Here is a series of comprehensive lists of female environmentalists from well-known environmental organizations and individuals. From activists to sustainability-focused businesswomen, this ethnically and geographically diverse group of women includes both young and old and everything in between.
While we are seeing a growing number of young feminist climate activists, there is still so much that needs to be done in the area of gender equality. The inclusion of women is key to climate action. Whether in the workplace or in the home, women are the greener sex. Simply put, empowering women is synonymous with climate action.
Women are still subject to gender-based violence, restrictive gender roles, non-representative political and business leadership, and continuing economic inequalities. It is important to realize that gender equality is a critical issue for both women and men. Women are not only the key to finding solutions they are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation, this is especially true of indigenous women.
Although women make up roughly half of the global population only about one in three delegates at the COP21 climate talks were women, and only one in ten are heads of state.
There are so many inspiring women who are leading the charge to combat climate change. Here are a series of lists of inspirational female environmentalists as selected by a wide range of organizations and individuals (some of these women appear several times on separate lists).
Here are Greenpeace’s Annie Leonard’s leading women and groups of women assembled by Greenpeace’s Annie Leonard:
Nayyirah Sharrif and Melissa Mays are two incredible women working tirelessly in Flint right now to organize a community that’s been irreparably poisoned by their own water. Follow Flint Rising and Water You Fighting For to find out how you can help them.
Women have also been at the forefront of efforts to stop Shell’s Arctic drilling. This includes Raging Grannies in Seattle, Allison Warden, an Iñupiaq interdisciplinary artist in Alaska and all the brave young women who climbed oil rigs and hung off bridges.
Here are By Maria Ivanova’s top female climate champions. Ivanova is an academic and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, top female climate champions:
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate change convention
Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president and climate change envoy
Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and leader of a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly US$10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change.
Nancy Pfund, venture capital investor and one of Fortune’s Top 25 Eco-Innovators
Laurence Tubiana, French special representative at COP21 and ambassador for climate change
Fatima Nana Mede, permanent secretary of the Nigerian environment ministry, she discovered and exposed a corruption scheme that had siphoned over one billion Nigerian dollars (about US$5 million).
Achala Abeysinghe, the legal and technical adviser to the chair of the least developed countries in the UN. She leads the European Capacity Building Initiative, which trains UNFCCC negotiators from vulnerable developing countries.
Winnie Byanyima, a former Ugandan aeronautical engineer and current director of Oxfam International, she also cofounded the Global Gender and Climate Alliance and was the cochair of the World Economic Forum in 2015
Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy for those vulnerable to climate change impacts.
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
Katharine Hayhoe, evangelical Christian climate scientist, embraces the idea of engaging religion and science in understanding and resolving climate change.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner a poet and activists residing on the front lines of climate change in the Marshall Islands
Ursula Rakova, is the executive director of the NGO Tulele Peisa in Papua New Guine
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.
Cameron Russell a model and activist who spearheaded People’s Pilgrimage, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2015 to raise awareness about climate change.
Here are the Friends of the Earth’s top picks for the leading female environmental activists from Friends of the Earth:
Berta Cáceres (1973 – 2016): Berta was murdered in her hometown in Honduras on 3 March. She was an indigenous, environmental and human rights activist she knew well the risks she faced. She waged a campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.
Bina Agarwal (1951 – present): Indian economist, a leading thinker and advocate of women’s roles in land management and conservation since the 1980s, she has influenced governments, international agencies and others worldwide. In 2004-5, Agarwal led a successful campaign in India to secure equal rights for Hindu men and women to own and inherit property, including land, in the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act.
Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939 – present): First female Prime Minister of Norway and chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development, whose 1987 Brundtland Report led to international action on sustainable development, including Agenda 21. Brundtland was one of the main targets of the massacre on Utøya island in 2011, but had left the island shortly before Anders Behring Breivik arrived.
Erin Brockovich (1960 – present)American activist made famous by a 2000 film about her work on the legal case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company for water contamination. She continues to bring legal cases for environmental pollution and public health. Brockovich has recently focused on cases related to women’s reproductive and pharmaceutical care.
Petra Kelly (1947 – 1992): Co-founder of the German Green Party and leading international activist for peace and non-violence, ecology, feminism and human rights. Petra Kelly spent her teenage years in the USA where she was inspired by the civil rights movement.
Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964): American scientist and conservationist whose 1962 book Silent Spring on artificial pesticides is credited with sparking the environment movement. Her powerful style of writing attracted widespread media attention, inspiring people to take action across the world. Before writing Silent Spring Carson worked as a marine biologist and wrote bestselling books, articles and radio scripts about marine life.
