Stories from the field: Women and sustainable development

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Women and sustainable development
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Mathilde Mignot, Head of Nature-Based Solutions Portfolio & Partnerships at EcoAct talks to Atos Chief Diversity Officer, Abbie Cowan about women and sustainable development, having impact and what what motivates her each day. Mathilde has been at EcoAct for 7 years, leading the portfolio and partnerships team and our sustainable development objectives. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do at EcoAct?

I am Head of Portfolio and Partnerships within the Nature-based Solutions business unit at EcoAct. The

Women and sustainable development
Mathilde Mignot, Head of Portfolio & Partnerships, Nature-based Solutions at EcoAct

role of our team is to invest in and develop projects through climate financing that promote nature-based solutions and that are in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When combined with dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, nature-based solutions can make an important contribution to our clients’ net-zero objectives. 

In practice, what we do is identify projects and partners to work with, for which we conduct a deep on-site due diligence process. We ensure that we visit and audit these projects to verify the reality of their operations on the ground as well as the environmental and social impacts generated.

The most important part of my team’s work is to ensure the quality of these projects, making sure that they strictly follow rigorous methodologies and internationally recognized standards. We work with a wide range of projects, from forest conservation and reforestation of degraded areas, to access to clean energy and water, as well as energy efficiency.

What made you want to pursue a career in this area? What interested you about that work?

I think the most important part for me in my day-to-day job is to see the concrete impact that we create on the field. A critical part of my job involves conducting due diligence and we don’t do this solely from our desks in an office. We go out and visit the projects, often in remote areas around the world. We work closely with the communities that benefit from the projects as well as the people who develop them across the globe. We mainly work in developing countries.  We clearly see the impact of climate finance mechanics, how the money is spent and how it helps build concrete solutions to fight climate change while delivering wider societal and economic benefits. It’s good to see this positive impact and this is what motivates me every single day.

How does climate change impact women and how do you take that into account as you identify a project?  What are the challenges or the obstacles that you face?

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change. Beyond the fact that they represent the majority of the world’s poor, they have less access than men to land and natural resources, credit, education or decision-making processes that would strengthen their capacity to adapt to climate change. As I mentioned, what’s important for our projects and the projects that we support is that they align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And within those goals, we have an important one, especially today, which is gender equality, (SDG 5). We work to ensure that the majority of our projects contribute to this goal and have a positive impact on women and girls. This might be through providing access to resources, income generated activities or more time for education.

Even the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report focuses on the vulnerability of women and girls to climate change, but also, and that’s the most important part, their crucial role in promoting adaptation and mitigation, and the role they can play in building a more sustainable future.

Through our projects, we work on gender inequality because it impacts all forms of society; political, social, economic, which is exacerbated by climate change.  For example, in 2021, the Malala Fund reported that if current trends continue, by 2025 climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year.

And another striking number is from the United Nations, that estimates that 59% of women globally do not have equal rights to own, use and control land to men in practice. This shows the discrepancy and the gap that we have in gender equality. While, women must be part of the solution and through the right support, they can help us build a more sustainable future. They know how to adapt to their environment, and to deliver concrete action. That’s what we are trying to achieve with these projects.  Investing in nature-based solutions as part of a net-zero strategy can help support and empower women around the world, today and in the long-term

We’ve got people who are listening, who engage with our clients on a day-to-day basis. So how do we raise awareness on gender and equity with our clients?

Of course, it’s not only about raising awareness on the field, it’s also about sharing data and information. We track SDGs so that we have tangible data to share with our clients, the people who invest in our projects, and to make sure they can see the concrete impact their investment has on women and girls.

Quantitative indicators can be helpful. For example, if you take a project, we could look at the number of jobs that would be created for women during the lifetime of the project. But we can also use qualitative indicators. We can define them when we conduct interviews during our field visits. We can then assess them with the women that are beneficiaries of the project and/or participant of the project. For example, in the region where we implement our improved cook stove projects: women have to collect firewood to cook food. These improved cook stoves are more efficient and require less fuel, meaning women spend less time collecting firewood. They are then less exposed to gender violence or animal attacks and other threats by going by themselves into the forest to collect wood. This is the sort of a qualitative indicator that we see, and that has a direct impact on women.

Can you provide some positive stories of how tackling climate change has positively affected women?

Yes, it’s all about the positive stories that we need to focus on and why I do this job. If we go back to the cook stove project, they not only reduce environmental emissions but also indoor emissions which directly affect women.

The improved cookstove technology is distributed to rural communities in a lot of developing countries. Because of the reduction in indoor emissions, you have less respiratory diseases which in developing countries is one of the leading causes of death. Cooking in developing countries is mainly done by women, so minimising the risk of smoke inhalation and the illnesses it causes has a direct positive impact on the women that use our improved cookstoves.

The first ever project that was developed by EcoAct was a cook stove project in Sudan. It was also the first project that had credits and access to climate finance mechanism in this country, and the first project globally that had a positive impact in a conflict zone. This is important because we also know, especially in this time, that women in conflict zones are the first victims. So, it’s important to see that we can also help and bring nature-based solutions in all type of projects.

We developed another project in Kenya and recently we reached 120,000 cook stoves distributed in communities, mainly among women, who are the main beneficiaries of this project as they use cookstoves on a the daily basis. When I was in Ethiopia visiting this project, a woman told me that to collect wood her daughter had to pass by a lake that was infested with crocodiles. So, you can imagine how terrifying it must be for a little girl having to go collect wood and being threatened by animal attacks of this kind.

Another benefit of this project is it grants women more time because they don’t have to spend as much time as before collecting firewood and cooking. They can then focus on income generating activities, education, and, therefore, become more independent. And that’s what we are working for.

Businesses can get involved by supporting these projects and taking care to purchase carbon credits from projects certified by international standards and those that positively lead to gender equality. What kind of message would you give to people listening today about that and the action that they can take?

For organizations who are thinking about their net-zero strategy and about carbon offsetting, I would just advise to investigate your options, and to first and foremost work towards reducing your emissions in line with science for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Nature-based solutions, when supported in parallel with these reductions, can play a crucial role in the global journey to net-zero by financing sustainable development and preserving existing carbon sinks that are being depleted at an alarming rate. Also, if you do invest, I would also suggest for you to come visit a project to understand better how climate finance mechanisms operate in practice and to see the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals on the ground.

EcoAct is growing rapidly and recruiting passionate sustainability professionals across all areas of the business. Take a look at our careers page for more details.

Women and sustainable development
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At EcoAct we are driven by a shared purpose to make a difference. To help businesses to implement positive change in response to climate and carbon challenges, whilst also driving commercial performance.

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