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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
Carolina Schmidt grew up spending summers with her family on a farm in central Chile—a country she says is “so gifted with nature that you grow up feeling part of it. The rivers, volcanoes, mountains, and sea were all part of my childhood. For me, nature and joy are intertwined.”
As a child, she believed that nature was “immortal—I thought that nothing could stop nature because it seemed so powerful.” The climate crisis changed all of that.
The green fields of Schmidt’s childhood in the central coastal zone of Chile have dried up after 14 years of drought. The beaches of her childhood are disappearing due to erosion, and the glaciers and eternal snows on mountains are melting. “Climate change made me realize how fragile nature is,” she says. “It’s heartbreaking, and it’s happening all over the world.”
As an adult, Schmidt had a successful career in business, and then pivoted to politics. She served as minister-director of Chile’s National Women’s Service in 2010 and as minister of education from 2013 to 2014. In 2018, former President Sebastián Piñera appointed her minister of the environment, a position she held until 2021. “I’m not an expert in the environment but I’m good at understanding problems and making things happen, and the transition to sustainability requires the drive for major changes in the way we live and develop,” she says.
Schmidt believes strongly that government has a vital role to play in the protection of a country’s natural resources and in the promotion of sustainable development—and her track record as minister of the environment is a testament to that belief. During her tenure, for example, 40 new protected areas were created; single-use plastics were banned; Chile committed to carbon neutrality by 2050; Fondo Naturaleza Chile, the country’s first environmental fund, was created to mobilize and manage resources for large-scale conservation projects; and the country’s philanthropy guidelines were updated to make it easier for donors to support conservation causes.
Schmidt also served as president of the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (COP25), where she worked with the UN Secretary General and other UN bodies to launch the Climate Ambition Alliance: Race to Zero, the world’s largest coalition of countries and non-state actors committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Schmidt says one of the biggest challenges for the climate agenda is breaking down silos. “Environmental issues tend to be addressed in isolation,” she says. “To achieve change at the scale and speed required, climate action and commitments must be mainstreamed throughout different sectors of development.” COP25 was the first UN Climate Change Conference that integrated oceans as part of the climate agenda, fostering progress toward a more unified approach.
“To face climate change and accomplish the 30x30 goal [protecting 30% of global land and seascapes by 2030] agreed to in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, we need to find win-win approaches,” says Schmidt. “One great challenge of 30x30 is creating job opportunities and financial flows to advance conservation. We need to measure natural capital as a key element of national productivity to help us visualize the richness found in nature and better account for the ecosystem services nature provides.”
While Schmidt may no longer believe that nature is invincible, she believes there is power in facing that reality. “The only regrets I have are when I don’t seize opportunities to change things that really make a difference,” she says. “There is so much to do.”