Every year, the United Nations holds a summit on climate change, where it works to persuade countries large and small to give up fossil fuels. This annual gathering, now in its 21st year, is called the Conference of the Parties, and it begins today in Paris. Past negotiations have produced important treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, but this year’s meeting, the COP21, is likely to yield the world’s first binding, universal agreement to cut carbon emissions and begin to address climate change.
The stakes have never been higher: Scientists have identified 2 degrees Celsius of warming as a dangerous tipping point for the planet, and we are 0.85 degrees of the way there. But hope, too, is at an all-time high: the international community has never been closer to taking decisive action. Here, photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, are 13 of the formidable women leading the way.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim | Photographed by Inez and Vinoodh
HINDOU OUMAROU IBRAHIM
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is from the Sahel region of Chad, where devastating droughts and floods are now the norm. As cochair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, Ibrahim works to contain the humanitarian and ecological fallout from the vanishing of Lake Chad, a lifeline for an estimated 30 million people in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger. “If women come together, they can have more impact than any agreement, than any negotiations,” says Ibrahim. “Because we know that the future—it’s coming from us.”
Christiana Figueres | Photographed by Inez and Vinoodh
The United Nations’s top climate change official, Christiana Figueres, is not afraid to cry at work, covertly practices a dance routine to Beyoncé’s “Move Your Body” with her staff, and has played an instrumental role in turning out what is likely to be the most successful climate negotiation in history. The daughter of a former president of Costa Rica who led that country’s 1948 revolution, Figueres is adamant that global warming can be reversed: “It is a choice about what we do with our finance. It is a choice for corporations about the kinds of goods and services that they produce. It is a choice of policy. It’s an institutional choice. It’s a political choice. It’s a technological choice.”