The 2021 Skoll Forum—convened virtually April 13-15 under the theme “Closing the Distance”—focused primarily on working together to bridge the gap between our present’s issues and our future’s solutions, akin to our mission here at CWL. On the first day of events, CWL founder Pat Mitchell moderated a dynamic conversation, “Women Leaders for Climate Justice: Shaping Solutions,” about innovating bold answers to our planet’s climate crisis, with panelists Gina McCarthy (The White House); Gloria Walton (The Solutions Project); Mary Robinson (The Elders); Wanjira Mathai (World Resources Institute); and Xiye Bastida (Fridays for Future). The panel of female leaders touched on how climate injustice rests at the intersection of several international issues, including racial, gender and economic inequities. It’s a universal problem with effects disproportionately harming the globe’s most vulnerable populations. It demands an equally unanimous commitment to solve.
Kicking off the conversation, Robinson illustrated the ways in which the multifaceted nature of the climate crisis trickles to impact the entire globe and exacerbates seemingly separate injustices. She added how she believed women leaders’ focus on people makes them uniquely equipped to handle climate solutions: “There are actually very many layers within what we call climate justice, because it springs from injustice…This is a human-centered problem…Unless we focus on the injustice, we’re not going to bring about moving forward with equality, with justice, and with sustainability.”
Speaking to her experience as a Black female leader in the United States and the ways in which systemic issues, including environmental injustice, affect BIPOC, Walton said, “People often ask ‘Well, what does racism have to do with it?’ But it’s the very same communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation. … Solutions are often intersectional and addressing multiple issues at once.”
McCarthy, the White House Climate Advisor, followed Walton with President Biden’s countrywide climate initiatives to support local organizers’ efforts and introduced the economic requirements of implementable climate resolutions: “We have a task force whose sole responsibility is to look into the shift to a clean economy and what communities and workers will be left behind if we don’t do something about it. …We are investing billions of dollars to ensure that those communities are recognized.”
Mathai reiterated that comprehensive climate solutions arise from every dimension of leadership—local to global, across industries, cultures and experiences. Investment, as Mathai and other panelists illuminated, is required as tool for achieving sustainability. “We have to invest in them where they are,” she said. “Building resilience requires that we put in the hands of local leaders the wherewithal, financial and other means to do what they need to do.”
As one of the faces of the growing youth movement for climate action, Bastida echoed Robinson’s sentiment about the place intersectional feminism holds in the future’s debates about sustainable solutions: “How do we make sure that climate education is not only about Eurocentric ways of looking at the world and also not masculine centered when it comes to everything we do in international relations?” And, of her generation’s communal willingness to stand up for the world they are destined to inherit: “Climate striking is about knowing that you’re not alone in fighting the climate crisis … knowing that each person represents a solution, an idea.”
In her closing statement, Robinson echoed the importance of involving indigenous, frontline and grassroots women of all ages in the climate justice conversation: “What I’m loving to hear is that there’s a connection made between women at the international and local level.” The panel—emblematic of CWL’s commitment to join women across cultures, experiences and industries with the goal of creating a better future—ended on a note of optimism and hope for the role of female leaders in creating intersectional climate solutions.