From the cloud forests of Latin America to Asia’s financial systems to African metropolises, women environmental activists are leading the way into this year’s pivotal UN talks on Biodiversity and Climate Change – daring economic and political powers, citizens and consumers, to play their part in stopping cataclysmic global heating, mass extinction and the loss of livelihoods. If current trends continue, 95 percent of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050 and 1 million species could disappear in the next few years, further jeopardizing planetary and human health.
The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) is celebrating the work of women for the environment by highlighting 16 leaders working to protect and restore the global natural capital through science, finance, policymaking, journalism, and land rights, among others. The outstanding contributions of these women, aged 13 to 86, are also aligned with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration starting this year; the UN Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the climate action pathways outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and pledges for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meet the leaders
Durreen Shahnaz has channeled hundreds of millions of investment dollars toward positive social and environmental outcomes by founding the world’s first social stock exchange and Asia’s largest crowdfunding platforms for impact investing.
Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg’s Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development, played a key negotiating role in creating the pivotal Paris Agreement, helped transform her country’s transportation and energy systems toward sustainability, and is working to position Luxembourg as a global center for sustainable finance.
Cristina Mittermeier has captured pivotal images that have helped convey the impacts of climate change to a global audience. Originally from Mexico and trained as a marine biologist, Mittermeier is considered a pioneer in conservation photography, practicing environmental photojournalism in such a way that it has capacity to affect the intellect and reach the heart.
Varshini Prakash is a youth climate action leader who served on President Joe Biden’s climate task force during his campaign. SHe has used her voice and platform to highlight the importance of centering the experiences of diverse and marginalized peoples in environmental activism and work.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is a Tanzanian biodiversity leader and lawyer who was appointed executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020. She is the first African woman to hold this role.
Erica Armah Bra-Bulu Tandoh, known by her stage name DJ Switch, is a young multitalented Ghanaian entertainer who can also sing, rap and dance, and write poetry. She established the DJ Switch Foundation to support underprivileged Ugandans.
Jane Goodall, the renowned English primatologist and anthropologist, is considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots programme, she has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.
Joji Cariño is an Ibaloi environment and development educator and researcher from the Cordilleras Highlands of the Philippines. She has expertise on Indigenous knowledge and traditional occupations, cultural and biological diversity, international standards on forests, water and energy, extractive industries, and corporate accountability.
Jonna Mazet is an American epidemiologist and Executive Director of the University of California, Davis One Health Institute. Recognized for her innovative and holistic approach to emerging environmental and global health threats, she is an elected member of the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Medicine.
Patricia Zurita, Chief Executive Officer of BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, bringing together over 120 organizations worldwide to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.
Sahana Ghosh, a science journalist, has produced a series “Environment and Her” that examines climate justice in the Sundarbans through a gender lens, supported by a fellowship from the Earth Journalism Network.
Sônia Guajajara is a Brazilian indigenous activist, environmentalist, and politician. She regularly advocates for Indigenous rights at U.N. conventions, and in 2018, became the first Indigenous person to run for federal executive office in Brazil.
Sumarni Laman, a community coordinator for Youth Act Indonesia, a movement of Kalimantan’s Indigenous youth to take action against the region’s forest fires. She leads its subprogram The Heartland Project, which raises awareness about deforestation across the archipelago and counters its effects through tree planting.
Susan Chomba is a social scientist with over 15 years of experience in governance, policies and institutions in forestry, agriculture and rural development in Africa. She works on climate change policies, land tenure, equity, vulnerability and gender.
Vanessa Nakate began Uganda’s Fridays for Future movement and launched a fundraising campaign to save the Congo’s rainforest from its ongoing deforestation. She is also helping transition schools in her home country to sustainable energy through her Green Schools Project initiative.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has led campaigns against blood diamonds, co-founded a charity to support disadvantaged youth in the midst of her country’s civil war, and served as a director at the National Ebola Response Centre during the pandemic’s deadly outbreak before being elected to her mayoral position of Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2018.