By: Reed McCalib
Each year the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties brims with international talent, and this year is no exception. High level diplomats rub shoulders with CEOs, and heads of state share coffee and croissants with international NGO executives. Even among this distinguished crowd of participants, however, a few stand out above the rest. Here are three extraordinary people I encountered attending COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco this year:
Dr. Jacqueline McGlade
On Wednesday I had the good fortune of sharing lunch with Dr. McGlade, Chief Scientist of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). A brief introduction by our faculty advisor did almost nothing to prepare me for her incredible life story. After earning her PhD in aquatic sciences and zoology at age 25, she began her career representing the Canadian government in the Gulf of Maine dispute in front of the International Court of Justice. From there she went on to:
- Discover key concepts of the molecular clock technique for tracking prehistoric evolution
- Design and develop the Max Planck Institute in Germany
- Build research institutions in east Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall
- Design and develop SimCity (the computer game)
- Design the United States Navy’s onboard emergency response system
- Serve as the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency
Dr. McGlade now lives with her husband in rural Africa in a seminomadic village powered entirely by solar energy. No need to say more.
Dr. Jonathan Pershing
I had several opportunities to attend briefings led by Dr. Pershing, the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change. A geologist by training, Dr. Pershing has risen in the ranks of government and academia to become a global leader in climate science and policy. It has been said that “[n]egotiating with Jonathan Pershingis akin to being at the wrong end of a Formula 1 wind tunnel,” and that scientific and political brilliance is immediately apparent in person. Aside from his obvious authority over the subjects about which he spoke, he radiated a sense of calm and optimism in the face of what everyone in the room agreed was in an urgent domestic political situation. I couldn’t imagine a better person to represent the United States at this Conference.
Dr. Pershing’s impressive curriculum vitae includes stints as Science Advisor and Deputy Director of the Office of Global Change in the U.S. Department of State; Head of the Environment Division at the International Energy Agency; Director of the Climate, Energy and Pollution Program at the World Resources Institute; and Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis at the US Department of Energy (a position he still holds).
Dr. Naoko Ishii
I saw Dr. Ishii speak at a side event about food systems and the “Global Commons.” The brilliant economist currently serves as CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, the world’s largest climate finance institution. She overseeing a partnership of 183 countries and hundreds of multi-million dollar projects. Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and moderator of the panel, accurately described Dr. Ishii as a “Superwoman.”
Despite her staggering professional stature, Dr. Ishii comes across as incredibly humble, cheerful, and unassuming. She is everything a public servant should be: committed to the cause, sharp as a whip, and unbelievably qualified. Before taking over GEF, Dr. Ishii held leadership positions at the World Bank, the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the International Monetary Fund. It was an honor to meet such an inspiring global leader in person.
Overall, interactions with these three superhumans fueled my confidence in the meritocracy that runs our international climate response team. With inspiring leaders like these at the forefront of climate innovation, there is good reason for optimism. The COP, and all the corners of the world represented here, are in good hands.