A fascination for geography and leading her first natural resource management project in Northern Senegal, West Africa, 25 years ago, has led UWA Professor Petra Tschakert to a vital role affecting people across the globe.
Petra has accepted an offer to be Coordinating Lead Author from Australia on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and will work on the Special Report of 1.5°C global warming, the first ever scientist from UWA to do so.
This UN-sponsored body assesses thousands of scientific papers published each year to inform policymakers on climate change.
“I’ve worked in the field of climate change for over 25 years, in Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania – Africa, Nepal and Assam – India.
“It’s incredibly humbling, we see wisdom and knowledge everywhere, it reminds us there are many types of knowledge in the world, and every one of them is worth respect.
“People in low-income countries are often highly resourceful – but when times are tough, many suffer to an extent we just cannot imagine.
“One example during times of drought I will never forget, is mothers burying their seeds in the ground for next year’s growing season, rather than feeding them to their hungry children.
“Through our research projects we can create new knowledge and strengthen people’s agency in disadvantaged communities, so they can more effectively interact with powerful decision-makers. This is empowering. We know we have enhanced their ability to use their own voices, which is really rewarding,” Petra says.
After leading the livelihood and poverty chapter as an author on the IPCC’s 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, she has taken up the challenge to again help inform policymakers about climate change.
Petra was selected from over 560 nominations worldwide and is one of 86 climate change experts from 39 countries to undertake the assessment in the IPCC’s special report.
This time she will examine how sustainable development and poverty eradication go hand-in-hand with wide-spread efforts to ensure safe and equitable lives in a 1.5°C warmer world.
“I believe scientists are ethically bound to provide society with the best possible science to ensure people all over the world can adopt equitable and climate-safe pathways,” she says.
The first IPCC lead author meeting was held in Brazil during March and the final report will be completed in September 2018.
The approval process at the end is intense as the scientific panel goes through each page line by line, word for word with governmental negotiators, crosschecking information and verifying evidence.
Having been through the process before, Petra will bring her in-depth understanding of the scientific evidence and strong negotiation skills to the table in completing this voluntary service to science project.
“Following many months of work on the report there is such a thrill in completing it and when it’s finally approved, we know we’ve done our job,” Petra says.
Climate change doesn’t just affect the marginalised in poor countries. As extreme heat events increase, especially here in Australia, and the severity and frequency of fires and droughts impact us all, Petra’s Coordinating Leader Author role is indeed a commitment to humanity.