In February 2023, I was named a Max Thabiso Edkins Climate Ambassador, chosen from a pool of 2,700+ applicants hailing from 140+ countries by Connect4Climate and the World Bank Group’s Global Youth Climate Network.
Representing Australia as a young climate leader has been a great honour — and one that I don’t take lightly, given the challenges a changing climate poses for the Indo-Pacific region.
While I still have much to learn about the World Bank’s climate adaptation and resilience work, I thought I would share my initial reflections on my experience as a MTE Climate Ambassador. By taking the time to look back on my climate journey to date, I hope I can give the next generation of leaders the guidance they need to embark upon their own.
Art project, Fasito'o-Uta Primary School, Samoa. (Tom Perry/World Bank)
1. Developing a Climate Action Vocabulary
At the start of my term as a Climate Ambassador, I thought it would be a simple exercise to compile clear definitions of key climate vocab. I was wrong, for two reasons:
The Technical Factor
My background is in commerce and international relations, and I am more conversant with the social sciences than I am with the hard sciences and engineering. When I began to delve into climate documentation, I quickly became overwhelmed, confused as to what points were applicable in 2023 to everyday people in my native Australia, where conversations around cost of living and inflation are unfolding in parallel to post-pandemic rebuilding efforts.
How could I translate extremely technical terminology into language that is clear, digestible, and relevant to local audiences? My experience as a MTE Climate Ambassador has helped me build my confidence as a communicator, so I’m going to give it a go. What follows are my latest attempts to define critical climate terms as unpretentiously as possible. I’ve adapted the wording from resources of the World Bank and other international organisations.
Climate action: taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Climate: the average of weather patterns in a specific area over a longer period of time, usually 30 or more years.
Climate change: long-term changes in the Earth’s climate, beyond the increase in average surface temperature. Climate change causes weather patterns to be less predictable, unbalancing ecosystems that support life and biodiversity. It also causes more extreme weather events, such as more intense floods, heat waves, and droughts, and leads to sea level rise and coastal erosion by accelerating the melting of glaciers.
Adaptation: the process of protecting people and places from the climate crisis by taking steps to make them less vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Resilience: the capacity to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate shocks with minimal damage to the local economy, environment, and society.
The Human Factor
My ambassadorship has taught me the value of taking a listening role — of learning in partnership with my community and working together to tell our stories and develop innovative solutions. When I canvassed my hometown of Sydney, speaking with 330+ people aged 16 to 86 to get their views on climate action, these were the common themes that emerged:
Individual behaviours. Many I talked to were keen to offer their views on such matters as disposable coffee cups, recent protests and school strikes, and the idea of swapping out old gas-guzzlers for new electric vehicles.
Greta Thunberg and her advocacy. What I found surprising was that no local Australian advocates or climate leaders ever came up, despite the efforts of prominent business leaders like Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes.
The impacts of mining, oil, and gas as a cornerstone of Australia’s economy. Australia’s energy ambitions raised questions about the transition to renewable energy, the viability of novel technologies, and long-term national security.
Politicised reactions to terminology such as “climate change.” Some people I talked to had strong knee-jerk responses to this language based on the rhetoric surrounding it.
Young people, particularly university students, stood out from the rest, demonstrating high levels of engagement and connection with climate action. Notwithstanding their particular fields of study, all showed a genuine interest in finding innovative strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
From the Tonga Climate Resilient Transport Project. (Tom Perry/World Bank)
2. The Importance of the Pacific
Particularly in the past decade, Pacific countries have been punching well above their weight when it comes to climate advocacy. Nations like Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands have been leading proponents of “loss and damage” compensation, while Small Island Developing States continue to push the World Bank and other international organisations to cut the red tape around climate finance.
The urgency from these countries is not misplaced: the climate crisis threatens to render parts of the Pacific uninhabitable. With regional climate impacts growing more and more severe, the need for resiliency-boosting climate investments in the Pacific is clearer now than ever. Currently, the World Bank Group is working in partnership with twelve countries across the region, supporting 91 projects across the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea to the tune of US $2.8 billion.
Many of these programs aim to bolster local infrastructure, building climate-resilient transport systems, power grids, etc. so that, when the next disaster inevitably strikes, these systems will not be completely compromised but will instead require only minimal repairs. A noteworthy large-scale example is the Pacific Climate Resilient Transport Program, which is shoring up key roads, ports and other transport infrastructure against future climate impacts across the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Samoa Land Transport Authority's Project Management Division. (Tom Perry/World Bank)
3. The World Bank’s Climate Finance Focus
In recent years, dire reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have raised the alarm on the climate crisis, with many world leaders likewise offering stark warnings of the dangers ahead. The news can be disheartening, especially when reporting focuses on the negative to the exclusion of the solutions innovative people are working on around the world. One thing is for certain: we will have to collaborate across community and national lines to tackle this crisis. Reflecting this, the United Nations General Assembly declared just last year that access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right.
The road to a sustainable future will be challenging — but scaling up climate finance is an essential first step. Across the front lines of this crisis, funding is sorely needed for communities to mitigate climate change, adapt to its impacts, and achieve resilience moving forward. But where will this funding come from? Currently, developing countries unfairly bearing the brunt of the crisis are being asked to handle far too much on their own. International support is key.
This is where multilateral bodies like the World Bank can come into play; indeed, many would contend securing needed finance for developing countries in crisis constitutes such organisations’ primary reason for being. The World Bank is the world’s largest provider of climate finance to developing countries, delivering US $31.7 billion in climate finance in FY22. In a promising development in June 2023, the new World Bank president, Ajay Banga, announced that developing countries will be able to pause their debt repayments if hit by climate disasters such as extreme weather events.
Delivering strong climate finance on reasonable terms will make all the difference for people and for the Earth they share. It will benefit the global community and the global economy, furthering the World Bank’s main goal of eradicating poverty on a livable planet.
Jane Aslanidis is an award-winning global executive selected from over 2,700 applicants across 140 countries to participate in the World Bank Group’s 2023 C4C/GYCN Max Thabiso Edkins Climate Ambassador Program.
Banner image from the Tonga Climate Resilient Transport Project courtesy of Tom Perry/World Bank.