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Changemakers

ERITREA ★ SCIENTIST

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe Biden’s pick to head US Science Offi ce

SOUTH AFRICA ★ CLIMATE SCIENTIST

Ndoni Mcunu Defining Africa’s role in climate change

SEYCHELLES ★ ENVIRONMENTALIST

Angelique Pouponneau

Cleaning up the seas

Born in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe’s childhood helped to mould her future professional career. With an insatiable appetite for books, she was nicknamed ‘The Professor’ as a child.

She managed to continue her education despite growing up during Eritrea’s long secession war from Ethiopia – a conflict that forced her to change schools and her father to flee the countr y.

After a degree in soil science at the University of Asmara, she took a Master’s in political ecology at Michigan State University in the US, drawing on her experience of war to investigate how landmines cause soil degradation. This was followed by a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where her research found that erosion actually helps soil to store more carbon.

Almost all attention on tackling climate change is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but the planet’s ability to absorb carbon in particular also plays a huge role.

Indeed, the earth’s soils trap more carbon than all the rainforests put together. Berhe’s research has focused on how soil helps regulate climate.

She is currently a Professor of soil biogeochemistry and the Falasco Chair of Earth Sciences in the Life & Environmental Sciences Department at the University of California Merced. She is a member of the leadership board of the Earth Science Women’s Network and serves as an advisory board member of 500 Women Scientists, an organisation that seeks to make science open to all. She really attracted public attention, however, with President Joe Biden’s decision to nominate her as the next Director of the Offi ce of Science at the US Department of Energy.

As an advocate for tackling climate change, agricultural development and women’s rights, Ndoni Mcunu was appointed Bilateral Engagement Lead for the Adaptation Research Alliance. A project offi cially launched at COP26, the alliance consists of an international coalition of adaptation actors, seeking to drive investment in climate change research and innovation.

She recently co-authored the Greenpeace International report on ‘Extreme weather events and climate change in Africa’ and is passionate about making scientific research accessible and readable for nonscientific media platforms and audiences.

Eager to encourage young women to pursue a career in science, she has been open about her own professional struggles, such as overcoming imposter syndrome and her lack of confidence – common enough challenges but ones that most professionals are reluctant to talk about. She advises ambitious female scientists to: “Take time to develop the skills and the knowledge to get you at an expert level. Don’t focus too much on the fact that there are not enough of us but rather on what are the skills you need to stand out and to stay in.”

essionals are reluctant out. She advises female scientists time to develop the the knowledge to an expert level. us too much on hat there are not us but rather on he skills you need to and to stay in.” up Black Women in WIS), where ns the charity capacity ent ons that young men

She set up Black Women in Science (BWIS), where she remains the CEO, as a charity to deliver capacity development interventions that empower young black women scientists and researchers.

and rs.

Mcunu set up Black Women in Science to deliver interventions that empower young black women scientists and researchers.

Angelique Pouponneau, born in the Seychelles fishing district of Bel Ombr, is a young environmental lawyer specialising in natural resources and the law of the sea. She is the new face of tenacious African climate negotiators.

She co-founded the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Youth AIMS Hub Seychelles, dedicated to preserving the environment and promoting sustainable development. It led the campaign ‘Seychelles

It led the campaign ‘Seychelle

Free From Plastic Bags’ to draw

Free From Plastic Bags’ to attention to the harmful attention to the harmful effects of plastic bags on effects of plastic bags o the environment and instil a sense of environmental the environment and i a sense of environmen responsibility in young people. The publicity drawn by this campaign contributed to the Seychelles government banning plastic bags altogether.

responsibility in youn people. The publicity by this campaign cont to the Seychelles gover banning plastic bags alto

She has worked in different countries in

She has worked i different countr the Caribbean, Pacific and the Indian Ocean the Caribbean and the India on a wide range of projects relating to sustainable fisheries, sustainable management of marine biodiversity within and beyond national jurisdiction, and climate change, in particular, climate adaptation and climate finance.

on a wide ran projects relat to sustainabl fisheries, sust management o biodiversity wit and beyond nati jurisdiction, and change, in particu climate adaptation a climate finance.

Her dedication to the environment inspired thousands of young people

Her dedication to th environment inspired thousands of young p across not only Africa, but the world, to demand better across not only Afric the world, to deman deals and action from global governments during COP26.

deals and action fro global government COP26.

38 new african december 2021/january 2022

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