CI-Colombia's Angela Andrade began her career in the depths of the Amazon, an anthropologist specializing in geography and rural surveys. She was fascinated with the connection between human cultures and nature.
"I was always trying to understand the relationship between humans and the environment," Angela says, "ever since I began studying anthropology and realized that human beings have always had to face environmental and social changes, even in their earliest days on the planet."
She recalls excavating a site in the area of Araracuara, Colombia, where she and her team found the so-called "terra preta" soils — manmade soils developed by indigenous people. These types of soils contradict the idea that indigenous people in the Amazon practiced only slash-and-burn agriculture, she explains, and helped to show how people and nature have historically thrived together.
From Excavation to Inspiration: A Career in Climate Change
These discoveries led Angela to become interested in the modern-day challenge of climate change — and eventually, after working for Colombia's National Geographic Institute and the Ministry of Environment, to her current role at CI.
As Environmental Policy Director, Angela helps to inform public policies on climate change and biodiversity. She advises the Colombian Government on issues such as national climate change adaptation, low-carbon development and biodiversity policies. One of her particular focus areas is promoting the implementation of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in policymaking and projects.
More simply put, "I promote the implementation of climate change adaptation actions to address climate change impacts — for the benefit of local communities and the conservation of nature," Angela explains.
She also participates and represents CI in most of the climate change initiatives being implemented in Colombia, especially on adaptation.
Ecosystem-based Adaptation: Guidelines for Progress at COP 17
In addition to her role at CI, Angela serves as the Deputy Chair of the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She represents the chair in several activities, especially those related to policy at the global level, including international conventions like the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This year, she is participating in the UNFCCC COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, as a representative of the CEM on the IUCN delegation, and will be presenting guidelines on EbA. These guidelines were created by several organizations after the publication of IUCN's 2009 guide, "Building Resilience to Climate Change Adaptation: Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Lessons from the Field," and are intended to provide practical information on how to build resilience and incorporate EbA approaches into strategies, projects and policy design.
"Personally, in Durban, I would like to see more promotion of these so-called ‘natural solutions' for climate change adaptation," Angela says. "Adaptation to global climate change is a matter of survival these days," and EbA approaches are essential to address climate change impacts and build resilience of socio-ecological systems.
Learning from the Past + Adapting for the Future
Through her anthropology studies, Angela has seen first-hand the importance of the methods communities use to adapt to environmental challenges. "Some cultures have had success and developed practices that allow their survival for ages, but others implemented practices that were the cause of their collapse."
Angela's studies working with traditional agricultural systems practiced by Andoke and Witoto Indians in the Amazon show how traditional farming systems are changing due to colonization and how the traditional culture is being affected. These changes have impacts on the soils and the quality of the overall environment.
"My studies gave me ideas on the importance of considering how changes in agricultural systems are affecting the Amazon today," she says.
Angela has used this insight to contribute to specific projects that focus on EbA; for example, Colombia's first National Pilot Project for Adaptation to Climate Change (INAP). This project supports Colombia's efforts to address the expected consequences of climate change on certain vital ecosystems by identifying and addressing adaptation measures and policy options.
This project is important because Colombia's high-mountain ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change and provide essential services — especially water — to almost 70 percent of the country's total population. As part of the INAP, Angela is working on a pilot project to address this problem in the Chingaza-Sumapaz-Guerrero Corridor, which will lead to scaled-up efforts throughout the corridor.
Wisdom + Motivation: Ingredients for Fighting Climate Change
Angela was born in Bogotá and has found motivation in these high-mountain ecosystems. "Bogotá is a beautiful Andean city, surrounded by mountains. High mountains are always a source of inspiration," she says.
Through her work, she hopes to make a difference for the people and environment of Colombia — and beyond. Although she knows there isn't just one solution to solving climate problems, she advises us to "always be curious and open to learning new things, and to listen to the wisdom of old indigenous and local people."
Following Angela's lead, we can look to the past for inspiration on how to cope with climate change — and learn again to thrive with nature.