How Zali Steggall, Kim McKay & Carol Angir are leading on climate action

How Zali Steggall, Kim McKay & Carol Angir are leading on climate action


Climate change must stay on the agenda during this period of upheaval and uncertainty, and women’s voices must get heard.

That’s the message we heard during a session on women leading on climate action in partnership with ActionAid Australia recently.

The three leaders participating included Independent MP for Warringah and former Olympian, Zali Steggall, Program Manager for Women’s Rights in Emergencies at ActionAid, Carol Angir and environmentalist and Director of the Australian Museum, Kim McKay.

ActionAid Australia’s Executive Director Michelle Higelin opened up the online session saying that climate change must be kept top of mind. “Just because the world’s attention has shifted to COVID-19 doesn’t mean we should forget the climate problem,” she said. 

Moderator and Women’s Agenda founding editor Angela Priestley opened her questions by saying the intersecting issues of climate change and global economic turmoil amidst the coronavirus pandemic required a new type of leadership, and women are proving more than capable of standing up to the challenge.

Angela also shared how Women’s Agenda is and will continue to report on climate change, particularly by analysing how it’s impacting women and girls locally and abroad, along with the role of female leadership in climate action. She noted how our readers have become increasingly engaged in climate change issues, even during the current pandemic.

“We need to help ensure that whatever is on the other side of this crisis with the virus, that women’s voices are given more opportunities to be heard and female leadership on climate change is championed and celebrated.”

Below we’ve shared an edited transcript from the discussion.

The next monthly, live conversation with female climate leaders is happenning online on the 28th April, at 9:30am AEST. You can register to participate here.

Angela: This was always going to be pivotal year on climate change but things have shifted considerably. How can we keep climate change part of the conversation when the world is dealing with coronavirus? 

Zali Steggall: The lesson is this: we have to listen to the science. We had warnings about the virus, we knew it was coming. We need to listen to the warning signs that science brings, and make sure we put in place preventive steps. So, regarding the virus, we see other countries are now playing catch up. 

There’s no blueprint for how to act. We’re not flatting the curve on carbon emissions. 2020 is a pivotal year, and we’re suppose to go back to Glasgow with the Paris agreement [Glasgow has since been postponed]. It’s important we learn the lesson in the situation we’re in. We need to have forward planning. The economy will need rebuilding and we need to do it do it in a smart way which is climate focused.

Kim McKay: We need to refocus on what’s important in life. I see that people are walking without phones on the streets. Our attention could turn to the natural environment. We need to appreciate that we’re part of the natural environment. This virus is shining a bright light on our vulnerabilities. We need to talk about the natural world and how we need to look after it. 

We need to focus on what’s important, like clean air, safe water, our relationships with our natural environment. In the next few months; initially, we’ll need to focus on the natural environment and therefore, the impact of climate change.

Carol Angir: As a feminist humanitarian, I question where the women are at. Climate change is one of the biggest issues of today. We need to listen to women, who are resilient and interested in bringing in their knowledge. This period is a period of triple crisis and the world needs to hold together.

I grew up in Kenya, watching how seasons changed. This no longer happening. Animals are dying because of a lack of pasture. In the pacific, women have created initiatives to come up with ways of tackling climate change and are trying to engage in policy actions. This is what needs to be sustained. The pandemic has put things on hold. But the economy crisis will still need to be revived to support livelihoods like agriculture. Without that, food, stock, crops, these things aren’t there, and that’s a big issue.

In the pacific we’ve seen the frequency of cyclones. We have seen flash foods. Just yesterday, Vanuatu was told there could be flash foods. COVID-19 doesn’t stop climate change but this is a period of triple crisis; the health of the world, the pandemic, the economic crisis. We still have to sustain the momentum of climate change to survive.

Angela: Zali, How is the Climate Bill going?

Zali Steggall: It was planned to be on the 23rd March. When Parliament resumes, it will be there and selected. It will be listed for presentation. We want to make sure the time is right. I’ll continue my discussions for why this is important for preparing and addressing our future. We want to look at how to meet the challenges in numerous sectors in supply and reemployment.

