Face to face with Maria Cosnier, EUCAP Somalia Environmental Advisor

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EUCAP Somalia recruited an Environmental Advisor, Maria Cosnier from Sweden, in the middle of March this year. She has a masters degree in systems ecology and natural resources management, and a bachelor in journalism, from Stockholm University. She is part owner of a sustainability consultant bureau in Stockholm, where she works with companies, organisations and authorities to strengthen their environmental work, as well as their performance when it comes to respect for human rights and social responsibility in the supply chain.

She has also worked as a researching journalist for many years, for a Swedish NGO, where she made extensive studies on Swedish companies that had business with or connection to states or companies in developing countries. Her work focused mainly on the adverse environmental effects from the Swedish companies’ business on the ground, but also on human rights and working conditions.

When we ask about the passion of her job she says: I have always had an interest in international work and mainly on the links between human societies and environmental degradation and climate change. During the last ten years, I have seen a growing understanding and interest from many parts of the society on these links. It’s probably a result of more focus on climate change and how these processes already affect our lives, economy and well-being.

More interest has also been directed towards the links between security, or conflict, and climate and environmental degradation. Climate change and environmental degradation and the competition of scarce resources like fresh water and arable land, may ultimately act as a risk multiplier that can accelerate, deepen or drive instability and conflict at various scales.

The role as an environmental advisor is new in the CSDP-missions. There’re only three missions that actually has that role: apart from Somalia, it’s Mali and Central African Republic.

How do you see yourself in this new position and what do think you can bring to the mission?

It’s both a challenge and opportunity to start a completely new role. There are guidelines of what an environmental advisor should focus on, but there’s also room for me together with my colleagues in the mission, to define in which areas we shall focus. It will be both an internal focus – with an assessment of the mission’s environmental footprint and a plan for how to reduce that, as well as trainings and awareness raising of mission members – and a more external focus where I participate in the Operations activities where it is relevant.

The overall objective is to mainstream environment into the mission’s activities and to reduce the adverse environmental impact from the mission, within the scope of the mandate. How do you think you can contribute to achieve this goal?

I hope that I can contribute practically in areas around climate adaptation, waste management and hopefully renewable energy, solar energy. If I can just be part of planting a seed, then I will be more than happy when I leave.

Apart from that, she hopes that she can contribute to raise interest and knowledge among other Mission Members, around different environmental aspects.

There’s a lot of ideas I think, about what it actually is all about, environmental concern. It’s not about conserving nature for its own sake, or for a nice butterfly or a group of lions. It’s about making it possible for people, already our children’s generation, to live a decent life on this planet. We are completely depending on healthy ecosystems to support us with food, drinking water, energy, building materials, medicines and the more intrinsic values such as the beauty of looking at ocean waves for hours.

She also hopes that she can start a process to actually reduce the mission’s footprint. This is the step after the analysis, where she will identify the processes and activities that has the largest negative impact on climate and surrounding ecosystems.

I am completely aware that this is an extremely difficult environment to work in, to make any kind of changes in. But from my point of view, what is probably needed is to find some kind of waste management system for the three field offices, at least for electronic waste and oil spill to start with, and then for plastic. It would also be good to install solar panels and use that as source of energy instead of diesel generators. There are of course more that could be done, but we need to take it step by step.

There are also things that anyone of us can do in order to reduce our own environmental footprint, and what those actions are depends largely on what kind of life you live. Here in Somalia, with the ocean as a close neighbour, it’s easy to see the magnitude of the problem with plastic waste. So, one thing that we all can do for a small first step, its to be more aware of how much plastic we use, and try to reduce that. Maybe skip the lid to the take away coffee cup, or avoid the single use cutlery and cups in plastic. The problem is not solved in that way, but it is a first step, and each one of those are important.

EUCAP Somalia wish her a very good luck in her new role and look forward to positively contribute to the protection of the environment!