ALUMNI STORIES: 'COP26 NEEDS TO MARK THE BEGINNING OF CONCRETE AND BOLD ACTION'
ALUMNI STORIES: 'COP26 NEEDS TO MARK THE BEGINNING OF CONCRETE AND BOLD ACTION'
Fiona Tokple (St Anne's, 2016), talks about volunteering with the Oxford Climate Alumni Network (OxCAN) and her commitment to solving the ‘energy dilemma’
Published: 27 July 2021
Author: Zoe Burns
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What are you working on at the moment?
Two years ago, I moved to South Africa with the hope to drive meaningful and impactful sustainability work in the region - and today, I am working on a net-zero strategy for the country! It couldn't be more exciting!
I am a strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). As a member of BCG’s Social Impact, and Sustainability and Climate core group I am mainly working on projects centred around climate action.
The work I currently do in South Africa tries to understand what the 'just net-zero pathways' are, for each sector of the economy, and the country as a whole. I’m working with leading national and international experts from the public and private sector, academia, and civil society, to understand how South Africa can pursue a decarbonisation path towards net-zero by 2050, while meeting socio-economic development needs.
What sparked your drive to help solve the energy dilemma?
At the heart of the climate challenge is our world’s insatiable energy demand. Energy is critical to human development. However, our vast consumption of dirty energy is the key driver of the climate crisis and environmental degradation.
The first time I became aware of this - and when my interest in the issue was sparked - was during my first visit to my father’s motherland Togo. I witnessed relatives studying under the poor light of kerosene lamps during a blackout, the noise from rumbling generators, streets congested with imported, scrapped cars - polluting the air with dirty fumes. I saw a vicious circle of poverty and environmental degradation centred around the need for energy.
Since then I was wondering how I could contribute towards solving this 'energy dilemma', and enable socio-economic development based on clean energy in emerging and developing economies in Africa and globally. From my first visit to Togo, up to my decision to move to Johannesburg, I have made my academic and professional decisions based on this commitment.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
During my high school and early university years, I was also involved in European youth activist groups and served as a youth representative at global climate conferences. The latter sparked my interest in international climate diplomacy. As a result, I decided to work at organisations such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the German Agency for International Collaboration (GIZ) to learn about the role of policy and international collaboration in enabling sustainable development.
I studied mechanical engineering with a focus on clean energy in Germany, Singapore, and China. Following that, I completed a degree in Environmental Change and Management at Oxford. My research has covered topics including renewable energy storage systems in Germany, sustainable electric-vehicle production processes in China, and integrated clean energy and transport concepts for rural communities in Kenya.
How and why did you get involved with OxCAN?
I joined the OxCAN committee as Global Climate Action Director in February 2021. I was very excited when I learned about the organisation. It is such a great idea: the Oxford alumni network is very powerful with many of our alumni being decision-makers, leaders in their areas, and experts in their fields. OxCAN aims to bring these individuals together, foster collaboration and knowledge exchange among them, and enable them to drive climate action within their own organisations and communities. This has the potential for great positive impact beyond OxCAN.
Besides that, I saw OxCAN as a great way to reconnect with the University and its people - from students to researchers and alumni. In the past months, I have got to know many alumni through our regular networking events, for example, our recent talk on Race to Zero with Professor Tom Hale from the Blavatnik School of Government.
How can alumni get involved with the Race to Zero?
At OxCAN, we want to mobilise our unique alumni network to drive ambitious climate action, towards a net-zero world. Therefore, we launched the Race to Zero campaign this year, the year of COP26.
The campaign aims to support our alumni and their organisations and communities to develop ambitious decarbonisation strategies and plans in line with the UNFCCC Race to Zero criteria.
We are still busy recruiting individuals and organisations into the campaign, so anyone who would like to get involved can join at OxCAN Race to Zero.
What is your vision for OxCAN?
OxCAN is in its very early stages. My vision is to turn it into a lasting, truly interdisciplinary, action-oriented, global network where each OxCAN member becomes a climate action champion in their region and area of profession.
What do you hope the COP26 climate summit will achieve?
COP26 needs to be very different from prior conferences. Unlike the conferences before, which were about agreeing on what our decarbonisation targets should be, we now know very well what needs to happen within the next three decades to address the global climate crisis. Many governments and companies have committed to support those targets and set their own net-zero goals.
COP26 needs to be about enabling action towards net zero. It needs to be not just about setting mid-term targets, but concrete roadmaps for this decade. It needs to be about driving collaboration among countries and across sectors - and it needs to be about support to emerging and developing countries, for example in the form of access to cheap finance.
We know that significant changes need to have happened to our economies by the end of this decade, to be able to achieve the ambitious reduction mid-term targets science urges us to aim for. By the time COP26 is over, we are almost in 2022. Time is running out - and this is not about being dramatic, but simply realistic. COP26 needs to mark the beginning of concrete and bold action.
How did your time at Oxford change you?
Looking back, I think my time at Oxford did not necessarily change me a lot, but rather helped me to be more certain about where I was heading, and the topics I was committed to.
I was taught by world-leading climate change experts who made me even more aware of the severity, and complexity of the climate crisis we are facing. I was able to conduct research on the ground in rural Kenya, which gave me first-hand experience of the challenge of bringing together socio-economic development and environmental protection. I got to know inspiring individuals - from classmates to world leaders - who are making significant contributions in their fields, which motivated me to 'keep going' - and convinced me, that I can also make a change (I know it sounds cheesy, but it is true).
My time in Oxford helped me to become even more determined to pursue a professional career in the climate and sustainability space.
What do you love most about Oxford?
Wow, there is so much to love about Oxford!
People make places. Oxford is one of those few places where you can meet the most talented, engaging, and inspiring people. Since everyone is crammed in a pretty small place, it is always so easy to meet new, interesting people, and to have the most fascinating discussions with them at the oddest places and hours. Most importantly, I did not just gain intellectually from these exchanges, but I was also able to make friends for life.
While people make places, I have to acknowledge, that Oxford itself is simply a beautiful place. What I loved most were the night walks through the city, for example around Radcliffe Square, and the nearby area. It just always felt so magical to see the shapes of the 'dreaming spires' at night while walking through cobbled streets. During those many night walks, I would need to remind myself, that I was not dreaming, that I was indeed living in this exceptional place!
Join the growing OxCAN community of over 700 alumni acting together to make a difference on climate change.