100 days to Antarctica & my climate change story


In 100 days I will be joining 80 women in an expedition to the frozen and peaceful continent of Antarctica. Together we will further develop our leadership skills to be a stronger voice in the fight against climate change. How did I get myself into this?

When studying forestry in Peru I was fascinated with the concepts of carbon offsets and carbon sequestration. In the mid 1990s, the markets for carbon credits were truly emerging globally. An article about oil tax by Marc Dourojeanni, Emeritus Professor at my alma mater, UNALM, caught my attention because of its simplicity. One dollar per barrel x 1 billion barrels produced = 1 billion dollars for conservation. But how do we implement this? Why oil producing governments haven’t tapped into this opportunity?

While studying forest policy I realised how cumbersome changing legislation is in Peru. My thinking then shifted to practical solutions on the hands of common people. Twenty years ago, I dreamed about using the internet to offset carbon emissions from air flights and to protect patches of Amazonian forest with only click. Nowadays, these two dreams have become common practice. We are spoiled by choice and sometimes confused by the amount of choices we have. I am lucky to be friends with an Amazonian conservation heroine, Ms Tatiana Espinosa, founder of ARBIO Peru, who offers the option of protecting patches of the Amazonian forest with one click.

My interest for climate change grew as I completed a Masters in Ecological Economics at Edinburgh University and published my very first journal article in 2005:  “Valuing the impacts of climate change on protected areas in Africa“. Suddenly I became “the expert” within my small office team in Kenya, I got forwarded every article on climate change and honestly, I got a bit saturated. I was more interested in practical solutions, not in reading and discussing it more and more. Funny enough, when I got back home in 2008-9, I coordinated a project on Research agenda on Climate Change and later, organised a 100 people workshop on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. The topic was truly haunting me.

Moving to Australia the following year meant I was even closer to investigating on possible “solution”. Yet, the Australian climate change policy fiasco -lucky me, right?- that happened during the time of my PhD research (which deserves a separate post) got me a bit disillusioned. My thesis studied if farmers maybe interested in planting trees for biofuels, capturing carbon on the roots, getting compensated for carbon sequestered and getting income generated by the biofuel crop. Sounds good, in theory, but without a carbon price, the whole economic assessment didn’t make sense. A negative result still a result though. After growing more grey hair, I decided to move back to my core, the forestry industry, and to a country with better carbon policies (or so I thought). New Zealand was the chosen one.

A new country, a new beginning. It has been fascinating to be part of a relative horizontal society, with probably lesser egos and more willingness to discuss issues than anywhere else I have lived. Yet, carbon policies are still sector specific and do not currently fully address the elephant in the room, emissions from agricultural production. I have also learnt here that cultures who care for their mokopuna (grandchildren) can also become very profitable in the present. So here it’s the big deal: WE CAN DO THIS: people, planet and profits.

Motivated by one of my PhD supervisors, the amazing Deborah O’Connell (Homeward Bound 2016), I applied and got a place in Homeward Bound, a groundbreaking leadership, strategic and science initiative for women in science. The programme includes a year of learning together with a group of 80 women on how to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet. Homeward Bound aims to train 1,000 women in 10 years and ends with a voyage to Antarctica where we will hone our leadership skills, form alliances and learn to communicate better climate change science and our own research. 100 days from today, I will come full circle with this part of my climate change story and ready to open a new, exciting chapter too.

Acknowledgements: Infinite thanks to my employer, Scion, for funding my participation in this learning adventure!

Photos: Left: Homeward Bound, right: Monica Araya (2016).


About sandravelarde

Peruvian Forest Engineer (UNALM) and MSc. in Ecological Economics (University of Edinburgh, UK). I am a natural resource management specialist. My experience is in socio-economics in tropical forests, evaluating the trade-offs across different land uses: biodiversity, carbon,and profitability (FAO, ASB, ICRAF). My PhD thesis at the Australian National University (ANU) is about tree planting for bioenergy. My passion: Planning and capacity building, using participatory methods, like Future Scenarios (CIFOR, ASB, ICRAF, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). Currently working as Economist / transdisciplinary scientist at the New Zealand Forest Research Institute (Scion).

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