“Women are on the frontline in terms of vulnerability to the climate crisis, and it’s important that we recognise that,” said Fiona Harvey, the Guardian’s environment correspondent. In the developing world, climate change is causing crop failure, water scarcity, extreme weather and rising sea levels. In many communities, it is women who grow the food and collect the water, so climate change is making their day-to-day lives harder at best and more dangerous at worst. “Women are always in a vulnerable situation,” Harvey says, adding: “When it comes to climate change that’s even worse.”

Women and girls in developing nations generally have less economic stability, less social influence and less legal power than men, leaving them in a precarious position. Climate change is displacing people across the world as extreme weather makes land more difficult to farm. “Women are less likely than men to have a legal title to land so when it comes to people being displaced, it is more likely to be women,” Harvey says. Her reporting has also highlighted that these daily difficulties can expose women to gender-based violence. “If your job is to go and get water and you’re having to go further to get that water because the well has dried up because of climate change, then you’re exposed to danger,” she explains.

I catch Harvey at 6pm on a Friday evening while she’s walking briskly home. She is sharp, pragmatic and unafraid to speak her mind. Despite devoting almost two decades of her life to reporting on climate change, she tells me she would “never” describe herself as an environmentalist. “I didn’t come to this because I’m some massive ‘knit your own yogurt’ bunny hugger as Boris Johnson would no doubt call me,” she says, citing two vaguely derogatory terms for a left-wing environmentalist. Harvey is a journalist, not an activist. “I don’t think journalists should come from the point of view of activism,” she says.

Harvey began her career in 1994 as a science and technology journalist, writing about the internet as the next Big Thing in technology. She joined the Financial Times in 2000 and became their environmental correspondent in 2004. She faced “a lot of scepticism” at the Financial Times at the beginning because climate was not seen as an important issue. “It’s been like banging my head against a brick wall for most of the past 17 years,” she says. Harvey pushed climate issues onto the agenda by writing news stories to “reinforce” how important the topic really was. She has extensively covered global climate events from the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to combat climate change which came into effect in early 2005, to COP26, a United Nations Climate Change Conference which will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November this year.

Harvey hopes the outcome of the Glasgow summit will be “a plan that keeps us within [a] 1.5 degree [temperature rise] and one that recognises the needs and the contributions of women, indigenous people and other people in the developing world”. However, she says we must move beyond language of success and failure as “whatever we get it’s not going to be perfect”. The 2009 summit in Copenhagen was widely deemed a failure as a global agreement to reduce emissions was not secured while the Paris conference of 2015 is lauded as a success as negotiations resulted in the Paris Agreement. Harvey suggests taking a “nuanced and fair view” of the outcomes of COP26: “It’s likely that we’ll see some progress and some falling short…COP is not going to solve climate change, there’s still a lot of work to do after.”

COP26, says Harvey, is an opportunity for the developed world to gather female voices on climate change and listen to those on the frontline. Women have played pivotal roles in past conferences, with South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane chairing the 2011 Durban summit and Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres leading the Paris negotiations in 2015 during her tenure as UN climate change chief. But last year, Harvey exposed British plans to host an all-male conference committee. “We have a good history of representation of women at the top of these conferences, so it was a glaring omission, really,” she says. Since then, the government “scrambled” to get more female representation, using the excuse that there were “lots of women behind the scenes,” says Harvey. Not only do women need to be in leading roles, but they must also be included in every discussion so that gender imbalance is addressed in every policy outcome. “If you’re testing climate change policies, you need to be able to say how that policy is going to affect women,” Harvey explains.

As a veteran reporter who has covered climate change for 17 years, Harvey knows how the news cycle works, and “the environment is part of the news cycle, just like everything else, she says. Momentum builds up before a big event then interest usually drops off after, but COP26 is different. “The environment can’t drop off the agenda again because look around you,” says Harvey. We are beginning to witness the climate crisis as it unfolds with flash floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, hurricanes, melting ice caps and rising sea levels.

Harvey’s job has got much easier in the past few years as climate change science has got clearer and the world finally has begun to listen to climate scientists. “I’m no longer banging my head against a brick wall as far as journalism is concerned. I now have space to write,” she says. Harvey joined the Guardian 2011 and in 2019, Guardian editor Katharine Viner headed the publication’s ‘Climate Pledge’. Viner committed to publishing and promoting stories about climate issues every day and replaced the term ‘climate change’ with ‘climate crisis’ as the formal sounded “too gradual”, says Harvey. “Hats off to her,” says Harvey, adding: “That showed real vision and commitment and I’m so glad that she did.”

I ask Harvey whether she will ever move on from environmental reporting and tackle a new topic. “No,” she responds without hesitation. Why? “Because I’m a journalist and this story has everything,” she says. “It’s a story about politics, geopolitics, policy, people, business, science, and about the future of the planet. There’s no other story that encompasses so much, it’s wonderful.”