Joshua Mendoza

Published: March 21, 2024

Julie Amoroso-Garbin never intended to pursue a career related to climate change. However, her experiences with cyclones that regularly hit her home province of Albay significantly influenced her trajectory, leading her to become a professional in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Now, Amoroso-Garbin works at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the regional lead for the Regional Collaboration Centre for Asia and the Pacific. Her work involves facilitating climate action and collaboration in the region.

However, her journey to becoming a woman leader in the climate space was far from easy. Amoroso-Garbin found herself in situations where her expertise was underestimated and her insights were overlooked.

Nevertheless, her competence shines through. Amoroso-Garbin is actively empowering women in the climate space and advocating for their inclusion in conversations about climate change. This, she says, ensures a better climate movement.

In this interview with Climate Tracker Asia, Amoroso-Garbin talked about her work at UNFCCC and why women are essential for climate action.

What inspired you to pursue a career in climate change?

JULIE: When I was young, I didn’t plan on pursuing a career in climate change. However, my experiences with disaster response in Albay, a province in the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, sparked my interest in the field. I have vivid memories of being carried by my grandmother through waist-deep flood waters during typhoon evacuations when I was only six years old. These experiences have shaped my career path and have led me to focus on the climate change agenda.

Apart from my interest in climate change, I have a strong passion for public service and a desire to work for the greater good. I was exposed to public service at a young age, and I have always been inspired by genuine leadership and serving the people. This is why I chose to study public administration. Looking back, I believe these driving forces have led me to pursue my current career.

Describe your role as the regional lead in UNFCCC RCC in Asia and the Pacific. What are your key challenges in promoting climate action and collaboration in the region?

JULIE: As the Regional Lead for the UNFCCC Regional Collaboration Centre (RCC) in Asia and the Pacific, I lead a vibrant team with a shared passion for facilitating climate action and collaboration across this vast and diverse region.

My team focuses on building the capacities of countries in the region by equipping countries with the knowledge and tools they need to develop and implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). This involves organizing workshops, webinars, and knowledge-sharing platforms to strengthen technical expertise on climate policy, mitigation and adaptation strategies.

[We also focus on] fostering collaboration and bridging the gap across different stakeholders by connecting governments, research institutions, NGOs, and Non-Party Stakeholders such as the private sector to create a collaborative environment where best practices and experiences can be shared and scaled up; and raising awareness about the urgency of climate change and the opportunities presented by climate action is imperative. I represent the RCC at regional events and conferences, advocating for ambitious climate action and mobilizing support from various actors. [We also act] as a vital link between the countries in the region and the UNFCCC Secretariat, ensuring their needs and priorities are effectively communicated. This includes providing technical guidance and support in fulfilling their reporting obligations under the Paris Agreement. Being in the region, I get to know the different initiatives of the various entities at the regional level, and this also becomes a vital resource for being fed back into the Secretariat.

Leading the RCC in such a diverse region comes with its challenges. Firstly, the region has varying levels of development. Asia-Pacific encompasses countries with highly developed economies alongside developing nations and island states particularly vulnerable to climate change. Tailoring support and addressing the needs of each country effectively requires a nuanced approach.

Secondly, there are severe resource constraints: implementing ambitious climate action plans often requires significant financial and technological resources. A key challenge is mobilizing adequate support to bridge the gap and ensure that countries make true to their commitments.

Thirdly, the region faces complex geopolitical dynamics. Encouraging regional cooperation on climate change requires navigating these sensitivities and forging common ground despite differences. Despite these challenges, the UNFCCC Regional Collaboration Center for Asia-Pacific remains committed to fostering collaboration and propelling the region towards a more sustainable future.

Have you encountered any specific challenges as a woman leader in the climate change sector? How have you overcome them?

JULIE: While the climate sector increasingly recognizes the importance of diversity, it does not mean it is going smoothly for every woman. I have been in rooms where my expertise was underestimated, particularly in technical discussions. These are instances where male colleagues who would repeat what I said would be heard. This was frustrating, but I used it to demonstrate my knowledge and build trust with colleagues. Over time, my competence has spoken for itself.

I am learning that building solid relationships with colleagues across different sectors and countries has been essential. These connections have provided valuable support and helped amplify my voice. I learned to focus on my strengths—connecting and building communities.

I leverage my unique perspective, working at different scales, from grassroots to intergovernmental process, to bring people together and build consensus. By focusing on my strengths and goals, I can overcome these challenges and achieve concrete outcomes.

Lastly, I actively promote and empower other women in the field. Mentoring younger women and advocating for their inclusion in discussions ensures a more diverse and influential climate movement.

How do you believe this representation (in the international landscape) could influence or encourage women and young women to participate in important global issues like climate change?

JULIE: When women take on prominent roles in addressing global issues like climate change, it has a powerful ripple effect. Before I joined the UNFCCC secretariat, I worked with the Philippines Climate Change Commission, which was led by a strong woman, Secretary Lucille Sering. Together with her team of admirable women, Assistant Secretary Joy Goco and Ms Helena Gaddi (+), they shattered the glass ceiling. I witnessed her speaking up at Cabinet Clusters, making a table of men listen to her.

When I joined the UNFCCC Secretariat, the then Executive Secretary was Christiana Figueres, a formidable woman leader who played a vital role in the Paris Agreement. Through these examples, I believe women leaders become visible role models, demonstrating that women can be influential changemakers in traditionally male-dominated fields like climate change. This shatters stereotypes and inspires young women to see themselves tackling these crucial issues.

More women at the table means a more inclusive conversation around climate change. Women leaders bring unique perspectives and priorities, leading to a more comprehensive approach to solutions and engaging a broader range of stakeholders. Increased representation of women creates a more welcoming environment for all genders to participate in addressing global challenges like climate change.

What is your advice to young girls and women who want to pursue careers in the climate change field?

JULIE: I am grateful to have had the opportunity to encounter exceptional female role models on my journey in the field of climate change. Finding a role model in this complex agenda, especially for women and girls, can inspire and keep you motivated to pursue your goals.

To equip yourself with the necessary knowledge, you should first establish a strong foundation in climate science, adaptation and mitigation, or policy processes.

Secondly, networking and connecting with others is crucial for success in the climate movement. Collaborating with mentors, attending conferences, and joining online communities for women in climate change can open doors to new opportunities and provide invaluable support.

It is also important to get involved in local environmental initiatives, advocate for climate action in your community, and inspire others to join the movement.

What do you think will be your legacy as a Regional Lead for the RCC Asia and the Pacific?

JULIE: It’s still early in my tenure as Regional Lead for the UNFCCC RCC, and it has always been collaborative work, so I wouldn’t consider it my legacy. Right now, our focus is to leave a positive mark, including building a more collaborative and inclusive region for climate action, enhancing the capacities of all countries in the Asia Pacific region, and empowering the next generation.

Our main goal is to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and that all essential systems receive the necessary attention. It’s crucial to address the needs of the countries in the region. To give priority to the Pacific Island countries’ vulnerabilities, climate action, and traditional values, it’s important to provide them with their own platform. This will ensure that their unique context is given prominence, without them being grouped with the Asian countries.

Read more stories of other remarkable Filipina women in climate action here.