Rising to the challenge: the critical role of women in climate leadership

Rising to the challenge: the critical role of women in climate leadership

Female leadership in climate decision making is critical if we are to find effective solutions to environmental challenges. Meet two women leading action for more sustainable and resilient futures.

Climate change has intensified the need for communities to find meaningful and transformative ways to better address the sustainability and resilience of their environments.

The RMIT Centre for Urban Research is home to some of Melbourne’s leading academics driving research and action on climate change action in cities and regions.

Dr Mittul Vahanvati and Professor Lauren Rickards, co-conveners of the Centre’s Climate Change Transformations program, share their experience and thoughts on the opportunities for climate change action post-COVID and how young women can contribute and lead action.

Housing and climate change expert Dr Mittul Vahanvati has been working with rural communities to plan for future climate extremities and emergency management. Housing and climate change expert Dr Mittul Vahanvati has been working with rural communities to plan for future climate extremities and emergency management.

Lecturer and researcher at the RMIT Sustainability and Urban Planning Program Dr Mittul Vahanvati has been leading community-led processes and responses to disaster caused by climate change or otherwise, enabling and empowering communities in regional Australia and the Asia-Pacific to be resilient to uncertain futures.

 

What are the current challenges facing leadership in responses to climate change?  

The biggest challenge in climate change response is a lack of leadership and focus on developing an integrated response – combining adaptation and mitigation.

As an educator, design practitioner and activist, I work with a lot of grass-roots community organisations and students helping them shape the future of their own towns or cities.

In my experience, a little funding that is allocated to adaptation is used in development of resilience action plan reports however, very little effort is put into insuring that those resilience actions are implemented.

 

What opportunities has COVID-19 presented in the fight against climate change?

Several scientists have suggested COVID-19 is related to climate change and a warming trend.

Responses to COVID-19 must be considerate of climate change. Most importantly, such research highlights the interconnectedness of human and non-human health, globally.

COVID-19 has also caused disruption in the way we work or do business.

For example, now online presence at international conference or meetings is accepted.

Such disruption, allowing us all to work remotely, can be beneficial to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, nature and biodiversity have got a breather due to COVID-19.

 

What is your advice to young women aspiring to leadership roles in the fight against climate change? 

Start making changes in your own household first, and later, become active in your own neighbourhood in any aspect of climate change that you are passionate about.

I started in my own household by getting rid of all plastic and chemical-based products, reduced use of energy, installed solar panels, used a bicycle for transport and grew my own food and build a sense of community among my neighbours at a street scale.

Slowly this has scaled-up, allowing me to lead work with communities living in regional Victoria and informal settlements in the Solomon Islands. 

Lauren Rickards is the new interim Urban Futures ECP Director and is focussed on social elements of environmental issues, including climate change. Lauren Rickards is the new interim Urban Futures ECP Director and is focussed on social elements of environmental issues, including climate change.

Interim Director of the RMIT Urban Futures ECP and Lead Author with the Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change Professor Lauren Rickards brings together researchers and practitioners to discuss and advise a range of government and other groups on how best to respond to climate change.

 

What are the current challenges facing leadership in responses to climate change? 

Australia has been caught in the throes of trend and attribution denial for a long time – that is, fighting about whether climate change is happening and whether it is caused by human actions. Now the challenge is so-called impact denial and implicatory denial – denying that climate change is of much consequence for us.

While most organisations are now starting to act, we need far more serious effort across all sectors and disciplines to not only get moving faster, but also in the right direction and to improve as we go.

 

What has been your role in leading responses and action on climate change? 

A key lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is how disasters are determined by circumstances on the ground whenever and wherever they hit, and how uneven and far-reaching their effects in society can be.

We need to use disruptions and disasters – such as the pandemic – to critique and reset our systems so that we are better off, including better prepared for further climate change challenges.

It’s for this reason that a major focus for the University’s Enabling Capability Platforms this year are five ‘Restart Initiatives’, inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and designed to guide post-COVID stimulus efforts towards socially and environmentally positive ends.

I am helping lead the Greener Restart, which is bringing together researchers with like-minded organisations to identify opportunities for positive change, such as ensuring that the infrastructure projects being used as an economic stimulus also help cut emissions and generate long-term environmental and social benefits.

 

What is your advice to young women aspiring to leadership roles in the fight against climate change? 

In Australia, being a young woman in or aspiring to a leadership role means you are inevitably going to differ from entrenched leadership norms.

Your best option is to use this difference as a strength. People will likely underestimate you, which gives you the power of surprise.

They will also be more forgiving if you don’t stick to the standard script of narrowly defined and performed job roles, because they don’t expect you to understand how things work.

Use this apparent naivety to your advantage: ask the dumb questions, state the obvious, get people to articulate why they are doing what they are doing.

One of the reasons Gretta Thunberg is so influential is because she has called out the elephant in the room: the lack of real climate action at the centre of a storm of climate change activity.

We don’t have time to waste, so courageous leadership by young women that short circuits the cycles of obfuscation is vital for all of us.

 

Join us at RMIT's International Women's Day 2021 Online Event (9 March)

 

Story: Chanel Koeleman

05 March 2021

Share

05 March 2021

Share

  • Sustainability
  • Research
  • Environment

Related News

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer