Murdoch student’s ‘experience of a lifetime’ at climate change talks

January 6, 2016

Claire Smith at the COP 21 entrance

Claire Smith at the COP 21 entrance

A Murdoch University student who attended crucial climate change talks in Paris thanks to a generous scholarship said the trip was the “experience of a lifetime”.

Claire Smith, who is a master’s student at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, attended the UN’s annual Conference of Parties (COP21) in December as the inaugural winner of the Mal and Karyl Nairn Global Voices Scholarship.

Among her many “humbling, inspiring, exhausting and exhilarating” experiences at the conference included attending the Leaders Event where she heard dozens of heads of state from around the world speak about climate change and how it affects their countries.

Speakers included Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin but the most powerful speeches came from the Pacific Island nations most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change, she said.

“The Marshall Islands Prime Minister Christopher Loeak said to the assembly, ‘My country is only two meters above sea level. The fate of everyone I know and love is in your hands’,” said Claire.

“The President of Micronesia Peter Christian noted, ‘Everyone is making 2030 pledges… but there are island communities in the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean which may not be there by 2030.’ These speeches were heartbreaking and really put things in perspective.”

Ms Smith was part of the Global Voices delegation at COP 21. The organisation aims to bring Australia’s future leaders face-to-face with key international decision makers and Claire duly met dozens of academics, politicians and civil society leaders at the conference.

“A real highlight was our meeting with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We had an amazing discussion on human rights, the environment and climate justice in the context of COP21 and beyond,” she said.

“We were also lucky enough to meet Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, first female Prime Minister of Norway and Chair of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. We discussed behaviour change lessons from decreasing tobacco consumption, how to create sustainable development, and what has worked for Norway.

“It was absolutely inspiring to meet both of these women and have an opportunity to get their take on world affairs.”

Claire’s experience with Global Voices began in July when she was announced as the inaugural recipient of the Mal and Karyl Nairn Global Voices Scholarship.

She met many of Australia’s leaders in Canberra and subsequently produced research about how to better engage the private sector in climate finance, and the potential for green bonds to fill the climate finance gap. She also authored an article on the issue which was published on the RenewEconomy website.

Claire, who has been juggling her scholarship commitments with her role in Economic Development at the City of Perth, said the entire experience was ‘game changing’ and she is looking forward to seeing how she might use it to make a positive change in Perth and around Australia.

“My journey with Global Voices ignited a real passion for climate action, which I am excited to pursue,” she said. “I am hoping to share some of the amazing things I learned in Paris with my colleagues at the City of Perth and Murdoch Uni to raise awareness about the Paris Agreement and climate change more generally.

“It would be great to influence policy and help to shape Australia’s contributions to global climate action. There are a lot of opportunities for the private sector to get involved and create mutually beneficial partnerships for climate action, so I would love to work in this space somehow.”

Claire will also be finishing her Master course in 2016 with three more units to complete.

A former Murdoch University Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Veterinary School, Mal Nairn and his daughter Karyl, a London-based QC, have experienced first-hand the incredible opportunities that come from studying overseas. They have recently agreed to expand the scholarship to enable additional students to take part in 2016.

“We are delighted that more Global Voices scholarships will be available to Sir Walter Murdoch School students in 2016” said the School’s Dean, Professor Benjamin Reilly.

“At this point we are looking at major meetings of the World Bank in Washington DC and the UN in Morocco for our 2016 scholarships”, he said. “All delegation expenses – such as flights, accommodation and some meals – are covered by the scholarship, the only one of its kind in Western Australia.”

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