October is Black History Month, which celebrates and recognises the impact people from Africa and of African and Caribbean descent have on society. To mark the month, we wanted to highlight the work of Black scientists and campaigners working to tackle climate change – from Africa to the UK to the US.

Dr Warren Washington, Nobel Prize winner & climate science pioneer

Climate science as we know it wouldn’t exist without African American atmospheric physicist Dr Warren Washington. Joining the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 1963, he co-created groundbreaking computer models that allow scientists to study future states of the atmosphere – crucial for understanding the impact of climate change.

Dr Washington continues to study the likely impacts of climate change during the 21st century. His work has underpinned assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides policymakers with guidance on climate risks and how to mitigate and adapt to them.

Read more about his work.

Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate campaigner

Image credit: REUTERS/Esther Ruth Mbabazi – stock.adobe.com

From Kampala, Uganda, Vanessa Nakate started a solitary climate strike after becoming concerned about the unusually high temperatures her country was seeing. She has since founded Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement, which are both focused on connecting young campaigners across the continent.

Nakate is committed to calling attention to the value of the rainforests of the Congo Basin and the need to protect them for climate stability and biodiversity. In interviews, she has also emphasised the immediate threat to the lives and livelihoods of people in her country. Nakate has spoken at COP25 in Spain and contributed to an open letter to the World Economic Forum, which demanded that companies stop subsidising fossil fuels.

Fatima Ibrahim, Co-Executive Director of Green New Deal UK

Interviewed by the Guardian earlier in 2020, Fatima Ibrahim said her activism stems from her family’s experiences as refugees coming from Somalia. “It became clear to me that climate change was the biggest threat to people everywhere. If you care about injustice or refugees, all of those things will be 100 times worse if we don’t deal with the climate crisis.”

In 2019, Fatima became co-director of non-profit organisation Green New Deal UK, which campaigns to transform the UK economic system to fight climate change and social inequality. Green New Deal UK is now part of the Build Back Better campaign to fight for a green, just recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist & conservation strategist

With a degree from Harvard in environmental science and a PHD in marine biology, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is committed to highlighting the importance of the ocean for a stable climate – and leading on policy to fight the climate crisis.

From New York City, Johnson is the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a research organisation focused on how coastal cities can adapt to rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms. With a TED talk on coral reef ecology to her name, Johnson also writes on climate issues for national and international publications. A recent article highlights how the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting People of Colour and how ‘racism derails our attempts to fight the climate crisis’.

Image credit: Ryan Lash 2019 – ayanaelizabeth.com

Sandile Mtetwa, PHD student at University of Cambridge

Highlighted in the University of Cambridge’s feature on Black Researchers Shaping the Future, Sandile Mtetwa is researching the conversion of sunlight into clean, storable energy.

Mtetwa’s research is focused on developing materials that can convert sunlight into hydrogen. She wants her work to support access to clean energy alternatives in parts of the world with abundant sun, such as Africa. Mtetwa says “I hope my research will make a significant contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7, which is to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’”.

Mikaela Loach, ethical living influencer and blogger

Edinburgh based Mikaela Loach fits climate and social activism around a medical degree. From articles on low-waste living for students and ethical fashion, to a wide-ranging podcast that delves into the intersections of the climate crisis, racism and human rights, Loach highlights how engaged younger generations are in fighting for a greener, fairer world. 

For more female activists’ work, read our blog for International Women’s Day.