Alumni at COP21: Shona Rawlings

Graduate Shona Rawlings reflects on her experience at COP21 as part of the 2050 Climate Group.

This December I joined fellow members of the 2050 Climate Group in Paris for the 21st edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties, or COP. The group was invited to present a session on educating, engaging and empowering the next generation of leaders in climate action and were joined by guest speaker Dr Aileen McLeod, Scottish Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

Watching my colleagues Chris (McGinnis, Chair of 2050 Climate Group) and Elizabeth (Dirth, Vice-Chair) speak about our story, and on a site of such international attention, was a privilege for me and reaffirmed my opinion we’ve got something important to shout about. Politicians routinely speak about protecting the environment for future generations yet young people are rarely consulted in decision making about the state of affairs they’re about to inherit! The 2050 Climate Group is working to influence this and mainstream climate action across every sector through our Young Leaders Development Programme (YLDP). The YLDP will give young people the skills and knowledge to take action on their own terms and influence their workplaces and communities towards low carbon means.

2050 Climate Group at COP21
2050 Climate Group at COP21

Since graduating from Edinburgh I have been fortunate to work almost entirely in the field of sustainability and pursued a postgraduate qualification at the University of Strathclyde. More recently I have worked in sustainable transport on walking and cycling infrastructure projects. I used to worry I was losing track of climate change current affairs and pigeon-holing myself in a small sector, but being at COP reminded me about the huge scope of climate issues and the variety of organisations and individuals now engaged with the topic. No longer a fringe issue for ‘environmentalists’, everyone has their strengths to play to and their piece of the puzzle in finding a solution to climate change.

Outside of COP Paris put on some great side events for those who couldn’t make it to Le Bourget. Ice Watch Paris brought real Greenlandic sea ice to the city centre. It’s a temporary installation whilst the ice melts and a tangible representation of climate change for urban dwellers to touch and take photos – not unlike an endangered species in a zoo. Let’s hope by the time I’m about to retire in 2050 it’s nothing more than that, a metaphor.

Shona Rawlings graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2010 with a Bsc (Hons) in Biological Sciences (Zoology).