Climate change hits the poor hardest

In an era of endless job-hopping, Judy Beaumont has put down her roots so they can grow and create a real impact.

After completing an MA in environmental science, her first permanent post was in the department of environmental affairs — and it has been her home since 1994. 

At first she was chief negotiator in international negotiations around chemicals and waste, climate change and sustainable development.  From 2007 to 2009 she was the chief director responsible for international climate change negotiations. From 2012, her role was to take over the portfolios of climate change and air quality monitoring. 

Currently deputy director-general at the department, Beaumont started focusing on climate change in January 2012 after two years of working on climate negotiations in the presidency in 2010 and 2011. 

“I’ve always been involved in the sustainable development discussions, right from 2000 when South Africa was preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development — I was centrally involved in those preparations, in formulating a team that was multi-departmental and included many stakeholders,” she says. 

“I realised that climate change was one of the major impacts on sustainable development. It impacts everything. Where you have people that are really vulnerable in terms of health, or flooding, or hunger or clean water supplies — those are the people who are directly impacted when you have extreme events such as disasters, or slow onset events such as shifting rain patterns.”

When agricultural growth seasons change, and you are farming marginal land or for subsistence, you are most vulnerable, she says.

Climate change is a major disruptor, Beaumont believes. “It’s a combination of quite deep science — you have to understand the science, and you have to understand the impact. 

“You have to be able to influence the policy framework to be able to adjust. Climate change affects the economic, social and environmental sectors. And your response, your positive action, is also across those three areas. The benefit of any actions influence all three. Climate change is a development issue and it’s also an environmental issue.”

Beaumont describes herself as an environmentalist, with a strong leaning towards sustainable development. “I’m not a greenie as such, because I don’t think you can be a pure greenie in a developing country. I’ve always had a deep interest in social issues.”

She says South Africans need to make sure that climate change remains on the agenda. “I think in our current situation, where South Africa is facing an energy crunch, all of us need to be energy efficient. By saving energy we also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Lessening one’s footprint on earth includes buying a car with a lower carbon footprint, re-using packaging and reducing water consumption. 

Beaumont celebrates her love of nature in her downtime. “I absolutely love being in the wilderness. After the Lima climate negotiations last year, I did the Inca trail — right through the Andes — along the original Inca pilgrim route to Machu Picchu. 

“I go to the Drakensberg as often as possible, and I enjoy visiting the South African National Parks. Last year I did the eco-quest training in Pafuri in northern Kruger, understanding the ecosystem, the game, the vegetation, the weather patterns, geology, tracking game, and learning bird calls. I do those things to fill my soul.”

And to remind herself why she spends all that time in stuffy meetings.

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Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.

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