A Movement for Systemic Change

Interview with Joanna Sullivan about the tools and techniques to mobilise public sentiment behind climate policy ambition, rebalancing the power structures and the job opportunities for the next generation of daring diplomats and climate champions, on the occasion of her lecture for the students of the Joint Master in EU Trade and Climate Diplomacy in Berlin. 


Joanna Sullivan 
Joanna is a sustainability diplomat, published author on sustainability activism, speaker and convener, founder and CEO of Conscience Consulting advising institutions, industry and public interest groups on climate policy, positioning and engagement.
Joanna is an alumna of CIFE, where she graduated in 1987.


At CIFE, you will be giving a course for our students of the Joint Master in EU Trade and Climate Diplomacy on “Innovative Forms of Collaborative Action in the Digital Society”. Can you tell us a bit about the major lines of your course? And give one or two concrete examples?
This Joint Master is highly innovative. Two of the biggest global challenges, trade equity and the climate crisis, are addressed through the prism of diplomacy. My course unpacks the tools and techniques to mobilise public sentiment behind climate policy ambition, providing a 360° perspective on climate-related digital advocacy campaigns, and sharing success stories of climate diplomacy. Students will get the opportunity to hear from two guest lecturers: Nico Muzi, European Director of forests campaign group Mighty Earth, and Laura Maanavilja from the European Commission responsible for communicating about the EU Climate Pact. These live case studies of climate diplomacy in action will provide rich material for the students’ assignments. Climate policy is about more than energy and transport. It’s about deforestation and development, global food systems, trade policy, social justice and more. Students will learn about the intersectionality of policies perpetuating the climate crisis and how to be part of the movement for systemic change.

You studied at CIFE in the 1980s, when the Institute was called Institut Européen des Hautes Etudes Internationales. Which lessons learnt during your studies would you consider as the most relevant for your professional path?
The biggest change for me coming from the UK system was the focus on oral communication as opposed to written communication. Having to articulate the complexities of EU policy in a second language was a real challenge for a young English woman, who, before Nice, had never lived abroad. Having lectures from professionals working in and around the EU institutions provided a true insight into potential working life. Indeed, it was my time at the Institut Européen that inspired me to get my first job inside the European Parliament, an incredible experience working with a senior Member of the European Parliament, just as the Berlin Wall came down and Europe was filled with a wave of optimism that lasted well into the 1990s.

And what advice would you give to today’s students who are studying in the midst of a pandemic and who are facing a professional future full of uncertainties?
Each generation faces its uncertainties and these are worse or better depending on where you are in the world, your socio-economic background and the personal challenges you face. Today’s world is of unparalleled uncertainties, but it offers opportunities for youthful fresh minds and desperately needs joined up thinking to address the complex interlinked challenges of health, climate and trade, so countries can build back better from the crisis. Governments, institutions, agencies, businesses and civil society all need help to play their part in addressing these challenges in constructive collaboration. They need daring diplomats, climate champions and outspoken activists to help break through old patterns of thinking. We must learn from the pandemic and create a better tomorrow in whatever sector we work in by hiring young people that challenge the status quo. 

The French newspaper “Le Monde” has recently defined you as a “pioneer of ethical lobbying in Brussels”. Can you tell us in which sense lobbying can be ethical and still represent corporations’ interests? Or how business strategy and the protection of the environment can really fit together and be a win-win situation?
I’m committed to helping businesses that want to truly contribute to a better planet. Businesses have a critical role to play in systemic change, pioneering new innovations, pressing for policy ambition, providing thought leadership and enabling other economic actors to also make the changes that are needed for environmental and social good. Take for example the manufacturers of bioprotection, the biological alternative to chemical pesticides, they are an essential part of the solution of agroecology, biodiversity and environmentally friendly farming. I help them get their message across at the right time to the right people in the European policy process of Farm to Fork, part of the EU Green Deal. Or another client, Tetra Pak, a company that has committed to inventing the world’s most sustainable food carton, made solely of plant-based materials, in line with the EU Green Deal’s ambition to become a leader in nature-based decarbonisation. 

I’ve worked with NGOs for over 20 years, helping to build coalitions for good on critical issues including WTO, GMO, chemicals and climate, farming and food, transparency and tax equity, shaping EU policy by engaging the public. Today, it’s time for companies to step up and take the lead to transform their businesses to be part of the future or be doomed to fail. They need the best hive minds to help them succeed. Helping NGOs and companies work together for the greater good is something I love to do, building bridges for collaboration. 

You have been working and acting for sustainability for the past 30 years, advising institutions, industry and public interest groups on climate policy, positioning and engagement. When you started, advocating for sustainability wasn’t yet mainstream. Today, especially the young generation is demanding for radical changes. Does this development make you optimistic?
Climate diplomacy is required more than ever to mitigate the multidimensional climate crisis. And the voice of young people has shamed and motivated policy leaders and business leaders to act. Everyone has a stake in finding purpose in work for the common good, for a safer better world. Economies, people and future generations will suffer from increasingly unstable weather patterns, drought or flooding, typhoons or wildfires if we don’t all step up. I’m confident this next generation will continue to drive us to go faster and deeper in systemic change.

Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day: With your long experience, how do you see the role of women in transforming our societies to become more just and sustainable? 
The historic disempowerment of women and the climate crisis are intrinsically linked. There’s been progress towards inclusion, but society is far from equitable, and around the world hundreds of millions of women and girls still don’t have basic rights. And the climate crisis is exacerbating their daily plight. 

But today we should celebrate the progress we have witnessed, of women Prime Ministers from New Zealand to Finland, an EU President and a US Vice President, young female activists and women of colour taking seats at board room tables and global trade bodies. By rebalancing the power structures with diversity and inclusion, we will all reap the benefits. 



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