Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the planet today, one with stark implications for efforts to eradicate global poverty.
An IPCC report from 2018 warned that it would take, “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a point after which the worst effects of global warming will begin to kick in.
Avoiding the worst of climate change will require leadership and activism in the areas of diplomacy, public policy, and sustainable development. The type of leadership that the following women exemplify.
From implementing radical policies to tangibly reduce emissions, to advocating for the populations most vulnerable to climate change, these women are setting an example for all of us in the fight for the planet.
Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash
WOW OK. This has been a long time coming but here’s me and some of my coolest friends at the Time100 event a few weeks ago. This year has been the wildest of my life. A year ago if you’d asked me if I could imagine being the director of an organization of thousands of young people, that that movement of young people would help launch the #GreenNewDeal into the national conversation, that we’d grow from 20 chapters to 300 and counting in mere months, that we’d challenge the DNC to hold a climate debate, push every presidential candidate on the Democratic side to release climate plans, swear off oil and gas money, and endorse the Green New deal AND get to meet @thekidmero idk what I would’ve told you. Often times the media pick up on a single person to elevate and spotlight, but I know none of this would’ve been possible without the thousands of people with @sunrisemvmt who pour everything into fighting to save what we love on this planet for future generations. And all of it is possible because collectively we can see, clearly as day, the beautiful new future we will build rising up among the ashes of the old. So thank you for what you do ❤️
Blazevic and Prakash are two of the co-founders of the US-based Sunrise Movement, which shot to national prominence when they staged a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand climate action. The public protest included first-term representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
The Sunrise Movement has been mobilizing grassroots activism on climate change, and has played a major role in helping the Green New Deal rise in the public consciousness.
The Green New Deal calls for the US to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, largely through investments in developing alternative energy sources, which would also create jobs for millions of Americans, and has been taken up as a policy proposal by Democratic presidential hopefuls.
“I’ve honestly been blown away by what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” Prakash told Grist. “Just in the last eight months, we have seen our movement positively explode alongside this movement for a Green New Deal."
"Everything about the way that we talk about climate politics in this country has shifted on its head," she continued. "Now there’s a dominant discourse happening that is collectively talking about how we can achieve racial and economic justice through the pursuit of stopping climate change. I think it’s remarkable what a group of kids has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time."
A diplomat from Costa Rica, Figueres was one of the key architects of the historic Paris Climate Agreement after being appointed Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2010.
She has remained active in climate advocacy, recently writing a book, The Future We Choose, hosts a podcast called Outrage and Optimism, and helped arrange a partnership called ‘Countdown’ between TED and Future Stewards to mobilize action and find solutions towards the climate crisis.
“This is about moving toward a much better life, a life that has better health conditions, that has better urban conditions, that has better transport conditions, that has safer investment conditions,” she said to CNN in a recent interview, about the battle against climate change.
Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson has launched a foundation dedicated to the pursuit of climate justice, and authored a book titled Climate Justice. Her foundation has hosted forums for women leading the response to the climate crisis, and conducted research into eradicating poverty while achieving zero carbon emissions.
“I came to climate change not as a scientist or an environmental lawyer, and I wasn’t really impressed by the images of polar bears or melting glaciers,” Robinson said in a TED Talk. “It was because of the impact on people, and the impact on their rights — their rights to food and safe water, health, education, and shelter."
As the mayor of Paris, France, Hidalgo has been aggressively transforming her city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as adapt to warming temperatures.
Under Hidalgo, Paris has banned diesel cars and vans during weekdays, and made changes to the city’s transportation infrastructure that have resulted in a dramatic rise in bicycle transportation. The city is also planting more trees, and turning more public spaces into parks that can help absorb heat — including turning public spaces into naturally cooled “Isles of Coolness” that people can go to on brutally hot summer days, as CityLab reported.
“What we’ve undertaken is a whole program of adaptation, of putting nature back in this city,” Hidalgo told the New York Times. “We’re trying to build this around the individual. But change is difficult."
