Celebrating women’s leadership in climate action on International Women’s Day

By Climate Champions | March 7, 2024

Stephanie Holthaus, lead of The Nature Conservancy’s Women in Climate (WIC) initiative, discusses the indispensable role women play in climate action.

How do you see women’s unique perspectives and skills contributing to more effective climate action and conservation efforts? 

Women challenge existing power structures and traditional notions of what climate action entails. Crucially, women take an intersectional approach, building inclusive, trust-based, and resilient networks that centre the knowledge and perspectives of diverse community-led and structurally excluded groups.

The impacts of climate change require the intersectional and wholistic approaches that women use to solve problems. Research shows us that in a variety of crises, including the Covid pandemic and the many natural disasters caused by climate change – women leaders respond more effectively, leading global climate governance and local climate resiliency.

Could you discuss some of the challenges women face in conservation and climate and how overcoming them can accelerate progress towards a net zero and nature-positive world?

Women represent over half of the world’s population and are often most affected by climate impacts. Women are leading climate change efforts across the globe, yet they are often underfunded and remain unrecognized for the work they do. Women hold power – they have the solutions. Indigenous women keep beneficial agricultural practices alive around the world. Women lead voting movements, social justice movements, are economic drivers, powerful organizers and they hold the heart side of our cultures. Women’s leadership is different – we reach across the aisle, collaborate, consider whole systems and multi layered impact. Women put knowledge into action.

What are the origins of the Women in Climate (WIC) initiative initiative and how it has evolved to empower women to lead in climate action and conservation? 

The initiative was very experimental when we started in 2018. We had never run an innovation lab or convened only women. That year we brought together 65 women leading on climate from very different backgrounds – academics, scientists, artists, industry leaders. We quickly realized that bringing women together to work together and providing creative space for them to collaborate on climate solutions generated powerful connections and new ideas. That group started the Women in Climate network to stay connected and be a resource to each other. We have now hosted six innovation labs and all participants are part of the network (now over 200 women) which meets virtually multiple times per year to share new work, address challenges and exchange knowledge.

What have been some of the most promising outcomes or ideas generated from these labs, and how do they contribute to the broader goals of TNC?

Each innovation lab has generated a host of ideas that participants carry into their own work and use to foster new collaborations. Ideas that have come from the labs include funding recommendation to federal policy makers in the US, new technology for data collection in the fishing industry, AI assisted mechanisms to connect funders to climate initiatives and community climate adaptation processes.

The Nature Conservancy recognizes the role all women can play in solving the climate crisis and is invested in ensuring women lead the climate movement.  The WIC initiative advances women’s leadership in the areas of climate-centred projects, investments, innovation and policies. Spotlighting and supporting women whose efforts address climate challenges (mitigation and adaptation) delivers on TNC’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice and to our focus on driving transformational change for people and the planet.

How do you think women’s leadership style influences the development and implementation of climate solutions, and why is it crucial for accelerating action?

Women leaders play major roles in emergency responses to disaster, developing gender-responsive climate solutions and building alternatives for just transitions. They are leading adaptation interventions, responding to natural disasters and building long-term capacity to face climate shocks and enhance community resilience and sustainability. Women are also at the forefront of mitigation efforts, through their leadership and participation in the just energy transition, championing community-driven, decentralized, and renewable energy solutions to address the triple threat of gender inequality, climate change and energy poverty.

Diversity is a cornerstone of resilience in ecosystems and, similarly, can be transformative in climate action and conservation strategies. From your perspective, how does embracing diversity enhance our ability to develop innovative and effective solutions for achieving our goals for climate and nature?

WIC supports TNC’s mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends by gathering women leaders working together, leveraging their ability to find common ground and advance innovative and inclusive solutions to climate change. We mean ALL women— cisgender, transgender, femme/feminine-identifying, genderqueer, and nonbinary individuals—all of whom bring unique experiences and perspectives to this conversation. We value all forms of diversity and strive to include a broad range of perspectives to strengthen the impact and equity of our efforts.

Looking ahead, what areas or sectors do you believe hold the most promise for women-led climate solutions? How can we better support and amplify the voices of women, particularly those from underrepresented communities, in the global dialogue on climate action and conservation?

Our immediate plans are to create innovation labs for women in agriculture, women in the Asia Pacific region, women in the transportation industry, women working on climate science and women funding climate change efforts around the globe. We believe that equal representation at decision making platforms including COP, funding and highlighting the work of women leaders will speed up necessary solutions to address the climate crisis.