Christiana Figueres speaks during the Web Summit conference
Global Optimism founding partner Christiana Figueres speaks during the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal on November 6, 2019.
(Photo: Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

To Solve the Climate Crisis, Look to Women

Women, and in particular women from the Global South, have delivered some of the biggest successes in the global race to climate solutions.

The host country for this year’s United Nations climate negotiations recently made a mistake: It announced it would exclude women from the negotiations’ organizing committee. Reaction was fierce and immediate. Across the world, climate experts condemned the “shocking and unacceptable” decision to exclude women from leadership. In response, the host country, Azerbaijan, updated the committee to include 12 women along with 29 men.

In downplaying women’s abilities to fight the climate crisis, leaders miss a huge opportunity. Women are not only most affected by climate change; through the ingenuity born of necessity, we are devising ways to solve it. Women, and particularly women from rural areas of the Global South, are essential to the success of progress on climate change.

This year’s climate talks are known as “COP29,” as they are the 29th annual Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Greenhouse gas pollution remains far too high, with tragically predictable consequences for those whom the climate crisis is making more hungry, sick, conflict-prone, and forced into migration.

Rural women from the Global South deserve a seat as leaders at the climate negotiating table. Beyond that, the negotiating table deserves them.

The Paris climate agreement and the commitment to cover loss and damage from climate change are bright spots in this decades-long journey. But as noted by climate diplomat Catherine McKenna, a widely circulated photo that was promoted to the media at the end of last year’s negotiations left many with the mistaken impression that work on climate change has all been done by men.

This is not the case. Men alone have never led progress on climate change. Women, and in particular women from the Global South, have delivered some of the biggest successes in the global race to climate solutions.

The architect of the Paris climate agreement, Christiana Figueres, is from Costa Rica. The champion of the Loss and Damage Fund, Madeleine Diouf Sarr, is from Senegal. Even going back to the very foundations of the UNFCCC, which led to the COP process, women like Kenya’s Wangari Maathai were leading.

And far beyond the spotlight of the front pages, women in poor, rural areas continue to lead, albeit in unrecognized and unrewarded ways. Women do three-quarters of the world’s unpaid labor, according to a report by Oxfam. This includes everything from planting smallholder farms to gathering water to caring for sick family members. This is all work that is likely to be affected by climate change.

Even now, women are figuring out how to adapt. Women—and especially women in the Global South—are solving the grinding daily challenges of the climate crisis with ingenuity. They are shifting the dates when crops are planted, trying new ways to get water, and making time in busy days to devote extra care to those who are ill from climate-related illnesses.

Rural women from the Global South deserve a seat as leaders at the climate negotiating table. Beyond that, the negotiating table deserves them.

It is unthinkable that any real end to the climate crisis will leave behind the very people who have the greatest experience in grappling with it. Developing the talent pool that already exists within each country will build genuinely representative leadership teams that bring the full spectrum of expertise to bear.

This work is now done by leading NGOs like SHE Changes Climate and by surprising allies like the nuns who deliver healthcare, education, and development in rural regions. Intentional efforts by each party to the U.N.’s climate framework should complement and eventually outpace the work of these civil society champions.

Without question, there are plenty of women who get things wrong. Having women in recognized leadership is not in itself sufficient. But it is necessary.

The planetary crisis is the defining issue of our time, the one challenge that shapes all others. Leaving half of humanity out of the picture is not an option.

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.