Charlotte is a 25-year old Belgian who took up Political Science then acquired three Masters degrees: (1) International Relations, (2) Sociology and Anthropology and (3) Environmental Sustainability. She recently worked as a Programme Management Intern at UNEP/SCBD.
- What made you into an environmentalist?
When I was 16, I was lucky enough to participate in my first youth exchange in Benin. Together with local youth, we participated in the reforestation of degraded land. My friends there told me about their hardships and I could see first-hand the damage that environmental degradation (pollution, absence of proper sanitation, extreme climate events, etc.) could cause on their life. When I came back, I realised how twisted our economic model was, always encouraging us to consume more at the expense of the rest of the world’s resources, wellbeing and environmental sustainability. I joined the organisation’s staff and volunteered with them for 6 years with each new experience reinforcing my willingness to do more for social and environmental justice.
- Which part/s of the upcoming COP21 climate agreement are you most interested in and why?
The first one is ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions to climate change which harness the potential of nature to help mitigate and adapt to climate change while improving the state of nature and biodiversity. I think people are in denial when it comes to climate change because they’re scared. By focusing on synergetic solutions that can improve human wellbeing, climate mitigation and the environment, we can provide a positive narrative that is better at engaging people. The second is decarbonisation of the global economy and the phasing out of fossil fuels which is one of the keys to stay within the internationally-agreed 2°C limit.
- Do you approve of your country’s INDC? Why or why not?
The EU’s INDC falls short of its fair share with regard to its significant historical contribution to climate change and its capacity to act against it. It is still unclear whether emissions from LULUCF will be included. If they’re excluded, this could bring the EU’s real emissions cuts down to 36% which is not ambitious enough. The INDC mentions 2°C as a maximum increase in temperature, but if it were truly concerned about climate justice, it should push for 1.5°C which is the limit supported by the most vulnerable nations. I do however welcome the fact that the EU is open to ratcheting up its ambition while saying that it would “at least” reduce GHG emissions by 40%. It is important that the EU implements its INDCs without using carbon accounting tricks or other loopholes.
- Apart from your country of origin, what makes you indispensable to the COP21 team compared to your fellow trackers?
Thanks to previous studies and work experiences, I have a pretty good understanding of EU politics and policies. I am rather familiar with policy processes and have studied the role and behaviour of the EU in past biodiversity COPs. Although climate COPs are different, the knowledge accumulated while writing my master’s dissertation might come in handy. Coming more from a biodiversity conservation background, I think that I might have a slightly different perspective on climate negotiations, looking more at synergies between both policy areas, and trying to find common grounds.
- What do you want to say to climate change skeptics still out there?
I would tell them that the science is strongly consensual on the issue (>98%). Scientists have been able to track increases in temperature over the past decades and to link it to the increase of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. Successive IPCC reports that build on the work of thousands of scientists around the world have concluded that climate change is a reality that it is caused by human-related activities with a more than 95% degree of certainty. Scientists that deny the reality of climate change often have vested interest in denying climate change. Some of their most vocal representatives have clear links with the fossil fuel and polluting industries. In addition, most solutions to climate change would also bring a series of co-ben3efits that would help build a better world regardless of their impacts on the climate such as preserving our forests, making cities more liveable or creating green local jobs.
Joel Pett, USA Today
- What is the most challenging experience you’ve experienced so far as an advocate?
One of the most challenging experiences so far is pitching to national or international media platforms. As I am young and largely inexperienced, large newspapers are not always willing to publish my pieces or to even pay attention to it. The hardest thing is to position yourself as a credible advocate of climate justice and to convince editors that what you have to say is worth publishing. A second challenge is to remain focused. There are so many aspects of climate change that I want to talk about and it’s hard to select the issues that matter the most.
- What is the most fulfilling experience you’ve experienced so far as an advocate?
A few months ago I wrote this article on how phasing out fossil fuels could show true EU leadership. The article was shared by two Members of European Parliament from Germany’s green party and various high level policy people in Brussels including WWF Europe’s director and it was republished by the European Greens on various platforms. Two weeks ago, another article I wrote on Belgium being a climate laggard was shared by the president of the Greens in Belgium and a series of other politicians in the country. It is really exciting when you see that your pieces actually do reach people that have some power to change things. I want policy-makers to hear our messages and it’s always great when they are responsive to it.
- If you were given a superpower to change a single thing in the world nowadays to combat climate change, what would it be?
I would strive to create a more just and sustainable economic system that does not rely on the ruthless exploitation of natural resources and people and that takes power away from big multinational corporations. In a world dominated by money, large corporations have a tremendous amount of power and are able to strongly influence political landscapes and decisions. Their purely short-sighted economic interests are incompatible with the ideal of long term prosperity and climate justice. Bringing power back to people and communities and reinforcing local economies should be part of the solution. For the rest I rely on my superpower to help me find the magic formula.
- If you were stuck on a deserted island, who are the 3 people from history you would want to bring and why?
The first person would be Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement who fought for women’s rights, peace and environmental conservation in Kenya and beyond. I read her biography when I was sixteen and her life and fights have been inspiring me since then. Second is Jean Monnet who is the brains behind the creation of the European Steel and Coal Community, later to become the European Union. I’d like to discuss his views on the current state of Europe, as well as on coal and energy. Third is Rosa Parks, a normal person who’s been brave enough to challenge the establishment and change history. There is a lot to be learned from her experience as an activist.
- Memory of a person is best retained when a unique fact is known about them. What is one fascinating thing about you that most people don’t know about?
When I was 20, I was co-leader of a team that helped to build up a new project in Tamil Nadu, India for the organisation I used to volunteer for. With two other volunteers, we laid down the foundations of a process that led to the establishment of a longstanding partnership between both Indian and Belgian NGOs. One year later, a successful development education process started with the completion of a first youth exchange camp. Since then, multiple exchanges have taken place with young Indians and Belgians working together on reforestation sites and learning from each other.
On a more personal level, I used to do judo for 7 years and got a blue belt; over the last year and a half, I’ve travelled on all five continents. I am half flemish and half walloon, was born in the German-speaking community of Belgium and used to live in Brussels, which makes me a truly multicultural Belgian. I like to go for walks outdoors and to go on day-long bike trips with friends. One of my favourite pasttime is spending time with friends over a few (Belgian) beers but in winter, i also love knitting beanies while watching TV and drinking hot chocolate.
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