19 climate champions, who also happen to be women

07.03.17 By
This article is more than 7 years old

To celebrate International Women’s Day, here’s a list of nineteen women kicking goals in the climate change debate – from scientists to politicians, diplomats, community organisers and more.

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.

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.


Barbara Buchner: IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin http://www.iisd.ca/climate/ltf/em2/19aug.html

Sharan Burrow: ILO/Pouteau/Crozet/Albouy/CC BY 2.0

Winnie Byanyima: World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebell/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Heidi Cullen: National Academy of Sciences/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Christiana Figueres: The Lisbon Council/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Connie Hedegaard: Connect Euranet/CC BY-SA 2.0

Lesley Hughes: Climate Commission/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Naomi Klein: Ed Kashi

Annie Leonard: Erin Lubin/Greenpeace

Corinne Le Quéré: Tyndall Centre

Naomi Oreskes: Sage Ross/CC BY-SA 2.0

Mary Robinson: Jori Klein/Acumen Fund

Julia Slingo: Met Office

Ailun Yang: World Resources Institute