Arundhati Roy (1961 – present): Arundhati Roy is a novelist, writer and political activist on human rights and environmental issues. One of the spokespeople of the alter-globalisation movement she continues to be a target of the Indian government for her activities. Arundhati’s novel ‘The God of Small Things’ won the Booker Prize in 1997. She donated all the prize money as well as royalties from her books on the project to the campaign against the Narmada Dam.
Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912): English social reformer who co-founded the National Trust and saved iconic London green spaces such as Brockwell Park to improve the health and wellbeing of the poor. Hill was the first to use the term Green Belt for London.
Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011): Kenyan activist and politician, renowned for using community based tree planting to reduce poverty and conserve the environment, and for being the founder of the Green Belt Movement. When Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, she was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to do so. The Green Belt Movement has now planted more than 51 million trees across Kenya.
Here are 350.org’s staff picks for the most inspiring women in the climate justice movement:
Melina Laboucan-Massimo: Climate & Energy Campaigner Greenpeace Alberta Tar Sands Campaign “She’s an amazing leader from the frontlines of the tar sands and has worked tirelessly to connect the issue of missing & murdered indigenous women with climate justice.” Read: “Missing and murdered: What it will take for indigenous women to feel safe”
Lidy Nacpil: Convener of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and Asia coordinator of Jubilee South, vice president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines. She also serves on the board of 350.org and is the coordinator of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.
Naomi Klein: Author, journalist, activist Beyond the fact that she is an incredibly intelligent woman who brings the world some honest truths it needs to hear — in her many interviews with the press she continually highlights the role of so many of the women on the frontlines of fighting climate change.
Koreti Tiumalu Pacific Coordinator 350.org “This woman inspires me to become the best I can be in this movement. She took me under her wing and showed me all the amazing things that can happen if I believe. Strong and courageous with a warm heart, these are the important things that make an inspiring woman.” Read: “Faith, Culture and the Climate Movement”
Christine Milne: An Australian Senator and leader of the parliamentary caucus of the Australian Greens. “I cannot even begin to imagine where we would be in Australia without her years of leadership on climate. She is without a doubt one of the most knowledgable people in Australia when it comes to climate policy and is unbelievably generous with her time, especially with young people.” Read: An economy that serves people and nature, not the other way around
Amelia Telford, Maria Clague and Larissa Baldwin Organisers at Seed. “Seed is an amazing project which is organising young Indigenous Australians around the country to take part in the fight for climate justice. It’s difficult work that hasn’t really been done before but it is so vital to the climate fight. The work they are doing is absolutely vital and the fact that it is being led by three young women is just so cool.” Read: Interview with Amelia in The Guardian
Ewa Jasiewicz: Aunion organiser and journalist and part of Reclaim the Power, Fuel Poverty Action, and London Palestine Action. “She’s an all-round radical uncompromising activist. She’s involved in Palestine solidarity work, union organising, and is a journalist/writer as well – and does everything amazingly. She occupied a gas-powered power station in a high profile story here in the UK. She’s also leading efforts against fuel poverty, and working with pensioners’ associations in the process. She’s not one who engages with mainstream climate stuff and is uninterested in working at the margins – she *makes* the margins into the mainstream. She’s amazing at connecting the dots. She’s super smart and kind.” Read: Resisting the Dash to Extract: Every Space is a Weapon, If You Hold It Right
Wangari Maathai: The founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate “When you talk of women and climate in Africa, you’ve gotta talk about Mama Trees! Sadly, she passed away in 2011, but she left an amazing legacy in Africa and Kenya especially and we still reference her a lot in our work.”
Anjali Appadurai: “It was just a short speech, but I remember her talking at the 2011 Durban conference, and it hitting me like a lightning bolt… the power and the clarity and the compassion of what she said has stuck with me for years.”
Inna Datsiuk, Olga Monchak and Helen Angelova: “These three started the Ukrainian Youth Climate Association few years ago and have been developing it to become a leading youth-based movement building organization in the region.”
Iryna Stavchuk and Nastassia Bekish: ” Iryna is a leading climate and policy expert at National Environmental Center of Ukraine and a mom, rocking the analytical work and inspiring many to step on the climate activism path.” “Nastassia is a mother of two, climate policy adviser at Green Alliance Belarus and a co-coordinator of CAN-EECCA together with Iryna Stavchuk.”
