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Finding principles on climate change leadership

As we’ve seen throughout this course, there are many different theoretical and practical theories and approaches to leadership, none of which is more ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other, it all depends on context.

The idea of this step is for you think about your own leadership principles. As an inspiration: these are some that we have been using in CEMUS courses to ignite the discussion:


  • When Kevin Andersson held his inaugural lecture as the new visiting Zennström professor in climate change leadership at Uppsala University it became national news. In Sweden the appointment of new professors is usually not something that gets a lot of coverage, so what was different this time? Kevin Andersson is not only a climate change researcher - he is a climate change researcher that does not fly. The combination of informing public that air travels is incompatible with a 1.5 degree target, and taking the train from the UK to a conference in China becomes a powerful message. The aspect of authenticity this creates has recently been backed with a study conducted by Columbia University professor David H. Krantz. Read the paper here.


  • Which of the lines below would you say are the longest?

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Many of you probably reason along the lines of “this is an optical illusion, they are of the same length”. And that’s not an unusual statement - you have probably seen the challenge before and you have learnt that the right answer is equal length. But in this picture, line B is actually a tiny bit longer; the rules have changed. This is an example used by Eddie Obeng from the virtual business school. He use it to show how societies today try to solve 21st century problems with 20th century solutions - something that we’ve already discussed in the article on 21st century problems. We need to find new solutions and to do that, we need to be creative and to dare to be wrong and to make plenty of mistakes. One of the key points here is the ability to lead through, or despite, uncertainty and accept it as an ever-present factor in decision-making.

Watch a TEDTalk with Eddie Obeng here.


  • Empathy happens on three different levels:

Empathy with others - As a climate change leader it’s important to understand where other people come from and why they think or act differently. Often people tend to associate only with others that have the same opinions and mindsets as themselves, but leaders also need to accept and actively engage with people that have differing entry points without resentment and acknowledge that their truths for them are just as true as his or her own seem. Without understanding, no new agreements can be reached.

Empathy with yourself - Important in regards to this is something that Doreen Stabinsky has said at the beginning of this course: I do think that it’s important to not hold the entire weight of the world on your shoulders. You’re only one person, you’re not going to be able to change the world on your own. And you shouldn’t have to. Accepting that only you can do so much and realizing that fighting for sustainability also means sustaining yourself is an important insight.

Empathy with your group - In saying that, leading in groups often just means creating space for others to become leaders themselves. Or in other words: the real achievement of a climate change leader is to motivate followers to become leaders themselves. This way we can share the burden and lift each other up when needed.

Your principles

What do you think about these principles? And what are your climate change leadership principles? How can you use them in relation to your own climate change action plan?

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This article is from the free online course:

Climate Change Leadership

Uppsala University