Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 15 February 2021

Audrey Constance Wagner, Claudia Comberti Scholar 2020/21, MSc Environmental Change and Management

It is a great honour to be the recipient of a scholarship dedicated to the memory of Claudia Comberti. I will strive to live up to her legacy, through my interdisciplinary research and future career dedicated to tackling our greatest environmental and social issues, particularly climate change and global inequalities.

I have read about Claudia's research and work with indigenous communities in the Amazonian jungles of Bolivia and was deeply inspired by her commitment to local communities and insightful perspective on the reciprocal relationships between people and ecosystem services.

I chose to study the MSc in Environmental Change and Management (ECM) at Oxford to develop the knowledge and leadership skills required to guide us through this crucial transition to a more sustainable, net-zero world. My time here will help to better realize my vision of how we can feed the world, while reversing climate change and biodiversity loss using nature-based solutions. I see myself as a global citizen and feel it is my responsibility to dedicate my life to the service of others, using my access to higher education to make the world a place where humanity and nature thrive together in harmony and collaboration.

My studies will, I hope, help me achieve my goal of working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), or a similar organization, supporting farmers and communities around the world in their shift towards sustainable and regenerative food systems.

My past academic and professional experience has been consistently at the intersection between food systems and sustainability. I studied an interdisciplinary BSc in Environment and Food Production with a minor in International Agriculture at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Most recently, I was working for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a think-tank that aims to tackle the world's most pressing sustainability challenges. I was involved with researching the consumption trends of commodities such as sustainably-certified coffee and palm oil in emerging economies, specifically Colombia and Brazil. I also conducted research on price volatility in the global cocoa sector, including causes, effects and solutions, with a focus on cocoa with Voluntary Sustainability Standards, such as Fairtrade.

In 2018, I interned for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Havana, Cuba, working on integrated drought management plans. In the same year, I conducted research in conjunction with a local NGO in Panama on the impact of climate change on agriculture in the region, as well as locally-effective adaptation strategies.

I am particularly interested in environmental issues within the Latin American context, and, having learned Spanish and traveled and worked in Cuba, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname, I hope to continue working in this region in the future. I visited the Brazilian Amazon in early 2020 and fell in love with the biodiversity, culture and food there, and hope to return to work with local indigenous communities as Claudia herself did. Coming from Canada, a country with strong and vibrant yet oppressed indigenous communities, I recognize the importance of these communities standing at the frontlines for climate justice, as well as their diverse and pluralistic relationships with the land.

For over a year I worked as the Sustainability Coordinator at McGill University's Food and Dining Services, where I ran the Food Education and Waste Education programs, chaired the Fair Trade Steering Committee, conducted waste audits, and directed campaigns. In this role, I also analyzed purchasing data to report on local and sustainable food procurement, developed a sustainability rating system for our produce farms, and founded the Mac Fair Trade Core Action Team, leading the group in obtaining the Fair Trade Campus Designation.

After having interned at agroecology and permaculture farms in India and Belize, I decided to found the McGill Permaculture Club, which aims to increase awareness of permaculture practices and move beyond sustainability to regeneration. This subsequently led to the creation of the Macdonald Permaculture Showcase Garden, a space for students and professors to learn about, practice and conduct research on permaculture techniques, complete with an Outdoor Classroom, while supplying fresh produce to local charities. I also co-founded and coordinated the Mac Regenerative Food Hub (MRFH), a united coalition of local sustainable food initiatives.

I feel extremely fortunate to be here in Oxford studying the ECM course and, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, am excited to make the most out of this incredible year. The Claudia Comberti Scholarship has allowed me to pursue this opportunity, supporting me in my time here, for which I am eternally grateful. I look forward to beginning my dissertation research on the topic of payments for ecosystem services, schemes or carbon credits for agroforestry farming communities in Latin America.

The first Claudia Comberti Scholarship was awarded to Antjie Lang in 2017, the second to Robyn Haggis in 2018.

More about the Claudia Comberti Scholarship.

I believe that my role in tomorrow's society is to enable positive change in the world through my activism, teaching, research, and tireless enthusiasm. I am outraged by the injustices in our world and I harness that drive into tangible action, ensuring all my endeavours aim towards the improvement of society and the earth we depend on. - Audrey Wagner


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