We proposed a climate change commission involving industry, transport and energy to decarbonise. We want to plan for long-term goals for zero emission goals.

These are the measure I’m proposing, as well as an independent skill based commission.

Currently, the conversation is taken up by meeting the challenge of the pandemic. I have so many people contacting me because they are overseas, people losing their jobs, businesses closing. As in any challenge, we have an opportunity to reset. 

This crisis shows we are not immune to outside factors. We know climate change will impact every aspect of our lives; our health, economy. We’re getting a taste of that from the virus.

With the bill, it’s about finding a common ground with everyone involved. I have made some amendments, because of the delay. We’ve had submissions from various groups and made amendments. We will release the amended draft, after tightening up definitions and addressing concerns that coalition members had held. 

We need to work together to find solutions. In a time of crisis, we have to put party politics to the side and come up with solutions. That’s my goal. We need to build a consensus. I hope it’ll be the end of the year. I can’t put a date to it.

Angela: You’ve been able to get people to talk about climate change at multiple levels. What’s the difference in your leadership and approach?

Zali Steggall: It’s important to listen. There’s a huge population that are concerned about this, especially during the bushfires. 

Divided, we will never accomplish anything. My background as a barrister and sportsman showed me how to find the common ground – to try to understand what the concerns and fears are of those who are not on board. I’ve talked to to a lot of people and seen what we can all agree on and seeing ways of being safe and secure.I’m trying to build bridges and amend fences. With climate change, we need to take everybody ahead; it has to be a solution for everyone.

Angela: Kim, having been an environmentalist for years, does the virus delay or speed up these issues with climate change?

Kim McKay: We need to collaboratively work on climate change. It’s not going to go away. We know that this is the decade of real action. I want to think of solutions; the reason some certain sectors have blocked climate change is they think they will be negatively affected. 

I’m a big believer that people will come around. Companies are only made up of people so we need to talk to people. The discussion is going to be tough. The economic crisis is looming. I’m seen public opinion change. We’ve all got a personal responsibility to make sure climate change is always on the agenda. Humans are incredibly resourceful, technological advancements are here to ensure that major sectors can find new alternatives. We need everyone on board to do that.We need to trust our scientists. We go to our GPs and trust their opinions. Why don’t we trust our scientists? 

Climate change is not something that happens somewhere else. We need to think about how we can capitalise on what have learnt from our personal experiences from the bushfires and now with the virus.

We now understand how pandemics work, and once our knowledge of science is elevated in that way, we can come together.

I think Zali is brave to take on politics. And I believe miracles do occur. People can change their opinion. They can get new knowledge and understanding.

Angela: Having established Clean Up Australia, do you have any key tips regarding how to mobilise a global movement? 

Kim McKay: Clean Up Australia was founded on the concept that individuals can make a difference. They can make a profound change.

The collective action of those individuals are what’s going to change things. You can get involved with organisations like ActionAid and 1 Million Women. Participation is key. What I saw with Clean Up Australia is that we need to get hands on with the problem. When you do that you see the scale of the problem yourself. Support Zali’s bill, write to local politicians, engage with local schools and get your whole street doing something together. Make sure you understand the science. Communities in concert with government and industry. All areas need to get into this together. 

Angela: What advice do you have with industries working together? Have you learned lessons in how best to work with other industries? 

Kim McKay: The Australian Museum is a huge bank of knowledge. We are an arc of the natural environment. It’s a matter of calling the other directors of the museums and saying, Guys, we’ve got to react to this.

When I heard the science, I decided we needed to take action. We had to speak out. We had a common interest, shared common knowledge. We wanted to have everyone have a voice in that.

These issues were all predicted before. Collaboration is the key. We need to generate understanding between each other, and to feel like you have a voice. We need to use our influence judiciously. 

Angela: We need to reverse the government’s tendency to reject science. And we need to focus on the human impact. We need to humanise this crisis. So, how do we do this? How do we get people to relate to climate change?

