Ashley Fletcher attends COP23 in Germany

Master of Environment student Ashley Fletcher got a taste of the highs and lows in the battle to implement a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when she represented the University of Melbourne at the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Germany in November.

The 23rd United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP23 was the latest global gathering to discuss and monitor the progress of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which set itself the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While the major commitment had occurred two years prior at COP21, many aspects of the agreement had yet to be resolved. Ashley attended one week of the conference after receiving a Global Voices Program scholarship from the Faculty of Science.

With a background in international politics and part of her Master of Environment under her belt, Ashley was excited to get involved in COP23.

“I studied COP throughout my undergraduate degree and wrote a thesis on improving future conferences, so I had always wanted to attend,” she said.

“It was all very dynamic. Meetings ran overtime, no one would get any sleep, and decisions would only be made much later. We always needed our phones because we would be invited to a meeting that was happening in five minutes.”

“The cool thing was that everyone turned up in electric cars because it was a climate change conference, and we got the chance to ride in them too. Oh, and I got to meet the Prime Minister of Fiji!”

Ashley with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who was also COP president, and a colleague Stephanie Matulin from Murdoch University.

Though held in Bonn, Germany, this year’s conference was hosted by the Republic of Fiji for the first time. A hot topic of negotiation was whether the Pacific Islands, who will be most affected by rising sea levels caused by climate change, will receive compensation if other countries do not honour their roles in the Paris Agreement.

Ashley also saw the formation of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of developed and developing countries hoping to lead by example by phasing out their use of coal power by 2030.

Ashley was flown to Canberra for a pre-departure meeting with other Global Voices scholars across Australia. Amongst the people she met were Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg, and members from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“I realised just how much the people in DFAT knew and cared about the environment. They gave us tips about which events or negotiations to attend at COP23, and who to talk to depending on what fields we were interested in,” she said.

“Even though they were very busy, the members of DFAT were very interested in us; they made us feel like we mattered.”

Ashley and her UoM keepcup with the COP23 banner.

After her COP23 experience, Ashley has stayed in touch with friends from the conference and is now a Global Voices alumnus with access to a network of alumni, including one who has been a negotiator for small islands, who inspired Ashley during the conference.

Ashley says the experience has taught her a lot about how she can continue her passion for politics and the environment into her career, where she is hoping to get into politics.

“What I’ve learnt is that you should be flexible, as a varied career is highly valuable when it comes to the climate change space. I’ve also realised that there is a large emphasis at a policy level to know and understand both policy and science, as well as communicate it to laymen,” she said.

“This is why I recommend applying for the Global Voices Program scholarship, even if you don’t have a politics background. As long as you have a relevant research topic, it’s a great opportunity to connect with researchers in the field at conferences like COP23.”

Ashley says her background in both politics and environmental issues, both of which she has been able to incorporate into her Master of Environment, were extremely helpful in the fast-paced and often confusing meetings and negotiations she took part in or observed.

“I wanted to study environmental politics but came across no such degree in Australia – so being able to tailor my Master of Environment degree at the University of Melbourne was great,” she said.

“The delegates had a huge variety of backgrounds – both in work and study. It made me appreciate the sheer scope of disciplines covered in my degree.”

“Two of my lecturers were connected to Global Voices, without whom I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. I’ve realised just how connected the University of Melbourne is to everything.”

by Jamie Jie Mei Liew

Applications are now open for the 2018 Global Voices Scholarship.

Read more about the Master of Environment here.