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Priya Motiani

IWB Blogger

15 Climate Women Champions You Should Know About

  • IWB Post
  •  December 2, 2015


It is a proven fact that collective intelligence rises with the rise in the number of women in a group. But even then, this number always tends to be minimal.

Take for example the national and international level climate negotiations. Women have forever remained a minority in such policy-making meets.

Which is why to point out the necessity of including women at all levels of climate policy, Maria Ivanova, an academician and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, has drafted a list of 15 climate women champions. Be it social justice or be it arts and poetics, these remarkable women hail from varied genres.  Scroll down to know more about them.

  1. Christiana Figueres:

The world’s top climate policymaker today is a fearless Costa Rican woman, the daughter of José Figueres Ferrer, the president elected to three nonconsecutive terms who abolished the standing army and founded modern Costa Rican democracy. Referred to as a “climate revolutionary,” “bridge-builder,” “advocate and referee” and “UN’s climate chief,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate change convention, is “climate change summitry’s force of nature.” A relentless optimist, she reminds people that “Impossible is not a fact; it’s an attitude.”

2. Rachel Kyte:

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president and climate change envoy, emphasizes that we are at a point of inflection because of the growing pressure and motivation to create a more sustainable economy. Kyte has championed groundbreaking global initiatives on carbon pricing and performance standards for sustainable finance, catalyzing a race to the top among global investors and shifting priorities in financing institutions.

3. Mindy Lubber

Ceres president Mindy Lubber leads a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly US$10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Through Ceres, she has changed the thinking around climate change by alerting corporate leaders about the risks to finance and business from climate change.

4. Nancy Pfund

A venture capital investor, Nancy Pfund, one of Fortune’s Top 25 Eco-Innovators, is leading the impact investment movement, having invested in sustainable energy companies such as SolarCity, BrightSource Energy, Primus Power, Powergenix and Tesla Motors. With others, she has demonstrated that earning money by investing in socially beneficial enterprises can be profitable.

5. Laurence Tubiana 

At the national policy level, women are also leading the way to the Paris COP. Laurence Tubiana brings academic and policy experience into her position as French special representative for COP 21 and ambassador for climate change. Working closely with governments and stakeholders, she has created an agenda that connects immediate day-to-day economic concerns such as growth, employment and quality of life with climate change and environmental protection. An effective agreement on climate change, she argues, must frame the issue in ways politicians will understand and relate to.

6. Fatima Nana Mede

In lower-income countries, female negotiators have stood up for justice in remarkable ways. Fatima Nana Mede, permanent secretary of the Nigerian environment ministry, discovered and exposed a corruption scheme that had siphoned over one billion Nigerian dollars (about US$5 million). Her bold and fearless leadership make her someone to watch in Paris and beyond.

7. Achala Abeysinghe

Most of the least developed, or poorest, countries have been empowered to negotiate by Achala Abeysinghe, the legal and technical adviser to the chair of the least developed countries in the UN. A Sri Lanka national employed by the policy group International Institute for Environment and Development, she has made it her mission to augment the capacity of national delegations to understand the issues, stand up, and defend their rights. She leads the European Capacity Building Initiative, which trains UNFCCC negotiators from vulnerable developing countries in legal matters, helps coordinate their negotiating positions, bolsters communication among them, and brings implementation evidence to the negotiations. Since 2005, the program has convened 76 events and engaged 1,626 negotiators, policymakers and policy implementers.

8. Winnie Byanyima

At the intersection of climate and women’s rights, a former Ugandan aeronautical engineer and current director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, cofounded the Global Gender and Climate Alliance. The Alliance integrates gender concerns into the climate change negotiation process, monitors progress and promotes financial mechanisms and training opportunities equal for men and women. As co-chair of the World Economic Forum in 2015,Winnie Byanyima pushed for action on climate, for closing the wealth gap and eliminating tax loopholes, and even for creating a global tax organization. “We have international organizations for health, trade and football, even for coffee, but not tax. Why not?” she exclaimed in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

9. Mary Robinson

Climate justice lies also at the core of the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. The former president of Ireland created a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy for those vulnerable to climate change impacts. Mary Robinson works to strengthen women’s leadership at the local level to facilitate more gender-responsive action at all levels and to secure gender balance in multilateral and intergovernmental climate processes. She has made the threat of climate change more tangible and easier to communicate by relating it to human stories and human rights. She has connected high-level women leaders with grassroots women leaders to “ensure that women are enabled to participate in the design and implementation of climate actions.”

10. Julia Slingo

Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the United Kingdom’s weather service and the first woman president of the Royal Meteorological Society, has called for a radical overhaul of the way climate scientists relay their message. In order to compel the necessary action, scientists need to communicate in a “more humanist way,” she argues, “through art, through music, through poetry, and storytelling.”

11. Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe, evangelical Christian climate scientist, embraces the idea of engaging religion and science in understanding and resolving climate change. As scientists reach out to poetry and art for communicating their message to the public, poets and artists are reaching out to the United Nations.

12. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands brought governments in the UN General Assembly hall to their feet with a powerful poem and plea for action. “We deserve to more than just survive; we deserve to thrive,” she exclaimed at the 2014 Climate Summit at the United Nations. She cofounded Jo-Jikum, meaning “your home,” a nonprofit organization to educate youth on environmental issues and to foster a sense of responsibility and love for the islands.

13. Ursula Rakova

Activist women in small island states and in the Arctic have brought to life the human face of the impacts of climate change on their communities. In Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova, executive director of Tulele Peisa, an NGO whose name means “sailing the waves on our own,” is drawing up an ecologically and culturally sustainable voluntary relocation and resettlement program for the Tulun/Carteret Atoll community threatened by climate change.

14. Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit activist and author of The Right to Be Cold, filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005 on behalf of Inuit communities in Canada and Alaska claiming that US failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions results in an incursion on their cultural and environmental human rights. The commission held a public hearing in 2007, and while the petition was ultimately dismissed, it’s been called an “example of creative lawyering in both substance and form” and paved the way for subsequent legal action in The Netherlands, New Zealand and elsewhere.

15. Cameron Russell

Model and activist Cameron Russell spearheaded People’s Pilgrimage, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2015 to raise awareness about climate change. The 17 models walking across the bridge have six million social media followers, and Cameron believes they can launch a new conversation urging the fashion industry to reduce its massive environmental impact — textile manufacturing pollutes 200 tons of water for every ton of fabric produced — and to use its compelling media presence to raise awareness about climate change.


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