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Climate Counts: Exchange Alumni Collaborate for Climate Action

By Rimsha Ali Shah.

Fulbright alumnus Qobiljon Shokirov, along with his counterparts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, was studying trends and drivers of change of rangeland ecosystems as part of an international research on “Rangeland Resources and Uses in the Hindu-Kush Karakoram-Pamir Landscape”. When he found out about a climate change conference in Pakistan, he was excited at the prospect of visiting his neighboring country and exchanging climate action strategies.
Once in Pakistan, Shokirov attended four different workshop sessions, spoke in a regional panel, attended an outreach project, brainstormed ideas on climate action projects, and shared the Tajik culture with the group of South, East, and Central Asian participants.

“To be honest, I did not know much about Pakistan, but it has been an interesting exchange learning about this country and drawing comparisons to Tajikistan”

The Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s (PUAN) Climate Change Conference held from November 11 – 14, 2016, marked the fourth thematic conference organized by PUAN this year. Planned around the theme of “Changing Minds for Climate Change,” co-occurring with the COP22 in Marrakech, Morroco, the event provided 200 exchange alumni from South, East, and Central Asia a platform to exchange, debate, and collaborate on crosscutting themes of climate change through the workshop sessions and the ideas lab.  The conference also featured a special cultural evening and an exclusive rock fusion qawali performance by Qawalistan.

Ambassdor Hale addressing the exchange alumni at the conference

Ambassdor Hale addressing the exchange alumni at the conference

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale addressing the participants comprising of climate change activists, students, teachers, scientists, policy makers, and civil servants said, “No country can tackle climate change alone, we must all work together.” The opening ceremony also featured the inspirational story of Pakistani mountaineer, Samina Baig, and remarks by Secretary Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed. U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing joined the alumni through a special video message. Click here to view his message.

Participants Vow to Adopt Climate-Friendly Habits

“We need to change our mindsets and act responsibly for the climate. From not using plastic water bottles to switching off unnecessary lights. Let’s turn our words into actions,” and following that, participants attending Munir Ahmed’s workshop on volunteering for climate change each lit a candle and switched off the lights in the room.

Thematic workshop sessions focused on eight themes including smart cities, inclusive education, climate equity, alternative technology, climate change and security dynamics, volunteerism, and awareness raising through new media.

Brainstorming solutions for smart cities

Brainstorming solutions for smart cities

While Munir Ahmed’s workshop preserved energy, in Shakeel Ramay’s session, an Oxford-style debate pursued between two groups on whether climate change was a security threat or not? Wajahat Malik presented a radio show produced on the theme of climate change and environmental preservation, while Amber Ajani had participants put on the hat of a farmer and analyze food production in an era of climate change. In Masood Alam’s session, participants took on the role of urban city planners and designed strategies of transitioning into a smart city.

“After attending the workshop session with Amber Ajani on food security and climate change, I have come to realize how careless we are with food,” said Aqsa Abbasi, an alumna of Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders.
Engineer Asad Munir, who was leading the session on “Alternative Technology,” appreciated the energy of the participants.

“There were quite a few out-of-the-box ideas pitched by the participants, and I am confident they will turn those ideas into action.”

Commenting on the spirit and enthusiasm of the participants, Dr. Najam Khurshid who was leading the session on “Inclusive Climate Change Education” said, “There were girls from FATA, Sindh, and Balochistan in my session along with international delegates. All this was very encouraging and shows that people are aware of the threat climate change poses.”

Regional Panel Highlights Success Stories on Climate Action

Regional panelists discuss climate action projects for preserving the climate

Regional panelists discuss climate action projects for preserving the climate

“Climate change helped us think about the resources that are available to us. We have transformed our energy sector of fossil fuel energy to renewable energy in the Maldives,” said Ahmed Saleem, exchange alumnus from Maldives speaking on the regional panel on climate change success stories.

Regional panelists from Maldives, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan spoke of success stories from their regions centered on waste management systems, rangelands use and utilization, innovation in water resources management system, community forestry system, climate-centered development practices, and volunteer networks advocating for climate-friendly lifestyle choices.

Alumni Brainstorm Ideas to Act On Climate

Fulbright alumna Eefa Tabassum speaks on engaging faith leaders in climate action

Fulbright alumna Eefa Tabassum speaks on engaging faith leaders in climate action

Huddled around a mentor each, groups of alumni sat together at the end of the first day of the conference to discuss, debate, and design mitigation strategies on 10 crucial areas of climate change. These groups presented their final project ideas before the audience on the second day of the conference.

Shahid Kazmi, an alumnus of the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) and moderator for the ideas lab, felt that this exercise was a great step in encouraging regional cooperation.

“The ideas presented here can be adapted globally to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Outreach Projects Sensitize Alumni on Climate Change

Participants pose in front of world's first solar powered parliament

Participants pose in front of world’s first solar powered parliament

Standing in the parking lot of the Parliament House — the first parliament in the world to run entirely on solar power – a group of alumni saw the solar panels powering the energy in the building. Six other groups learned about climate action initiatives in Pakistan at different locations including The Meteorological Department, LEAD Pakistan, Pakistan Boy Scouts Association, and National Agriculture Research Council.

San San Maw, an exchange alumna participating from Myanmar, was attending the wall painting activity at COMSATS University. “We need to participate actively and take care of our world, our surroundings, and our art.”
Three of the outreach projects were centered on the theme of using the arts for climate action. At Saidpur Village, students from a local school and exchange alumni painted messages on promoting climate action through interfaith harmony. Alumni also held a flash mob on climate activism at the foot of the Margalla Hills.

Concluding Remarks

Salahuddin, Lala Rukh Memon, and Kiran Qureshi each plan to initiate awareness sessions to sensitize their communities to act on climate before it is too late.

“After this conference, I have come to view climate change as a personal issue that requires my complete attention. I am going to organize awareness sessions in Hyderabad to educate others,” said Kiran Qureshi, an alumna of the Global Undergraduate Semester Exchange Program.

Gul Najam Jamy, an alumnus of the Salzburg Seminar said,

“I have been in the climate change arena for almost my entire working career but have never seen such an event where a such a large and diverse group of young people not only received high-quality knowledge but also provided extremely innovative ideas.”

While the PUAN Climate Change Conference energized alumni to proactively pursue climate action, for others, this conference also served as the ideal platform to connect with like-minded climate change activists who can serve as mentors and project partners.

Check out photos from the conference here.

PUAN EDITOR

Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) is an association of U.S. exchange alumni who are committed to making meaningful contributions to Pakistan and comprise of current and former Pakistani participants of U.S. federal government-sponsored exchange programs.

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