Mélody Braun has worked in the field of adaptation in Senegal, Togo, Cambodia and mainly in Bangladesh with NGOs, researchers, governments and communities, but her range of interests goes beyond adaptation. She has been following the UNFCCC negotiation processes since COP15. She also developed mitigation projects in France and Canada during her double master’s degree, and followed a carbon finance training during her work in Cambodia in 2009. Mélody is interested in risk reduction and risk transfer strategies for adaptation to climate change, with a strong participatory component, and on how these strategies are impacted by and impact gender roles in a household or a community. She is currently working withInternational Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, USA.
In this interview, the 29 year old inspiring youth shared her journey, and passion for work.
What motivated you to work on climate change?
Mélody: I started really looking into climate change impacts and what it means for societies in developing countries when the world started talking about COP15 in Copenhagen, and the climate (in)justice side of it hit me. In 2009 and before the COP15, I got involved in several climate awareness projects through diverse organizations, including Oxfam and my university organization Eco-campus3. I went to the COP with five friends, and we produced a documentary on the role and expectations of civil society at COP15, based on interviews of diverse stakeholders. Later, I was accredited for the second week, and was among the few thousands of people who were denied the access. After a day and a half waiting in the cold in front of the gate, I spent the week at the public forum, interviewing farmers from developing countries, who had been accredited and were also denied the entry.
This experience was incredibly strong at many levels. First, there was a moral and even physical frustration, to have come all the way, to have been granted an accreditation, and to be left in the cold standing in a crowd for an entire day, without food or drinks, and without any explanation other than “be patient, be patient”. For people who came from front-line communities, this was felt as a reminder of their insignificance in a decision-making process that only involved the highest spheres, yet had a direct impact on their lives. For me, who was interested in the role of civil society in the negotiations, it raised questions. But on the other hand, there was a particularly high energy atmosphere among the civil society groups, that was yet tinted with frustration, but that I found particularly positive and inspiring. I think the monumental failure of the summit just further convinced me that we would need a lot of energy, creativity and people to work on this! I naturally oriented all my internships and thesis on adaptation, although I also studied mitigation through eco-conception and industrial ecology.
Currently, You work for International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society. What is IRI and what is your primary working areas in IRI?
Mélody: The IRI is a research center that was created by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Columbia University as the world’s first international institute with a mission to apply climate science in the service of society. The IRI uses a science-based approach to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve adaptability to long term climate change, especially in developing countries.
I work in the Financial Instruments Sector Team, on the development of index insurance products for small-scale farmers across the world. Index insurance is a type of micro-insurance that triggers payouts based on the behavior of a measurable climate variable, such as rainfall. By covering farmers against the worst drought years, it unlocks productive opportunities that allow them to increase their resilience to shocks and get out of the poverty cycle. Index insurance is also seen as a potential tool to address loss and damage in the UNFCCC negotiations.
My team works all around the world. I focus mainly on West Africa and Asia.
How adaptation is different than other processes dealing with climate change? And how adaptation is linked with mitigation or migration?
Mélody: Mitigation, Adaptation, and now Loss and Damage are complementary processes. Adaptation without mitigation would quickly become completely unmanageable, which is why we need to keep pushing for quicker, stronger, legally binding emission reduction commitments. But mitigation without adaptation would be a complete denial of the impacts that are and have already been felt for years by communities all around the world who can’t afford to sit idle. Loss and Damage is a recognition of the fact that even with mitigation and adaptation, we won’t be able to prevent certain losses and damages, both economic and non-economic. It was recognized and included in the Paris Agreement as a separate article, after debates whether or not to include it into adaptation. Migration partially results from residual losses and damages, such as the loss of land due to sea-level rise. It is a complex issue that may require the relocation of entire countries in the years to come, and for which funding is going to be challenging.
According to most predictions, Bangladesh is the nation most vulnerable to global climate change. You have worked number of years there. How was your experience?
Mélody: I worked for Worldfish in Dhaka, as project leader for the Smart-Farm project, as part of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Program led by the CGIAR. I initially came for six months, fell in love with the country and ended up staying three years. The main focus of the project was participatory action research on agriculture, aquaculture and integrated farming systems, to identify and develop gender responsive climate-smart technologies at farm and household level. We were working in the south-western part of the country, in villages that are highly vulnerable to cyclones, floods and increasing salinity.
As a response to the increasing challenges faced by farmers to grow food on the ground, and to the lack of space, we explored different strategies for vertical agriculture systems, to optimize the use of the vertical space on the households and explore ways to grow vegetable off-the-ground. I also co-designed and developed a prototype of an integrated climate-smart house, structurally resistant to disasters, but that also allows to protect people’s livelihoods during cyclones (and thus recover faster), that is self-sufficient and optimizes the use of resources by using the outputs of one component as inputs for the other one, and that allows people in a highly saline area to grow vegetables and have clean drinking water, by looping vertical agriculture, rainwater harvesting, fish culture in irrigation tank, drip irrigation and composting.
You have been taking part in COP from 2009, you were there during COP21 as well. How a youth can take part in the COP process?
Mélody: There are many ways to participate to the COP, depending on what one is looking for. Personally, I had a triple hat at my first COP: I was there with friends to produce this documentary movie on the role and expectations of civil society at a COP, which really was a personal project we had developed together; I was also at that time a member of the local Oxfam group in my city, and we travelled by train from Paris to Copenhagen with Oxfam. Finally, I had joined the delegation of a youth organization (SCI international), which is where I got my accreditation from. But there is a strong movement of young people at the COP, called the YOUNGO, that is a great entry point to the UNFCCC negotiations for youth, and that is actively advocating for more ambitious commitments.
What tips you would like to give to youths who want to become a professional in climate change adaptation.
Mélody: Just like any other job, there is no magical recipe (unfortunately). I personally came to it progressively because I realized it combined all the things I had been interested in and working on, so it looked like the logical way to move forward. I focused all my studies, thesis, internships, and also a lot of personal free time and projects to it. Be proactive! Try to connect the dots and see how to best utilize your background, talk to people, get involved in organizations that work on something that matters to you and take responsibilities. Develop your own projects. Write emails, not just to reply to internships or job offers, but to organizations that you’re interested in, about projects that inspire you. Ask if they can forward your resume to their network. Be patient, at some point perseverance will pay off!