She told world leaders to treat education and climate as related issues – with millions of girls feared to be missing school because of environmental disasters.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who as a teenager survived being shot by the Pakistani Taliban, said delegates in Glasgow should listen to the voices of young women.
Many of the leading climate activists putting pressure on Cop26 leaders are young and female, such as Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg.
But the whole planet would ultimately benefit if more women were educated and joined the ranks of those finding solutions to climate problems, said Ms Yousafzai, 24.
“When girls are educated, when they receive safe and quality education and when they are equipped with the skills that they need to prepare for a green future, we are in a better place to fight against climate difficulties,” she said.
“On the one hand, climate change is acting as a barrier in girls’ education, but then on the other hand, when we invest more in girls’ education and in trying to find better solutions to that, we can, at the same time, be addressing the climate issue as well.”
Ms Yousafzai told a panel at the NYT Climate Hub that more girls were likely to drop out of school as climate change worsens.
As a schoolgirl, she said, she was not only hindered by the Taliban but by floods that damaged schools in the Swat Valley where she grew up.
A report by her foundation said in March that four million girls could miss school because of climate change this year – a number that could rise to more than 12 million by 2025.
This can be because schools are closed or damaged by natural disasters, leaving girls with inadequate temporary facilities or no classrooms at all.
In addition, girls are more likely to be pulled out of school during times of economic strife, for example to collect water during a drought. Their access to education is being further hampered by the pandemic.
“Climate, gender equality and girls’ education are not separate issues. They are all interlinked,” Ms Yousafzai said.
“That is why taking climate change seriously is important to ensure that all girls can have access to safe and quality education.”
Gender issues will come to the fore in the second week of Cop26, with talks next Tuesday partly dedicated to the subject.
The UK, as host of the summit, says there will be discussions around the “full and meaningful participation of girls” in climate action.