Part of the political backlash, Hidalgo told the New York Times, stems from her position as a woman who is trying to take cars away from men. But, as she said, “We can’t live as before. Climate change is accelerating."
Cradle to Cradle how this cycle closes within AAETI premises @sunitanar explains to CM Rajasthan @ashokgehlot51 during Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2020 an Annual Media Conclave @firstname.lastname@example.org/R4EpovEnQU— Rajneesh Sareen (@sareen_rajneesh) February 9, 2020
Narain is the head of the Centre for Society and Environment, a research and advocacy organization devoted to promoting sustainable development. Through CSE, Narain has done research into, and advocated for, methods for reducing pollution, mitigating climate change, and improving water safety in her home country of India.
Narain has been called “perhaps India’s most well-known environmental activist” by Smithsonian, and has been a fierce advocate for developing nations that will be hit hardest by climate change, despite having produced far less greenhouse gas emissions than wealthy nations. She also co-authored the report, “Global Warming in an Unequal World".
“The poor in the world have not contributed to the making of the [climate change] problem,” she wrote in a recent editorial for Down to Earth, a publication run by CSE. “But let’s be clear, their pain will make our world more insecure. And this is only going to get worse. This is why we need to act and act now."
.@President_Heine: In “fight to the death, we refuse to die”. Make a #MAD4Survival Stand with Vulnerables in the Madrid Ambition Drive for Survival. #TimeForAction @ #COP25. Follow @TheCVF countries: commit to a new 2020 Paris NDC. Where do you stand? https://t.co/OxEQFiznxRpic.twitter.com/9jdmuQqM5M— Climate Vulnerable Forum (@TheCVF) December 7, 2019
Heine was the President of the Marshall Islands until January this year, and under her leadership, the Marshall Islands have been especially proactive in pledging to reduce carbon emissions.
“We believe in leading from the front. If we can raise the ambition of our climate action then so can other countries — and so must other countries,” she told Reuters when the Marshall Islands submitted new, binding climate targets in 2018.
Heine is also the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a collection of countries that are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“The woman’s role in government is critical,” she told Bright Magazine. “Women are key activists protecting vital common resources and at the forefront of developing local climate solutions respecting and incorporating local knowledge."
Kyte is the former CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), an organization devoted to promoting low-carbon growth, as well as the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy in January 2016.
Before that, Kyte was the World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and led campaigns at the Bank Group for stringent climate agreements at the 21st Convention of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the summit that saw the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement.
She grew SEforALL into a robust organization with partnerships across the public and private sectors, before moving on to become the first woman to serve as Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
“The work that I’ve done for the secretary-general and for the deputy secretary-general over the last three or four years now, thinking through ways to arrive at 2050 with a decarbonized energy system that serves everyone, has been this extraordinary opportunity to show that we can do it cleanly and we can do it fairly and we will all be better off,” she told TuftsNow.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
Le changement climatique nous impact maintenant, on ne peut pas attendre 2050 pour decarboniser à zero net @wefbookclub #WEF20 les actions #netzero doivent commencés maintenant pour répondre aux besoins des peuples autochtones et aux plus vulnérables #2020 @SDGAdvocates @conservationorg
Ibrahim, an indigenous woman from the Mbororo community in Chad, has been a fierce advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples and the challenges they face due to climate change.
She has penned editorials emphasizing the role indigenous people play in environmental conservation, and worked with UNESCO to collect indigenous knowledge for a 3-D landscape mapping project.
Previously, she served as a co-chair of the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change, and is the Gender and Climate Representative for Congo Basin for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee.
“For all Indigenous Peoples, from any corner of the world, livelihoods are linked to natural resources, for our food and medicine, for everything, so if there are floods or droughts, the impact is greater for us,” she said when the Paris Agreement was signed. “Climate change threatens our basic rights, our cultural values, and the very survival of these communities."