Joanna Patouris

Joanna Patouris (Swaziland, WK 03-09)

Briefly tell us about what fuels your passion of environmental issues and about your Masters programme.

My passion for environmental issues is fueled by the fact that the impacts of climate change are an ‘equal opportunity destroyer’, and these impacts are eroding efforts made towards sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Climate change is also exacerbating inequalities among those whose livelihoods have been made most vulnerable –and this is no distant reality in our Kingdom.

During my undergraduate, I majored in Economics, Environmental Studies and Sociology at St. Lawrence University, where I engaged in an interdisciplinary critical analysis of the ‘Anthropocene’. During this period, I was exposed to what seemed to be the incomprehensible world of international climate change policy. The more I learned about the process of developing climate change policy, the more I realized that decisions made today (locally and internationally) speak to which nations will be given the opportunity to uphold their standards of living and which will be forced to uproot their lives in search for new terrains in hopes of survival. I also learned that those who have contributed the least to this global crisis, bare the greatest burdens. While this realization was an emotionally charged one- it inspired me to seek opportunities to join forces with advocates already working on these issues to ensure that international climate change agreements are transparent, just, promote gender equality and are in line with the promotion of human rights for all.

(L-R) Joanna participating in the People's Climate March in New York on September 2014 (Photo: Colin Hughes). Joanna Outside Le Bourget COP 21 venue in Paris

I first became involved in the international climate change process after my professor and mentor from St. Lawrence University, Jon Rosales facilitated the process of my first accreditation to the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2013 as an observer. Watching the negotiations unfold was one of the most eye opening yet challenging experiences of my life. Eye opening, perhaps in realizing the obvious– that there are ‘real people’ behind every negotiating country’s nameplate. Challenging- in understanding that there are some nations (particularly Small Island Developing States) who attend these conferences with the intentions of ‘protecting’ the existence and sovereignty of their islands.

I then dedicated my focus on the issue of climate change ‘refugees’ / climate induced migrants and the militarization of climate change. The following year, I was able to continue this learning process at COP20 with the Women and Gender Constituency, where we worked with allies from around the world to ensure that women’s voices, experiences and rights were embedded in the discussions and reflected in all processes and outcomes of the negotiations.

In 2015, I attended COP21 in Paris as a concerned citizen of Swaziland, and was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Swaziland’s dedicated negotiating team, who engaged in mentally and physically challenging all-nighters to ‘negotiate’ for policies that will translate to a safer, healthier and more environmentally sound Swaziland. I look forward to participating in COP22 with the negotiating team of Swaziland, to explore solutions to enhancing the capacity and support of developing nations for effective climate governance. As a search for environmental justice has been the driving force behind my academics and dream career path, I am pursing a Masters of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada. My thesis is based on implementation modalities and procedures of the COP21 Paris Agreement, for ambitious and effective climate governance- with a focus on enhanced transparency and capacity building for developing countries.

What role did Waterford play in your career path choice?

Through the diversity we embraced at WK, I came to understand that each persons identity and wellbeing is often embedded within their community and the environment(s) in which they were raised. Waterford has a unique way of instilling ‘Waterfordian’ qualities within us and there seems to be one, which people almost always develop during their WK experience and that is Ubuntu.

I have always been interested in the ‘international development’ agenda however, it became clear that once deconstructed, issues of reproduction and patriarchy along with the dominant structures of knowledge that define ‘development’ pose challenges to our understandings of this concept. I began to question how we as a society continue to measure and applaud ‘success’ and ‘development’ that is simultaneously degrading the lands and environments on which many have formed their identities and livelihoods. The Waterfordian skill of critically questioning the norm has shed light to the challenges that such grave misconceptions embedded in our learning pose to our Ubuntu, and humanity. It is the deconstruction of these misconceptions and the importance of the ‘unlearning’ process that inspire me to dedicate myself to a career in the Anthropocene.

Do you have any fond memories of Waterford? Please share.

This is a tough question… I spent some of the most transformative 7 years of my life with WK. Community Service weekends with St. Joseph’s Mission were an all time favourite, while memories of IB all-nighters, sports trips, chasing Babe Lawrences’ 5:20pm bus and cafeteria debates tackling international politics have all stuck with me. My fondest memories however, are with the friends that I made who over the years have become family.

What advice would you have for aspiring students to be involved in environmental issues?

I think it is important to recognize that issues pertaining to the environment go beyond the biophysical; the trees, mountains, the air you breathe and soil on which you stand. The environment composes of every aspect that could influence your quality of life—food security, potable fresh water, human security, conflict, poverty alleviation, migration, rural and urban electrification, economic disruption, displacement.. (the list continues). Essentially, while many are already dedicated to these issues, there is a lot of work to be done. Find out what concerns or upsets you the most and pursue it. You might find that sometimes it is hard to believe that you are having an impact on a situation, but never forget that there are others, driven by different life experiences who are also working tirelessly towards a common goal; protecting the health and integrity of people and our planet.

I urge you all to recognize the power you hold as educated and informed youth. You also have the privilege of being present and reactive and are skilled with the incredible ability of organizing and mobilizing with limited resources. Most importantly however, as future leaders in a progressively angry and segregated world, you have the right and full capacity to refuse to “be mainstreamed into a polluted stream”– Bella Abzug.