Climate warriors: 18 women who’ve made difference

Macquarie University/The Lighthouse
In her 2022 International Women’s Day address – titled A Short History of Women Saving the Planet – Distinguished Professor Lesley Hughes names an inspirational group of women ranging from school students to international negotiators who have contributed to our understanding of climate science for over a century.

When Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, Lesley Hughes presents the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s International Women’s Day address on March 8, she will shine a light on a list of 18 women who she says have made ‘incredible contributions’ to environmental and climate science as well as our understanding of the need for action.

“There are thousands of women around the world who have influenced our response to both the environmental and climate crisis, and I have been fortunate to meet and work with many of them,” says Hughes, a former federal Climate Commissioner and a founding Councillor with the independent Climate Council of Australia.

“There are so many courageous and passionate women working to secure a better future for future generations. These women – and thousands more – are doing critical work to save the planet. This talk is my small tribute to their work.

“The further I travel along this climate journey, the more I am convinced that we must be optimistic, and we must have hope, because the alternative is simply unacceptable.”

  1. Eunice Foote First to predict rising temperatures from CO2 emissions

    The earliest known experiments on greenhouse gases were done by US scientist Eunice Newton Foote. who showed in 1856 that raising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the temperature. Eunice measured the impact of exposing different gases in glass cylinders to the sun.

  2. Rachel Carson Her writing inspired a global environmental movement

    US nature writer Rachel Carson highlighted the dangerous impact of pesticides on ecosystems and cancer in her 1962 book, Silent Spring. Her exposure of chemical industry misinformation campaigns prompted pesticide bans and inspired environmental movements, helping to establish the US Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. Sylvia Earle Dedicated her life to protecting the ocean and wildlife

    Dr Sylvia Earle

    Now aged 86, American oceanographer, marine biologist and deep-sea explorer Dr Sylvia Earle (pictured above) was appointed first female Chief Scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1990 and in 2009 founded Mission Blue to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030 in ‘Hope Spots’ free from fishing, mining and development. Photo: Kip Evans, Mission Blue

  4. Sharan Burrow: Global trade union leader supporting climate action

    Teacher Sharan Burrow was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions from 2000-2010 then appointed first female head of the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 176 million workers. She says labour movements play an essential role in shaping a just transition to a low-carbon economy, and are key to solving both climate and social inequality.

  5. Corinne Le Quéré Atmospheric physicist delving into the carbon cycle

    French-Canadian atmospheric physicist Professor Corinne Le Quéré began the annual publication of the Global Carbon Budget in 2009. She chairs the French High Council on Climate and is Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia, where her research explores the role of the carbon cycle in climate change.

  6. Naomi Oreskes Science historian and author of Merchants of Doubt

    US author, science historian and Harvard history professor Naomi Oreskes has published widely on the scientific consensus on climate change, and her co-authored 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, shows parallels between the climate change debate and the actions of corporations spreading doubt and confusion around tobacco smoking, acid rain and ozone layer holes.

  7. Connie Hedegaard: implemented Europe’s carbon trading scheme

    Connie Hedegaard

    Danish politician, journalist and commentator Connie Hedegaard (pictured above) hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 as Danish Climate Minister. She was the European Commissioner for Climate Action from 2010- 2014 where she implemented the EU carbon trading scheme. Photo: Magnus Fröderber

  8. Tessa Tennant: Sustainable finance leader

    Tessa Tennant co-founded one of the UK’s first green investment funds, the Merlin (now Jupiter) Ecology Fund in 1988, was first Chair of the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia and helped set up the Carbon Disclosure Project helping over 6000 of the world’s largest corporations to reduce their carbon emissions.

  9. Farhana Yamin Introduced Net Zero Emissions to Paris Climate Agreement

    British lawyer and climate activist Farhana Yamin was advisor to small island and vulnerable nations in UN climate negotiations and in international carbon markets, a lead author of the IPCC, an Extinction Rebellion strategist, and drove the net zero emissions by 2050 goal in the Paris Climate Agreement.

  10. Christiana Figueres Led the UNFCCC to achieve 2015 Paris agreement

    Christiana Figueres

    Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres (pictured above) was the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010-16 and is credited with progressing global climate change negotiations and removing obstacles before Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement. Photo: Lisbon Council.

  11. Laurence Tubiana French economist leading Europe’s Climate Foundation

    French economist Laurence Tubiana was France’s Climate Change Ambassador in 2015 and a key architect of the Paris Agreement. Previously economic advisor to the French Prime Minister during Kyoto Protocol negotiations, in 2001 Tubiana founded the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations and is now CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

  12. Natalie Isaacs Author and CEO of climate advocacy group 1 Million Women

    Former Sydney cosmetics manufacturer Natalie Isaacs founded not-for-profit climate advocacy group 1 Million Women to encourage women and girls to reduce consumption, adopt lower-energy choices and take action on climate. Natalie is delivering the 2022 Macquarie University International Women’s Day address.

  13. Amanda McKenzie Australian Youth Climate Coalition co-founder and Climate Council CEO

    Melbourne lawyer Amanda McKenzie co-founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) in 2006, then as senior communications advisor of the government’s Climate Commission, led a 2013 crowdfunding campaign to re-launch it as the not-for-profit Climate Council, where she remains CEO. The Council reports on climate action and cover-ups.

  14. Anna Rose: Author and AYCC co-founder

    Newcastle lawyer Anna Rose co-founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition with Amanda, led students campaigning for reduced carbon emissions at the University of Sydney, has written a book, Madlands, about introducing climate science to a climate sceptic, and co-founded climate advocacy-focused giving circle, Groundswell.

  15. Amelia Telford Indigenous youth climate activist and anti-fracking campaigner

    Amelia Telford

    Bundjalung and South Sea Islander woman Amelia Telford (pictured above) co-founded Indigenous youth climate network Seed in 2014 as an offshoot of AYCC to bring First Nations voices to climate discussions. Her actions fighting fracking of coal seam gas in the Northern Territory have attracted global attention. Photo: NAIDOC Secretariat

  16. Anika Molesworth Author, scientist and farmer

    Broken Hill farmer and agroecology scientist Dr Anika Molesworth is a co-founder and Deputy Chair of Farmers for Climate Action and speaks on issues including climate change, rural development and food security. Her book Our Sunburnt Country addresses climate change and the food system.

  17. Greta Thunberg Swedish student and environmental activist

    In 2018, 15 year-old Swedish school student Greta Thunberg skipped school to hold a sign outside Sweden’s parliament calling for stronger action on climate change. Fellow students across the city joined in and public speeches and media coverage catapaulted her to international recognition. She addressed the UN Climate Change Conference in 2018. She inspired the global school climate strike movement Fridays for Future after criticising world leaders for failing to act on the climate crisis.

  18. Daisy Jeffery Music student, Climate Strike leader and author Daisy Jeffery was 17 and in her final year of high school when she led over 300,000 people in the 2019 Australian School Strikes for Climate. Her book On Hope was published in 2020 addressing the need for ordinary people to protest and demand action on climate change to help save our planet.

Lesley Hughes, (pictured above) is Distinguished Professor of Biology and and Interim Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering.

She is an ecologist whose main research interest has been the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems, and the implications of climate change for conservation. She is a former Lead Author in the IPCC’s 4th and 5th Assessment Report, a former federal Climate Commissioner and now a Councillor and Director with the Climate Council of Australia. She is also a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

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