. We have taken a number of measures in the last couple of years that, even without climate change, are good for the city and the quality of life here, but will also help protect us against the risks that are predicted to accompany changes in our environment.

Some of the initiatives Mayor Dean has led include a building retrofit program, a Clean Water Infrastructure Program and a Green Infrastructure Master Plan.

One thing for sure this list shows is that politicians of all stripes are coming to realize the potential for transforming their economies while simultaneously working to reduce their carbon footprint.  There are surely many others I have missed. Please feel free to add further suggestions in the comments section.


Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.

Twitter: boydcohen

This series will use the hashtag #climatcaptlsm


Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.

Twitter: boydcohen

Read more stories by Boyd Cohen