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02 June 2021
Careers in International Environment & Climate Change
By Calypso Moschochoritis, UNA-NCA Senior Program Assistant

On May 19, 2021, the UNA-NCA Young Professionals (YP) Program hosted a virtual panel discussion on Careers in the International Environment and Climate Change fields. Part of the Young Professionals Career Series, the panel featured professional speakers working in the international relations and global development fields. The evening’s panelists came together to offer students and young professionals career advice and guidance, sharing personal stories and experiences in their particular fields.

UNA-NCA Young Professionals Program Operations Officer, Cecilia Esterline, kicked off the event by expressing the goals of the Young Professionals Career Series “to service as an opportunity [for young professionals] to speak with mid to senior-level employees within a desired field to gain their valuable insight into their chosen career paths.” She then identified the focus of the panel on careers in international environment and climate change. Finally, she introduced and thanked the three speakers of the panel, Cornelia Hartman, Eliisa Carter, and Hilary French.

Cornelia Hartman was the first panelist to be introduced. She is an Environmental Consultant with SWECO. She described her responsibilities as a consultant and explained her role in guiding clients through permit requirements, municipal planning practices, writing reports, and carrying out environmental impact assessments.

Following Ms. Hartman, Eliisa Carter introduced herself. She is a consultant for the UN Climate Change Adaptation Division. In her position, she is responsible for overviewing the overall communication efforts and vision goals that all adaptation programs have within the Adaptation Division. She also identified her organization’s overall duty to helping support the constituted bodies under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Concluding the introductions was Hilary French, Program Officer with the UN Environment Program (UNEP) North America Office. She outlined her office’s role to represent UNEP in the North America region. In her position at UNEP, Ms. French is a regional coordinator for climate change, chemical wastes, air quality, and resource efficiency.

Ms. Esterline initiated the discussion asking the panelists what prompted them to pursue a career in the environment and climate change. Ms. Hartman expressed her love for science, nature, and animals as the triggering force behind her interest in environment-related professions. Ms. Carter echoed Ms. Esterline’s interest in various topics, and she also explained that a career in the environment field was able to connect her interest in urban design with the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Ms. French was the last to answer the question and stated her family’s focus on environmental issues and her early exposure to the outdoors. This passion for the environment was met, and later combined with, her fascination with the United Nations.

As the panel’s moderator, Ms. Esterline, then asked the panelists about the hiring process and how they got where they are today in terms of finding their current jobs. Ms. Hartman explained that the hiring process for her was really quick and continued to explain that once someone has obtained their first job, the hiring process becomes easier because of the knowledge and experience accumulated. Ms. Carter’s hiring process in the climate change field started during her master’s degree program, she emphasized the importance of harnessing networks to help young professionals and students find internships in order to gain more experience. The knowledge learned during the various internships can then be used to move on to consultancy positions and other employment opportunities. Ms. French concluded this segment explaining that there were three times when she “got into the UN.” Firstly, during her UN internship during her college years, then once she graduated and became a consultant for the UN, and finally when she managed to get a staff position with the UN. This continuum and a good track record were the two aspects of her career that helped her advance through the UN.

The panel then moved onto advice helpful for audience members interested in the field. Ms. Hartman explained that it is helpful to pursue a degree within a relevant field and recommended choosing a thesis subject relevant to the field of interest as it would give people great experience when applying for jobs. She also expressed the importance of working on developing a network of professionals that can help young professionals find future positions and opportunities. Ms. Carter added onto what Ms. Hartman said and described the importance of self-analysis and understanding personal interests and skillsets that can be harnessed in future career choices. Ms. French then went on to explain the importance of a graduate degree and taking seriously school opportunities in order to land staff positions at the UN. She also expressed the importance of following passions to motivate pursuing careers in the environment and climate change.

The panel then addressed the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. All panelists have been working at home since the beginning of the pandemic. Ms. Hartman shared that she misses the social aspects of working in an office environment. She also explained that workwise the pandemic has not changed her work experience too much and that, instead, she has been able to widen her network and clientele internationally. Ms. Carter shared that with the move online prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed that people are now able to notice “intangible risks” such as pandemics and the climate change crisis that they previously had a harder time observing. Ms. French expressed that working from home has had a positive impact for her, facilitating a balance between family life and working life. From a work point of view, she also noticed improvements as we are now able to more easily work with people all over the world. She then went on to describe the pandemic as a distraction from the climate change crisis because of international negotiations being pushed back until physical meetings can be resumed.

After addressing the favorite parts of their jobs, the panelists transitioned into the Q&A section of the event. The first question was about looking into careers in the environment and climate change without the formal education or with formal education in a different field. Ms. French took the lead answering the question and explained that although it is hard to transition between fields, getting formal education can facilitate the process to build the case that the professional in question has the necessary knowledge to succeed in the field. Ms. Carter brought forward edX and Coursera as good platforms to explore different aspects of interests and complement previous formal education. The following question asked about sustainable development and how it could become part of professions in the environment. Ms. French focused on green jobs and expressed the importance of sustainable development in her field.

The Chair of the Young Professionals Program, Lanice Williams, concluded the panel by thanking the three panelists. She then went on to explain that this panel was the first one of a series of events exploring different career topics within the international relations and international development fields.