Tatyana Kargina: “One of the brightest environmental activists in Russia, tirelessly leading on numerous fights, including the iconic movement against Copper-Nickel mining in Voronezh region in place named Khoper and numerous others.” Read: 8 марта: женщины и изменения климата
Giovanna Di Chiro: The Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore College, and Policy Advisor for Environmental Justice at Nuestras Raíces, Inc. in Holyoke, Massachusetts. “Because she articulates environmental, climate and reproductive justice; because she’s not only a thinker but is involved in organising (toxic tours); because of her claim to “bring ecology back home”.” Read: “Sustaining Everyday Life: Bringing Together Environmental, Climate and Reproductive Justice”
Colette Pichon-Battle: Executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy In a 2014 interview she said: “Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster. The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.”
Shadia Wood: Founder and Director of Project Survival Media. “Shadia is an inspiration because she partners with women around the world to tell stories from the front lines of the climate crisis — empowering them to make beautiful videos, amplify underrepresented voices, and become catalysts for change in their communities.” Anna Goldstein: U.S. Deputy Director 350.org. “The way she combines pragmatism and idealism, joy and seriousness, playfulness and responsibility, wisdom and humility, she’s truly an inspiration — I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought, I hope I can be more like Anna.”
Oo Nie Kie: She was a young woman from the Karen ethnic minority in eastern Burma, and also my good friend and neighbor. Oo Nie Kie had an effervescent personality and took care of many people around her. Educating women and whole communities in Karen state about the connections between gender justice and environmental justice was her passion. Even though Karen areas were still thick in a civil war with Burma’s military regime, she would spend weeks in villages at a time running training programs. I recorded this little video below one night after we cooked dinner, and just let her talk about some reflections. She had just returned to the Thai-Burma border after seeing the environmental devastation in her home. Not only do Karen women have to face the atrocities of the Burma Army, as well as patriarchy, but also abuses from foreign companies building pipelines through the region. When Oo Nie Kie passed away in September 2009 it was a massive blow to the community.
Here is the Climate Council’s list of female climate champions:
Barbara Buchner: How will we pay for action on climate change? An Austrian Citizen, Buchner holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Graz and currently leads the Climate Policy Initiative’ work on global climate finance. As climate finance systems – or simply, how we pay for action on climate change – become an ever-more dominant theme of climate policy debate, expertise like Buchner’s will increasingly be in demand. You can watch an interview with Buchner conducted by Climate Change TV at the Warsaw climate talks last year.
Sharan Burrow: Leading the workers’ fight on climate. Initially trained as a teacher, Burrow has been active in the Australian trade union movement for several decades. In 2010, she became head of the International Trade Union Confederation, the world’s largest trade union federation which through its 325 affiliated organisations represents 176 million workers in over 160 countries. In May this year Burrow led a renewed ‘Unions4Climate’ movement, explicitly designed to contribute to the political debate on the run up to Paris 2015 and offering the powerful line that ‘There are no jobs on a dead planet’. You can follow her on Twitter @SharanBurrow.
Winnie Byanyima: Oxfam’s leader bringing expertise on gender and climate change. A Ugandan aeronautical engineer turned politician, Winnie Byanyima has been Executive Director of Oxfam International since May 2013. A world authority on the gender dimension of climate change, you can watch an interview with her held at the Durban climate talks on the topic. As Director of the gender team of the United Nations Development Program, she co-founded the Global Gender and Climate Alliance. At the Warsaw climate talks last year, she led a mass walk out from civil society organisations under a “polluters talk, we walk” banner, especially frustrated by the idea that ‘clean coal’ might be suggested as action on climate change. Byanyima has also recently acted as a spokesperson on Oxfam’s work unpicking the role of the food industry as emitters of greenhouse gases. Follow her on Twitter: @Winnie_Byanyima.
Heidi Cullen: Climatologist leading us through Years of Living Dangerously. Heidi Cullen is currently Chief Climatologist for Climate Central, a US-based nonprofit news organisation that analyses and reports on climate science. With a PhD in climatology and postdoctoral experience in scientific research, Cullen went on to be the Weather Channel’s first on-air climate expert. She is one of the many women working to make climate science communications part of mainstream media and most recently has acted as Chief Science Advisor for the influential Years of Living Dangerously series. You can follow Cullen on Twitter @HeidiCullen.
