Mentoring climate leaders through a joint initiative

To help address the gender gap at the UN climate negotiations, IIED and the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) run a mentorship programme that supports women negotiators to engage in high-level decision-making.

Supporting new climate change negotiators
A programme of work that highlights efforts to support delegates from the least developed countries
A group of people gathered around a table with papers.

Participants in WEDO’s night school training discuss text in a negotiating scenario (Photo: Fernanda Alcobe/IIED)

The UN climate negotiations are where global decisions on climate action are made. However, more men than women continue to represent their countries in this space, and men do most of the speaking and the deal-making.

The climate negotiations need more women, but achieving equal numbers isn’t enough. Women negotiators must also be supported so they can influence decisions at these high-level meetings.  

At the UN climate negotiations in Madrid, Spain, in 2019 (COP25), we piloted a mentoring scheme that pairs new women negotiators with experienced delegates from developing countries – furthering our efforts to train effective United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiators and climate leaders.

Mentoring by climate experts 

The Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and IIED have a shared history of training and capacity building with women in this space; we joined forces at COP25 to put nine junior negotiators from our respective programmes in direct contact with senior negotiators from a range of countries.

These senior negotiators had previously engaged in our networking and training events. In connecting them with junior negotiators, we facilitate relationships that can help them make connections, provide advice and introduce them to new ways of thinking and working.

[A]s a woman, being mentored by women in senior positions really helps. In part to be able to share frustrations, but also to receive encouragement from women who have the experience, who have made their way on that path before you. Their advice and encouragement can shape your journey and give you the courage to move forward when things are tough.

Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the Least Developed Countries Group

Mentorship can provide contextualised and individualised skills-building, learning and support that endures beyond scheduled training sessions, and improves the abilities, confidence and network of junior negotiators.

This programme also provides a positive outlet for senior negotiators to consider and articulate their key insights, as well as identify ways to demonstrate their commitment to developing the next generation of climate leaders. 

Two women stand in front of a television screen speaking to a crowd

Stella Gama, left, gender advisor and rapporteur for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, at the launch of a climate negotiators’ mentoring initiative at COP25 (Photo: copyright Jandira Narciso)

We were thrilled that our efforts were furthered by the COP presidency, who formally launched a climate negotiators’ mentoring initiative as well as a senior women’s leadership network in Madrid in December 2019. Since then, we’ve worked closely with the relevant UNFCCC entities to ensure our efforts complement one another. 

Mentoring today

We continue to work with WEDO to understand more about how we can increase support to women negotiators, combing lessons learned from the mentoring scheme and from our respective training programmes. Part of this learning is to ask our supported negotiators and their mentors to reflect on their efforts.

At COP27, new negotiator Prakriti Koirala and her mentor, Isatou Camara discuss how to best follow the loss and damage discussions.

Moreover, having her [Isatou] said to me that I can also be a mentor meant a lot. During our last meeting (before the closing plenary) she mentioned that she had noticed my involvement and that she came to realize that I understand the negotiation especially on the issue of loss and damage. I am grateful for her direct feedback – this will serve as a motivation for me moving forward towards becoming a negotiator myself. I thank IIED for connecting me with Isatou and selecting her to be my mentor.

Justina, new negotiator from Timor-Leste

Last year at COP 27, I also benefited from this program and it helped me evolve. This year was more beneficial, I was able to have a mentor who followed one of the items I followed and who also encouraged and guided me to do more during negotiations and also coordination meetings in the LDC group. I was able to work on my confidence and public speaking skills. This is something that is so helpful to have someone who knows exactly what's happening on the negotiated item and you could ask for clarifications and guidance anytime

Sandra, new negotiator from Rwanda

As for Sandra, she is eager to learn and contribute to the discussion in the Transparency and ACE negotiations. Being on the same thematic area (transparency) made even the mentorship to go easier as she was under my direct leadership and I was able to give her some roles within the LDC transparency group. The roles included making interventions in the negotiations rooms on behalf of the LDCs

Yamikani, mentor from Malawi

Expanding and strengthening our joint mentoring initiative is the next step forward in supporting the development of women as effective UNFCCC negotiators and climate leaders.

Together, we will continue pairing junior negotiators with climate experts and foster their interactions through guidance to both mentees and mentors and create spaces for connection and collaboration.

Further reading

Mentor and mentees within the Women Delegates Fund. You can also watch this video on WEDO's YouTube channel.


Fernanda Alcobé ([email protected]) is a researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group

Sinéad Magner ([email protected]) coordinates the Women Delegates Fund