Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission

In 2005, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen began working for the German federal government, most notably holding several positions in Angela Merkel’s cabinet, with her most recent role being Germany’s minister of defense. Since 2019, she has served as the European Commission’s president, the European Union’s executive branch, where she has been laser-focused on climate change. But her inspiration for trying to act on environmental issues may not come from the world of politics. It may very well come from the earlier part of her career in the health sector: From the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, Von der Leyen spent a good deal of that time in the private sector, working as a doctor in Germany.

Why They Made the Worthy 100: Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen has served as president of the EC since 2019 and has helped the union navigate both Brexit and the war in Ukraine. Take her speech at the World Health Summit 2020, where she discussed how essential it was for all of us to change our mindset on how we think about health: “We need to move away from looking after our health only through clinical, individual outcomes. In today’s world, we need to look after our health by looking after our planet, our well-being and our sustainable development. And we need to do it together—through global health cooperation and not through global health competition.”

Such vision eventually allowed Von der Leyen to pass the first-ever European climate law, the first one from any continent. “This proposal sets in stone our objective to be climate neutral in 2050. And 2050 is no longer impossibly distant to imagine… The science is very clear. Climate is part of the natural world that sustains us. And this natural world is severely endangered. It is high time to act and this Climate Law is part of the European contribution to this action. It will be our compass for the next 30 years. And it will guide us every step of the way as we build a sustainable new growth model.”

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