A photograph of Maria Wang Mei Hua who researches rubber, agroforestry and sustainability. She is pictured on TUoS campus and there are some nice trees behind her.

COP26 observer interview: Maria Wang Mei Hua

COP26 observer Maria Wang Mei Hua tells us her hopes and fears for COP26 – and why we need people to speak truth to power.

Grantham Scholar Maria Wang Mei Hua is from the School of Biosciences at the University of Sheffield. Maria’s research focuses on how rubber production can be made more sustainable. Keep up to date with COP26 observer Maria Wang through LinkedIn. And if you want to find out more from our COP26 observers, then read these interviews with them.

Why do you want to go to COP?

Working towards a career in conservation and sustainability, I am looking forward to this opportunity to experience how climate change politics play out on the world’s largest platform. I believe it will better equip me to contribute in the fight against climate change.

In particular, as a citizen of a developing country, I feel really grateful to have this incredible opportunity.

What do you hope to get out of being a COP observer?

The opportunity to network as it is my final year and I’ll be on the job market soon!

Plus the chance to perhaps meet Malaysian leaders about hear about Malaysia’s responsibilities. For example, if forests are so important, why are we cutting down trees for oil palm?

And to be in solidarity with people of the world mobilizing for climate action.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing from?

Whoever is going to speak truth to power and push for real action.

And who do you think is missing from COP?

People who are suffering the most from climate change need to be front and centre.

Overall, I would like to see peacemakers rather than economic deal brokers do the negotiating.

What is good about COP?

It forces world leaders to come face to face. And if we as a world can actually agree to do what is necessary to keep warming within 1.5C, we would be avoiding a bleak future.

And it is a huge marketing and publicity opportunity for fighting climate change.

What is bad about COP?

I fear it might be all talk and no action.

Also, I worry that it might turn into a race to the bottom, with countries trying to minimize their emissions cuts, shift blame to others, or attempting to greenwash their way out of commitments.

Are you hopeful COP will cause meaningful change?

I am sceptical that there will be a meaningful change in world leaders’ approach to negotiating (their way out of) climate action commitments.

So I’m putting my faith in the people, young and old, who are united in mobilizing for climate action. I hope that this sends a clear signal to world leaders that we are watching and demanding that they accept responsibility and take strong action to protect the future of their peoples.

How does your work relate to the climate crisis or the biodiversity crisis?

My work analyses the impact of rubber plantations on deforestation in the tropics, which is a cause of carbon emissions as well as habitat degradation and loss. Our remaining tropical forests are crucial carbon sinks and reservoirs of endangered species.

My research asks how we can manage and plan rubber production to minimise biodiversity impacts and deforestation. Plus I look at what role economic factors and multi-stakeholder sustainability platforms play.

So far, my rubber agroforestry research suggests that agroforestry is a viable climate adaptation and mitigation strategy, helping to support biodiversity and soil health, as well as improving livelihoods and food security for farmers.

Any other thoughts?

COP26 will also be an opportunity for businesses to step up their game. The Global Platform for Sustainable Rubber (GPSNR), the multi stakeholder platform that I’m contributing to, is considering presenting a position on rubber agroforestry at COP26. If this goes through, it will be a step forward for the rubber industry towards nature positive agriculture, beyond zero-deforestation commitments, and encourage other industries to also look beyond minimal commitments and embrace creative, collaborative sustainability actions.

Also since as far as I can tell all of the delegates from the Grantham Centre in week 1 are women of colour from developing countries, so I am going to suggest that we pick a day to wear our traditional clothing to COP26. This would bring some colour and culture to a world event!

COP26 observer Maria Wang is going with a group of other Grantham Scholars. If you want to find out about our other observers, then you find them all here: Grantham Centre at COP26

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Finally, to learn more about Maria, look at her profile page.