Judith Curry: Blogger and scientist favoured by sceptics. Judith Curry is fast becoming the go-to scientist favoured by the more sceptical ends of the climate debate, though she is more than capable of making a name for herself in her own right. An established climate scientist, well known for her research on hurricanes and Arctic ice, Curry is currently Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Troubled by the way those who do not fit with scientific consensus are treated by the scientific community and broader environmental discourse she regularly speaks up for the role of dissent and free speech in climate science. It is fair to say this doesn’t always win her friends in either science or the green movement. Curry is an active blogger, reflecting her commitment to transparency of the debate within science, and can be found on Twitter @curryja.
Christiana Figueres: Most powerful woman in climate? Heads the UNFCCC. Christiana Figueres is possibly one of the most powerful woman in climate change, heading the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and thus playing a key role in all the major global talks, including the ones in Paris in 2015. In defending the 2013 Warsaw talks as more than the disaster many wrote them off as, Figueres highlighted the role of women. She has a background in sustainable development and politics on a global level as well as her native Costa Rica. She can be found on Twitter @CFigueres.
Tamsin Edwards: Scientist making a name for herself as a fearless communicator. A relatively junior climate scientist, at least compared to those who usually act as public voices for the profession, Edwards is making a name for herself as a prolific and fearless communicator, especially online. Currently a research associate at the University of Bristol exploring uncertainty in earth system modelling, Edwards initially trained in high energy physics. Happy to argue about power and the patriarchy along with the science, she is respected by many sceptics for the time she devotes to engagement with their communities. Although she’s had her fair share of battles with other scientists,especially on issues of advocacy, it is fair to say she is highly respected by this community too, as well environmentalists. You can follow her on Twitter @flimsin and read her blog – All Models are Wrong – hosted by the Public Library of Science.
Joanna Haigh: Solar expert, rare female Fellow of the Royal Society. Joanna Haigh was recently appointed co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment at Imperial College and is expected to raise its profile along with her own. She is already well known for her work on solar viability and climate modelling, but this new post will give her a platform to engage in a broader set of issues. Haigh was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013 (part of a still very small number of women to hold such status) and has experience of offering clear rebuttals to politicians applying less-than-rigourous approach to climate change. You can listen to an interview with Haigh on her life in science – including experience of working with the IPCC – recorded by BBC Radio in summer 2013.
Katherine Hayhoe: Evangelical Christian climate scientist and communicator. Katherine Hayhoe is another example a climate scientist who is increasingly devoting her time to public communications. What distinguishes her from many others is that she is also an evangelical Christian; both her parents were missionaries and her husband is a pastor. Hayhoe eschewed ideas of a necessary divide between Christianity in belief in global warming, winning many allies along the way. She played a key role in the recent Year of Living Dangerously series and you can listen to a recent NPR interview where she reflects on the connections between Christianity, conservatism and climate change. She can be found on Twitter @KHayhoe.
Connie Hedegaard: Danish politician, been leading EU work on climate. A Danish conservative politician with a background in journalism, Connie Hedegaard played a key role in the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks acting as Minister for Climate and Energy. In February 2010 she was appointed European Commissioner for Climate Action under the second Barroso Commission. She’s a familiar face in global climate negations and an advocate for continued diplomatic work, even if it takes time. In arguing the 2012 talks in Doha were not a complete write-off, she concluded “Although frustration is a renewable source, it does not reduce emissions. To overcome frustration, one must remain intensely focused on the final goal that all parties have signed up a global climate deal by 2015”. You can follow her on Twitter @CHedegaardEU.
Lesley Hughes: Scientist standing up to politicians’ scepticism in Australia. Our very own Climate Councillor: From the Road to Paris website: Lesley Hughes is a globally recognised expert on the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems, but she’s also notable for her role in the Climate Council. This is an independent non-profit organisation formed by former members of the Climate Commission, which had been a government organisation until it was abolished following the election of Tony Abbott. The startup funding for this new Council was raised through crowdfunding, and Hughes is one of six expert Councillors at the organisation. Hughes therefore not only plays a key role in our recognition of how biodiversity loss intersects with global warming, but is also on the forefront of battles between scientists and sceptic politicians.
Naomi Klein: Writer inviting us to consider ideological sides of climate debate. Environmental politics has always played a role in Naomi Klein’s work and she has been active in the recent waves of divestment campaigns, including a critique of the green movement’s own portfolio. We can expect more with her new book, which focuses on climate politics and is due for release in September 2014, well timed to intervene in the debates surrounding the big UN talks in New York. Klein offers an alternative amongst the increasing vogue for capitalist-friendly climate discourse, though her 2011 articleCapitalism vs the Climate may be showing its age. You can follow her on Twitter @NaomiAKlein.
