Ana Barreira

Ana Barreira (IIDMA): “The fossil fuel sector has been dominated by male presence”

Lawyer, graduate in Law, Master in International Legal Studies (New York University) and in Environmental Law (London University), Ana Barreira became interested in environmental law more than 30 years ago, when it was a concept that was barely heard of in Spain. In 1997, she founded the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA), a pioneering non-profit organization in Europe and the first of its kind in Spain. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Barreira offers her vision on how the role of women jurists dedicated to the defense of the planet and their role in the energy transition has evolved. 

You founded the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) more than 25 years ago. How has environmental law changed over the years?

More than changing, an evolution is taking place. In fact, when I founded the International Institute for Law and the Environment there was already a great diversity of environmental protection rules, both at the international level – international Conventions such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Convention on Biological Diversity, among others – and at the European level – Directives and Regulations – and rules at the state level – environmental regulations approved by the Spanish State and also some of the Autonomous Communities-. Nowadays, awareness in society has increased as a result of the existence of scientific evidence, and the law responds to its needs. The approval and improvement of more international standards has been promoted as well, which is reflected in EU and state legislation. Right now, we have a spectacular diversity of environmental standards, but we need to work more on their implementation and enforcement.

How has the role of women in environmental law evolved?

When I first became interested in environmental law there were few professionals working in this field. In other countries there were already more parity, but in Spain, specially women were the ones who stood out. There were also some men, of course, but more jurists. I suppose that this is due, in part, to the sensitivity that women have to the problems that affect societies. Nowadays, more and more women are tackling this subject. At IIDMA we work in environmental defense, while in other legal sector positions there are women lawyers working for the defense of corporate interests, not in the environmental interest per se. 

What is the role of women lawyers dedicated to environmental advocacy?

Women in the legal field plays a fundamental role in ensuring that environmental regulations are correctly applied in defense of the rule of law. This work is not necessarily carried out in high-level positions. However, their contribution is essential for a world in which the interactions between the Earth’s ecosystems are taken into account. At IIDMA, an organization driven by women jurists, we have been working for 25 years to ensure that the commitments relating to the environmental dimension of sustainable development are properly implemented in order to contribute to the protection of our planet.

What issues are most relevant for environmental law today?

Without a doubt, the agenda for environmental law and policy is set by scientific evidence. The United Nations has already indicated that we are facing a triple planetary crisis due to climate change, the loss of biological biodiversity and pollution. In these three areas, environmental law provides many answers. To focus on one, the fight against climate change is essential. After the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the energy sector has become very relevant and the law establishes measures to regulate it and reduce its emissions and environmental impacts.

The report “Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) states that there is a 32% participation rate of women in the renewable energy workforce. Why do women face so many obstacles in accessing the renewable energy labor market? 

I would like to have more specific data on the renewable energy workforce. It would be interesting to see if these women also work in the installation of renewables or are more focused on the service side, or what is the female presence on the boards of directors of large energy companies. It seems to me that 32% is not a low figure if we take into account that renewables have been in place for several decades, but the energy sector is still very dependent on fossil fuels. I am convinced that the trend will be an increase in female participation. The deployment of renewables, in Europe and in other regions of the world, is being spectacular. Not only because of the war in Ukraine, but also because of all the work that has been achieved beforehand.

Against this backdrop, do you know about any measures to advance gender equality in the energy sector?  

It was evident that there was no female presence on the boards of directors of large fossil fuel companies. This is an indicator of who was making decisions in this sector and where it has led us. At the same time, I know that measures are being taken. The European Union recently approved a directive to promote parity on the boards of directors of large listed companies. Yesterday’s Council of Ministers presented a draft bill to guarantee parity and promote a greater presence of women in both public and private decision-making bodies. Therefore, I believe that measures are being taken, although they may be a little late. But female power must be incorporated not only in boards of directors, but at all levels.

What advice would you give to the new generations of young lawyers who are specializing in environmental law? 

That they need to carry out research, study and work outside of social media networks. In these networks there are big headlines with very little information. In fact, to become a good jurist in environmental law you have to study the conventions, the laws and other regulations, the rulings… You also must understand the technical aspects, and these are not found in the social networks or in the headlines.

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