Carol Angir: My narrative is going to be a bit different to the Australian narrative. We work in rural villages. In the Philippines last year, we had the first humanitarian summit where climate change was highlighted. They’ve recorded changing meta-patterns, which means more hunger. There are many families who are going hungry, waters are being overfished. Fish production is being compromised.

The government have tried to bring in international actors, but with the water issue, the current climate allows it to dry. Communities that never suffered from hunger are now suffering. 

The cyclone in 2015 in Vanuatu, families were displaced, women moved to look for food, their social security was compromised. Many communities’ likelihood are being disrupted. We have seen women not have access to clean water because there’s no rain water.Gender based violence has increased due to climate change. When there’s food stress, home tensions, financial stress; this all affects domestic violence. There are communities in Africa that are always at war. They are fighting for natural resources. They have animals to feed. Water is a scarcity. 

Angela: Just to keep the discussion on a neighbourns in the Pacific, Carol what else can you tell us about how women are being impacted in Vanuatu by climate change, and what they’re doing right now?

Carol Angir: We’re working with women to work on climate change and humanitarian action, such as building their empowerment, making sure they are living with dignity. To start saying we have indigenous knowledge on climate change, we need to connect to work on climate change.

Last year, 70 local women worked with policy makers on climate action and we saw how it’s important to monitor the pattern and listen to their voices, like drawing early warning systems.

We’re able to establish Women’s Weather Watch (WWW) – preparing warning signals. The Pacific led initiative see local women communicating on a daily basis on how things are changing in their local communities.

Then they share this information across the country. ActionAid Vanuatu circulates this information. Preparedness is about ensuring they have food and medicine and water at home.

With the WWW, during the global climate strike, these women in Vanuatu gathered and WWW shared messages the correlation between climate change and unpaid care for women.

Women were dealing with the impact of climate change, working longer hours on farms. This message reached more than thousands of women in Vanuatu. It was amazing the feedback we got.

Recently, with the virus, we reactivated the WWW to create awareness of the acts around the virus. The first community message was done through them. 77,000 people received the message. 

Angela: We had hope at the beginning of the year, that this would be a year of significant change. How can we stay optimistic at this time? With so many of us staying home, some of us with considerably LESS time on our hands, what can women do during this particular time? 

Zali Steggall: We have to be optimistic. There’s no option. We have to come together in time of crisis and to find solutions. We can do it gradually or we can wait till we’re on the edge of the cliff.

I’m very optimistic we have the technology and resources and answers. We just have to develop the communal willpower – the power of the individual. It will only be effective if we all comply. We are having to reset right now and we’re all slowing down for a minute. We are taking in consideration what’s important.

It’s important to be reminded of what matters; finding strength in our community, to feel more empowered based on optimism. We have a chance to do some research. Read up, get informed on what’s happened. 

Where you can make a difference. I have teens at home; we do projects. Get a new compost bin or start a vege patch. Reach out to those who are hurting. Many people are facing life changes and dilemmas.

Actions we take now will make a difference for the future. We have to empower women during the rebuilding process. Women invest in home education and children and that has a greater impact. We have to be optimistic and get together and stay focused on the solution. We have to look forward.

Kim McKay: I’m an eternal optimist. We humans are tenacious; we can solve giant problems. The virus is just giving us a glimpse of what we might face – how connected we are. We need to gain the knowledge, join organisations; there must be a collective mass of people who want to make the difference. 

Carol Angir: I believe in the power of the people. When Ebola hit us hard in Africa, we learned if we do it collectively we can make a difference. We need to go beyond the divides that divide people.

In Australia we have social services that are supporting us; but in places like Africa, there’s no medicare, there’s no Centrelink; naturally, women will play multiple roles. They know their own role. They make sure there’s veggies in their farm. We need to support female led organisations.

We can’t forget the lessons we learned during the Ebola crisis. We need to recall what women did in the front line. They are the same people who are dealing with making sure their families have survived. With things like washing hands, it’s the woman who are carrying that water. The women’s leadership are a new order.

Our next monthly, live conversation with female climate leaders is happenning on the 28th April, at 9:30am AEST. You can register to participate here.

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