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Island man cuts his teeth on environmental law action at COP26 conference in Glasgow

Enlisted to help Scottish institute’s program at COP26 climate conference

Climate change is one of the biggest public policy challenges confronting Canadian and international policy makers and was the topic of discussion at the COP26 Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

World leaders, climate scientists and environmental activists converged on Scotland’s biggest city to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Working in this atmosphere of environmental urgency and political arm-wrestling was a young man born and raised in Campbell River. Kyle Fawkes was putting his education to work helping the world reach agreement on climate change, specifically by helping coordinate events for the COP26 climate change conference for the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) and contributing to the COP26 delegation run by the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation.

“I was in Glasgow at this time and so I was looking for a reason to stick around and stay for COP26,” Fawkes said. “And so they asked if I would be willing to be the COP26 coordinator for the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and governance.”

He wasn’t enlisted out of the blue, Fawkes was already at ground zero when it came to the climate change conference. He is just completing a Master of Laws in Global Environmental Law and Governance from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, which is where the SCELG is based.

Fawkes finished his dissertation in September and his supervisor is heavily involved in COP26 and acts as a government consultant.

“He is world renowned for the work that he does in terms of climate legal affairs,” Fawkes said.

The SCELG was organizing a lot of events that are not in the “blue zone,” the UN zone, but they were events that were going to be open to the public and COP26 delegates and were complementary to the COP26 negotiations. This would be UN representatives, civil servants, bureaucrats, NGO members and academics, as well as the public.

“And so the university was organizing a lot of this, they needed a lot of help,” Fawkes said.

The other hat that he was wearing during the conference was as part of the B.C. Council for International Cooperation delegation. This is a predominantly youth group – youth in UN terms being anyone under 30 0r 35 – that would be meeting with ministers from the Canadian federal government and some provincial governments and presenting a policy brief. The goal is to push Canada towards rapid action on climate change, particularly a rapid phase out of fossil fuel subsidies.

When asked how optimistic he is feeling about the world taking action on climate change, Fawkes said that he’s more optimistic over the last year than previously, due in large part to the climate pledges that have been coming in.

RELATED: COP26 to accelerate climate action already underway in Canada, experts say

“I think we’re we’re starting to see some momentum but the next five years are going to be really telltale,” he said. “I find it very inspirational that there’s a legal path that’s been charted now towards some sort of rapid ambitious climate action.”

Building a career in international cooperation

Fawkes has positioned himself to be at the centre of this issue which he is passionate about by taking advantage of educational opportunities and support he’s received through his connection with Rotary International.

A graduate of Timberline Secondary School in 2012, Fawkes got involved with Rotary’s Interact Club at the school and was active with them during his highschool career. Then he attended Quest University in Squamish and obtained his undergraduate degree with a focus on environmental sciences and maintained his connection with Rotary there, graduating in the spring of 2016.

Then he worked and studied abroad for four years before starting the program at Strathclyde University in Glasgow in 2020. Right when the pandemic hit, of course. So, there was some uncertainty as to whether the program was going to go ahead. But it did and classes were done remotely, which was interesting, given the international nature of the student participants spread out between the west coast of Canada and India. Fawkes was living and working Victoria at the time. He managed to attend in the United Kingdom in August 2021, just before the UK rescinded travel restrictions for those arriving from Canada.

Once he was accepted to Strathclyde University he applied for and received two generous scholarships from Rotary – a $15,000 Rotary District 5020 Ambassadorial Scholarship and a $15,000 Rotary International Global Grant Scholarship. Fawkes was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Campbell River Daybreak.

“While the scholarship experience did not materialize how I had expected (due to the pandemic), this past year has left me with lifelong friends, a great support network and a new love for Scotland,” Fawkes said. “On the professional side, the scholarship enabled me to engage in a world-renowned educational program and undertake a dissertation project that saw me connect with dozens of experts in my field.”

Fawkes will be moving to London now that the COP26 conference is over and will begin work as a crisis media manager in a maritime communications firm.

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