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Julie Vatu

MSc Climate Change, Maynooth University

Julie worked in the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation as an Environmental Impact Assessment Officer (EIAO) in Vanuatu before receiving her fellowship to study in Ireland. 

Back in Vanuatu, I work under the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation as an Environmental Impact Assessment Officer (EIAO). The main aim of the department is to ensure that the environment is well protected. I assess the environmental impact of proposed developments. As an EIAO, most of the responsibilities I carried out within the department included assisting with the implementation of the EIA processes and procedures, undertaking Preliminary Environmental Assessments (PEAs), liaising and consultating with relevant stakeholders regarding reports and TORs, conducting site inspections, and promoting compliance.  

I grew up in a small island country in the southwest Pacific. We rely heavily on our natural resources for our livelihood. However, with the increasing impacts of climate change, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access these resources. To be able to find solutions to address the issue of climate change, it is important to have a good understanding of climate change. The reason I chose Maynooth University was because it has a well-integrated and encompassing programme that includes modules such as The Ocean and Climate Change; Detection, Attribution and Decision Making; and Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation. These modules reflect the major themes of climate change together with essential technical training in modelling and analysis which are designed to nurture independent and critical thinking on climate change issues. As a citizen of a small island state, this course teaches some of the key issues faced by Vanuatu.  

I am grateful that I was able to travel all the way from the Pacific to Ireland safely thanks to the hardworking staff of the Ireland Fellows Programme. Before arriving here, they ensured that I had all the information I needed and provided me with contacts who could help to make life easier for me when I arrived. I also benefitted from the allowance that I received every month and the monthly drop-in sessions which are extremely helpful. We get to share our experiences with other fellows which has been very meaningful.  

Most importantly, I have learnt so much from my course thanks to the fellowship. I have learnt about the importance of historical climatic data and the Earth’s past climate to be able to understand and predict future climate. Climate information regarding the Pacific is something that we need to improve. Due to a shortage of technology and climatic instruments, we do not have good records of past climate data which makes climate analysis difficult, especially for policy makers. Collecting raw data from the field is easy, however how that raw data is translated and simplified to be understandable to decision makers and the public is an especially important skill. Last but not the least I get to meet and make friends with other international students who share the same passion as me in climate change related issues. 

I found adjusting to an environment that is different to where I come from quite challenging. However, how I adjust and blend in is making friends. For me, the reason I made it this far is because of the people that I become friends with. The more friends you have, the less you will feel lonely. Also, I ask questions as much as possible if I am not sure about anything. Irish people are very friendly, so when I am stuck with something, I just ask. After I return home, I will miss the wintry weather and the lovely friendly Irish people that I consider as my family.  

One of the major differences between Vanuatu and Ireland is the weather. Vanuatu is near the equator, so summer is all year around, unlike Ireland. Another difference is the food. I hardly find any of our locally grown food here in supermarkets. Finally, the difference in the academic school calendar. In Vanuatu, school commences in the beginning of the year while in Ireland, it starts in the late summer. 

Through this fellowship I have gained insight and knowledge on climate change, not only on the science behind climate change but also on what actions can be taken to address the increasing impacts of climate, especially in vulnerable countries. I believe that my experience here in Ireland will help support the development and capacity building of addressing climate change and its associated challenges in Vanuatu.  

The opportunity to study abroad has given me a broader view of how western societies view climate change. We can talk about the issue of climate change, but it is our actions that matter. As a resident of a small island state, we are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. When I return, I want to be a voice for the people of Vanuatu in tackling climate change. I want to help improve and strengthen the EIA process to ensure that all developments are environmentally friendly and that climate change concepts are factored during the initial stages of development planning and decision making. 

Today’s climate crisis threatens food security and livelihoods. Small island developing states are often the hardest hit by climate events. Yet, these islands produce less than one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. My hope for the future development of Vanuatu is to build resilient communities who will be able to adapt to climate change, encourage and support sustainable resource management and conservation, work towards sustainable development and promote clean development in Vanuatu. My hope for the future is to be a voice for the vulnerable victims of climate change. 

I would like to recommend people in my country to apply for the Ireland Fellows Programme. It is a great opportunity for residents of small island states especially Pacific islanders to travel, explore and experience a new and different environment. This is a fantastic opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and get a feel of the outside world. Ireland is a beautiful country with lovely people and a high standard of education, with universities offering so many great courses. So far, I have benefitted from the program, and I wish for my fellow Ni Vanuatu citizens to come and experience what I had experienced. What we have learned from our studies here will benefit our country.