16 December 2021

Winds of Change students team up to tackle shared climate challenges

People & Culture

New Zealand and Chile are distant neighbours in the Southern Ocean and have much in common – not only rugged geography, ecosystems, and industries, but also a shared vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

While world leaders continue to discuss how to best tackle global warming, an inspiring group of students is stepping up collaboration between New Zealand and Chile to better understand the problems both countries face, share knowledge, and identify solutions.

The Winds of Change programme, funded by the Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (LatAm CAPE) and hosted by Otago University, is taking a broad approach by drawing in post-graduate students from a range of backgrounds including natural, physical or social science, business, finance, science communication, and humanities.

They are motivated to tackle climate change by developing sustainable strategies in land management, business, and policy-making. Supporting them is a team of talented academics from both countries whose insight and expertise are helping to create impact.

“Their collaborative work will help inspire communities and drive change.”

Joining forces to reach common goals

Project manager Hélène Eunson says the multi-disciplinary approach is vital. “It is one of the key features and strengths of the programme. We need people who bring a range of perspectives in addressing climate change issues,” she says.

“We have come to realise that the scientists want to learn more about business and policy-making, and the policy-makers want to learn more about the science. We are trying to join forces to reach our common goals.”

Now in its second year, Ms Eunson says there has been huge interest in the six-month programme, which seeks to attract 30 students in each cohort - 10 New Zealanders based in New Zealand, 10 Chilean students based in New Zealand (“Chiwis”), and 10 Chileans based in Chile.

“These young leaders have a real drive to make a change. They volunteer their time and do not earn credits towards their degrees.”

The participants work in small groups on projects based on common interest, to investigate an aspect of climate change, its impact on the environment and communities, and to identify solutions. Their findings are presented at an annual symposium attended by key industry players, researchers, embassy representatives, and past participants.

The Winds of Change programme includes a series of workshops hosted by a range of expert speakers from both countries including business owners, industry experts, and academics studying climate change.

Pacific partners help shape future solutions

By studying the common climate change impacts that New Zealand and Chile are facing, the students are not only helping to shape future solutions, but also to build relationships with a key Pacific partner and enhance economic and social wellbeing in both countries.

Projects undertaken by the participants have tackled wide-ranging issues including wetland restoration, wildfires, water scarcity, rising sea levels, diversity in agriculture, and renewable energies.

Ms Eunson says the concept of global citizenship is a strong theme which runs through the programme. “The participants share experiences from their own countries and help to create bonds with each other by bringing their different perspectives to the table.”

Being involved in the programme has been a profound experience for many of the participants.

“Often, if you think as an individual about environmental issues, you don’t feel as though you can achieve much, but when you see all these people together with the same objective, you feel really powerful to make change,” says Julia Harvey, who grew up in Invercargill.

“Meeting people from different backgrounds with a common interest has provided a unique opportunity to learn about sustainability in both countries,” says Javiera Otero, originally from Villa Alemana, Chile, but currently living in Napier.

“This experience has given me hope for the future, as there are people out there who want to make changes to live a more compatible life with the planet.”

Winds of Change programme builds credibility and impact

Winds of Change is quickly building its network and outreach. “As we build the credibility of the programme, we will start to see long-term impacts,” Ms Eunson predicts.

This new generation of leaders is already anticipating a future of global collaboration. In last year’s first post-programme survey, participants identified the most important benefits as “building networks, connections, and relationships”, and “having confidence to work in a transnational team”.

LatAm CAPE Director Matthew O’Meagher says he looks forward to the ongoing expansion of the programme to include other partners, and ideally other nations in Latin America. “In this way we can continue to provide the best opportunities for our talented young New Zealanders to engage internationally on innovative scientific, sustainable business, and policy-focused, solutions to climate change.”

Dr Moy agrees. “Our future depends on culturally-aware young leaders that can think globally and work collaboratively to tackle climate change impacts.”

Learn more about the Winds of Change programme on the LatAm CAPE website.

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