The theme of this year’s UN International Women’s Day is ‘Changing climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’.
As an accomplished biologist, ecologist, former Federal Climate Commissioner and a Director and Councillor on the Climate Council of Australia, Professor Hughes has twice been a lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, documenting the state of climate change science and its impacts, future risks, and possible solutions. Professor Hughes is currently the Interim Executive Dean in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Macquarie University.
In her address, Professor Hughes explained how women are disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of climate change, but also highlighted that women have displayed formidable leadership qualities in climate science and action throughout history, saying how important it was for this to continue.
With great admiration for their courage, leadership and passion, Professor Hughes told stories of 18 women who, at different times and in different fields, have tackled the alarming issue of our warming planet. Whether it was contributing to the world’s understanding from a scientific standpoint, negotiating on an international stage, or starting movements that mobilised millions, these women have all made outstanding contributions.
Her message was clear. Climate change is the single most important issue facing humanity and there is a rapidly closing window to do something about it.
“I have two children and I worry about their future. What drives me at every turn, is wanting them to know that I tried my absolute best to work for a safer, more sustainable world,” Professor Hughes said.
Chela Niall, Head of Legal and Licensing within WEHI’s Business Development Office and co-chair of WEHI’s Environmental Management and Sustainability Committee, said there was an important connection between sustainability efforts, climate justice and gender equality.
“Examining how women, girls, trans and non-binary people are disproportionately impacted by climate change is a critical need. This is central to ensuring the best agents of change, leaders and decision-makers are at the table. There must be choice and opportunity for women at all levels to combat this urgent issue.”
Institute director Professor Doug Hilton AO said Professor Hughes was a powerful advocate for climate action.
“Science tells us the facts, and communication helps to ensure the facts are heard. With these complementary skills sets, Professor Hughes has provided invaluable information and insight, impressing upon us that unless people are informed, they cannot act,” he said.
WEHI’s Board, leadership, staff and students overwhelmingly accept the views of scientific experts on the state of our climate. In October 2021 WEHI made a public commitment to address climate change. WEHI’s actions to combat climate change are driven by our first Environmental Management and Sustainability Strategy 2021-2023, in response to our Strategic Plan 2019-2023.