Meet the incredible people behind the work we do at C40 Cities

What motivated you to work in the climate space, and how did you become involved with C40?

After finishing my studies, I had some free time and cycled from London to Paris with an activist group for COP21. The hope and joy across the city were palpable the night The Paris Agreement was adopted, and I remember asking myself: “How do I become a part of this?” 

Helen cycling from London to Paris with an activist group for COP21

While interning at the Institute for Public Policy Research for someone involved in climate negotiations, an opportunity at C40 opened up. I joined the research team behind Deadline 2020, the report that established 1.5°C as the science-based target for cities and states and since then, I’ve continued following my nose, curiosity and passion for learning in different roles within the organisation. I’ve worked with all 96 member cities on managing their climate data, led an effort with a local grassroots organisation in Lagos, Nigeria, to understand household energy use in informal settlements, and built partnerships in Quezon City, Philippines, to deploy AQ monitors and identify air pollution hotspots.

I work in the climate space because I can’t imagine doing anything else – it’s the most important fight of our lives, and anyone can have a role in the movement in determining what our future looks like. Nothing is inevitable.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proud of in your work with C40?

For almost two years, I’ve been working with Bogota on Zonas Urbanas por un Mejor Aire (ZUMA), the city’s ultra-low emissions zone strategy. It has been a huge effort involving countless staff across departments at C40 and Bogota City Hall. I led the charge from C40 in establishing what else was needed to turn the vision into reality and identifying partners on the ground who could support it. We’ve developed approaches and findings that will be useful for other cities looking to design and implement low emissions zone(s) hand-in-hand with residents. It’s been really rewarding to see what a group of driven individuals can achieve when there’s clear political ambition.

Helen with her team designing C40’s strategy for ZEAs (zero emission areas)

I also feel really good about C40’s work on equity, diversity and inclusion. I co-represent staff on the organisation’s Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism Board to drive and shape the agenda at C40. Although it is a continuous journey, substantive progress has been made in building a workforce and organisation of the future, and structures and mechanisms put in place to ensure efforts are tracking towards C40’s vision.

What upcoming initiatives is C40 working on that you are excited about?

I’m excited (and a little nervous!) about Breathe Cities, which will build off the huge success and learnings from C40’s Air Quality Technical Assistance Program, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Clean Air Fund’s efforts in supporting cities and communities to reduce air pollution. It’ll be one of the organisation’s biggest partnership programmes. I’m psyched to see it establish air quality as one of the most effective drivers for climate action and deliver transformative change in cities worldwide.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

Truthfully, not easily – I’m still figuring it out. Having moved to California last year, I feel very fortunate to be able to do two of my favourite things, surfing and backpacking, all year round. There’s something incredibly meditative and mind-clearing about riding a wave and grounding in spending a few days taking in the beauty of and tracing a slow path through the Sierras. Being on the ocean and in the mountains helps me practise solitude and find peace (the total lack of phone signal and general unreachability probably helps, too).

Can you list one thing people can do to tackle air pollution A) on an individual level, and B) on a societal/collaborative level?

I think one of the most impactful things an individual can do to tackle air pollution is to vote. Vote for politicians with clean air agendas, and remember that local representatives and public policy should work for you. Don’t ever feel shame in only being able to get around by or afford a fossil fuel car – vote for the candidate or party who will make it easier for you to take the train, bus, bike, walk, purchase or rent an electric vehicle.

As a collective, practising empathy and listening to one another are really important in acknowledging the inequitable impacts of air pollution and allowing us to move forward in re-imagining and deciding how we as a society want to live and thrive in this world.

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