From mayors to heads of state, politicians the world over are going green. Check out our list of top achievers, then tell us which political leaders you’d nominate in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
The Governator has truly pumped up environmental action in California. He made the state a global leader on climate change by signing into law the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which commits the state to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. He’s also done some heavy lifting to clean up new cars and trucks sold in the state, instituted a program to track levels of chemicals in Californians’ bodies, and, with other West Coast governors, pledged to protect the health of the Pacific Ocean. It’s enough to make us forget Junior — almost.
Maathai plants seeds both literally and figuratively as the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which promotes peace and good governance through environmental protection and has inspired Kenyans to plant 30 million trees since it began in 1977. A member of the Kenyan Parliament and one-time presidential candidate, she is best known as winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”
The left-wing London mayor known as “Red Ken” has a new color in his palette. Aiming to make his city the greenest in the world, he’s levied a tax on vehicles entering the city center during normal weekday work hours, cracking down especially hard on SUV drivers. Under his Climate Change Action Plan, London will get 25 percent of its power from more-efficient, local sources and reduce carbon emissions 60 percent within 20 years; in addition, he’s pledged about $90 million in the 2008 budget for programs to fight climate change. And that’s just the wonky stuff — Livingstone has also announced plans for a housing development in East London that will produce no carbon emissions.
Clark, the prime minister of New Zealand, has pledged to make Kiwiland the first carbon-neutral country by reducing emissions and offsetting the rest. New Zealand has started working toward that goal by increasing biofuel production and neutralizing the emissions of six government departments. The race is on!
Born to a family of rubber tappers in the Brazilian Amazon, Marina Silva went on to graduate from university, found the independent trade-union movement, and gain election to Brazil’s federal senate. In 1996, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism on behalf of the rainforest and the rubber tappers who make a sustainable living from it. Today, she is Brazil’s environment minister and an avid protector of the Amazon. Due in part to her efforts, deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest has decreased by nearly 50 percent in the past two years.
British Conservative Party leader Cameron is challenging the green cred of the more-traditionally environmental Labor Party with his ambitious policy recommendations, which include binding annual targets for cutting carbon emissions, energy decentralization, and “frequent flyer” taxes aimed at restricting aviation. His personal life is nothing to sneeze at either: He rides his bicycle to the House of Commons and grows organic carrots in his garden.
Garrett, former frontman for outspoken Australian rock band Midnight Oil, still rocks — and is still outspoken — as a member of the Aussie House of Representatives and shadow minister for climate change, environment, heritage, and the arts. His previous gigs will also strike a chord with greens: he spent 10 years as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and two years on the international board of Greenpeace, and was a founding member of the Surfrider Foundation, an ocean-advocacy group.
As mayor of Seattle, Nickels initiated the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a group of 496 municipal leaders (so far) who have pledged their cities to meet the Kyoto Protocol target of a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. Participating mayors, who together represent more than 64 million Americans, also urge climate action on the national level. Nickels’ local goals include increasing the number of trees in the Emerald City and improving bike and public-transportation options.
As environment minister of the European Union from 1999 to 2004, Wallström aggressively sought to boost standards for chemical safety, improve air and water quality, and create detailed action plans on climate change, biodiversity, and resource preservation. She was a leader in convincing every last E.U. member to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, and an outspoken critic of the U.S.’s failure to ratify. Now, as a vice president of the European Commission, she has been active in creating sustainability reporting guidelines and figuring out how to market Europe’s high environmental standards to the rest of the world. Plus, she blogs!
Canada’s other Dion, the recently elected leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged to unite the quest for a better environment, social justice, and economic growth into a holistic vision of sustainability. Called by one blogger “the environmental candidate for the non-environmentalist,” Dion will be in the running to become prime minister of Canada when the nation holds its next election, expected sometime this year. He has proposed tax credits for energy efficiency and pledged to make a concerted effort to meet Kyoto Protocol goals; in fact, he loves Kyoto so much, he named his dog after it. No, really!
German chancellor, former environment minister, and current leader of the G8, Merkel is an outspoken advocate for action against climate change. She was a driving force behind a recent E.U. green-energy pact, which established a union-wide goal of using 20 percent renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020, and she pushed with all her might to get George W. Bush to say the U.S. would “consider seriously” a goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 50 percent by 2050. She also acts on her principles by using compact fluorescent light bulbs in her home (though her comment that they’re “not quite bright enough” might not have helped the cause).
The chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has called climate change “the greatest challenge of our generation” and is a cosponsor of one of the strongest climate bills in Congress. The California Democrat has long been an environmental champion in the Senate, coming out swinging to prevent drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, coauthoring a 2001 law to help clean up and redevelop contaminated industrial land, and leading the charge against toxic gasoline additive MTBE.
Xie, the Chinese vice minister of state development and reform and the former environment minister, has been a key player in pushing to make China greener. He has promoted environmental protection as a national policy and sustainable practices for China’s rapidly expanding economy. His work was honored with the United Nations’ Sasakawa Environment Prize in 2003, a monetary award that Xie invested in environmental education in some of the country’s poorest areas.
As the European commissioner for the environment, Greece’s Dimas has forged plans to cut airline emissions and push new clean-air rules. He also presided over the adoption of REACH, the European Union’s groundbreaking chemical regulation system, and he doesn’t shy away from criticizing the United States for obstructing action against climate change. Other political leaders have pressed him to stem the steady flow of environmental legislation, but Dimas pushes on.
A green mayor in a “red” state, Salt Lake City’s Rocky Anderson has remade his municipality during two terms in office. Anderson outlined a plan to lower the city government’s carbon dioxide emissions 21 percent between 2001 and 2012, and met those targets six years ahead of schedule. Salt Lake now has an improved public transit system, including light rail, and requires that new and renovated city-owned or -managed buildings be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program.
Since taking office as New York’s governor in January, Spitzer got right to work greening the place up. He’s started with a complete retrofitting of the 39-room governor’s mansion, overhauling everything from the light bulbs to the lawn mowers, and has his sights set on more state buildings for the next round of greening. Prior to his election, he spent eight years crusading for environmental protection as New York’s attorney general, suing the Bush administration numerous times over failure to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, mercury pollution from power plants, pesticide use in public housing, and efficiency standards for appliances.
This Australian senator is the leader and co-founder of the Aussie Green Party and has long been a rabble-rouser down under for environmental issues and human rights. In 1983, he was arrested while protesting a dam, spent 19 days in jail, and was elected to the Tasmanian Parliament on the day of his release. More recently, he is involved in a lawsuit against Gunns Limited, an Australian forest-products company seeking to build a pulp mill in Tasmania.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a comprehensive, 25-year sustainability plan on Earth Day this year, aiming, among other things, to reduce the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 30 percent by the year 2030. His numerous green initiatives include switching the city’s taxi fleet to hybrids and supporting installation of the world’s first free-flow tidal-power turbines off Roosevelt Island. Will the Big Apple soon be known as the Green Apple?
This California representative is championing the toughest climate bill in the U.S. House: the Safe Climate Act, introduced in mid-March, which calls for an emissions freeze at 2009 levels and gradual reductions through 2050 to bring the U.S. to 80 percent below 1990 levels. Waxman’s been a consistent leader on environmental issues, fighting for pesticide regulations, the Clean Air Act, the Lead Contamination Control Act, and communities’ rights to know about pollution levels.
Tell us which green leaders you’d vote for in comments below.
Kate Sheppard contributed to this list.
Get Grist in your inbox