Annie Leonard: New head of Greenpeace USA, community organiser. The in-coming head of Greenpeace USA, Annie Leonard is best known for her 2007 animated documentary,The Story of Stuff, which explores the lifecycle of material goods and offers a critical perspective on excessive consumerism. The film is credited with taking a networked approach to engagement, building a community around educational resources, materials for faith based groups and showings of the film itself. Similar approaches have been very successful in anti-fracking movement as well as the recent rise of 350.org, and it is expected that Leonard will take this focus on community organising to her new role at Greenpeace. She is less active on Twitter than some others in the field, but can be found@AnnieMLeonard.
Corinne Le Quéré: Scientist highly respected in communications and policy. Originally from Canada with a PhD in oceanography, Le Quéré is one of the Directors of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia. Her research speciality is the interactions between climate change and the carbon cycle, but she is also highly respected as a passionate and thoughtful communicator who is active in policy. Le Quéré has been an author on the last three IPCC Assessments and wrote about her experience of the 2013 process.
Gina McCarthy: Head of the EPA, face of Obama’s recent climate push. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy fronted Obama’s recent climate pushincluding the public health framing of the issue. A longtime civil servant and expert on environmental health and air quality, McCarthy’s appointment was not a straightforward process. Indeed, it took almost five months to be confirmed by Senate, the longest an EPA nominee has ever had to wait. As Time’s Bryan Walsh wrote at the time, this may have well ended up being the easiest part of her job. You can follow her on Twitter @GinaEPA and read her Reddit Ask Me Anything.
Naomi Oreskes: Historian of science pointing out the ‘merchants of doubt’. A historian of science with a background in geology, Naomi Oreskes’ book ‘Merchants of Doubt’ – co-authored with Erik Conway – is one that has made the shift from standalone publication to a whole way of talking about a dimension of political debate. The book explores the ways uncertainties inherent in scientific work may be over-inflated – over climate change but with parallels in earlier controversies over tobacco, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer – including the active lobbying that happens through aspects of the scientific community. Before Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes was already well known for her work on the scientific consensus on climate change, is a frequent contributor to the media and recently joined Twitter @NaomiOreskes.
Mary Robinson: First female President of Ireland, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. Mary Robinson is best known as the first female President of Ireland, a post she held between 1990 to 1997. She then acted as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (until 2002), and in recent years has become increasingly vocal on issues of climate change, setting up the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice in 2010 and, this month, being appointed UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. In the wake of Rio+20 in 2012 she wrote about the conference as an example of political failure but also found hope in young people, women, trade unions, grassroots communities, faith-based organisations, the private sector and other civil society organisations. Robinson also sits on the board of the European Climate Foundation and is part of the Elders.
Julia Slingo: Helping us understand climate and weather. Chief scientist at the Met Office – the United Kingdom’s weather service – Julia Slingo recently made headlines with a call for climate scientists to reach out with poetry. With a career in climate modelling and research spanning several decades, she was awarded a Damehood in 2014 for her contribution to weather and climate science. She contributed to the highly influential Stern Review and was the first woman President of the Royal Meteorological Society. Before joining the Met Office she was the Director of Climate Research in NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, at the University of Reading, where she is still a Professor of Meteorology. You can listen to a recent BBC Radio interview exploring her career and occasional interactions with climate sceptics.
Koko Warner: World authority on climate change and migration. Koko Warner works at the UN university and is a world authority on an issue which is gaining more and more attention: climate change and displacement. Warner has undertaken pioneering work on environmentally induced migration and was a lead author for the recent IPCC report on adaptation. Despite headlines describing a “prophecy of doom” with hundreds of millions of people displaced, as the Climate Change and Migration Coalition argued, the report suggested migration could provide ways for some people to escape the worst impacts of climate change, and expanding opportunities for mobility may reduce vulnerability for many populations. This marked some change from the last IPCC report, but is reflects current thinking on climate migration.
Ailun Yang: Helping unpick low-carbon development in China and elsewhere. Ailun Yang leads the World Resources Institute’s work on low-carbon development in major developing countries like China and India. She previously headed the climate and energy campaign at Greenpeace China, working closely with Chinese renewable energy industries. Her current work focuses on the global coal market and continues to explore China’s power sector. Yang is an expert on China-US relations as they relate to climate and energy issues, and is an active Chinese non-governmental spokesperson on this issue in the media.
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