Marine geo-chemist Emma Camp is completely at home underwater, whether it be the clear, blue seas around the Great Barrier Reef or the murky mangroves of New Caledonia. The announcement that she is one of 17 young people recognised as a UN Young Leader for their potential to help end poverty, combat climate change and reduce inequality means her trajectory will take her from wet suit to business attire faster than she ever imagined.
In recognition Dr Camp is attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week to observe the launch of Youth 2030: United Nations Youth Strategy by the Secretary-General, and UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited Partnership.
The UN Young Leaders Initiative recognises on a bi-annual basis 17 young leaders who are driving change to help realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dr Camp and her cohort, the second such group announced since 2016, will have an opportunity to meet Heads of State, civic and industry leaders and key influencers capable of making change.
The responsibility is not lost on the 31 year old who first came to UTS on an Endeavour Fellowship in 2016 to join the Future Reefs Research Program in the UTS Climate Change Cluster. Having crystalised her research eureka moment hunting for, and finding, corals in all the ‘wrong’ places - hot, acidic, low oxygen waters – her research has helped improve local marine park management in the Seychelles, New Caledonia and the Cayman Islands and been instrumental in increasing the preservation of under-represented coral habitats to safeguard diverse genetic stocks for the future.
“The number 17 comes from the 17 UN SDGs,” Camp says
“This opportunity really changes the level for what I’ll be able to achieve. Becoming a Young Leader for SDGs gives me the platform to elevate my current voice and presence, to advocate and conduct the science needed to instigate change,”
As a coral researcher Dr Camp sees on daily basis the impact climate change, plastic pollution and unsustainable development has on the health of marine ecosystems. She believes that while her work on coral resilience and reef restoration will buy reef managers some time she wants to use the UN Young Leader role to “address the intangibility of climate change and to get people to think about the connectivity of systems”.
“I want to make people feel less removed from climate change. For many people, young and old, the scale of the issue can often appear overwhelming, causing people to question what they can do to instigate change. I want to show people from all backgrounds how they can get involved to improve the world’s underwater world.
As a cohort, Emma says. “the second class of young leaders want to build on the work of last year’s class, to create a lasting legacy that demonstrates how young leaders are fundamental to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals. We want to inspire other young people to step up and take action”
Dr Camp also sees her “role-model status” as a successful young, female scientist as an important element of her UN SDG advocacy.
“I intend to use my voice, actions, and research to breakdown gender stereotypes, by demonstrating that women in science can implement change through cutting-edge science, innovation and exploration. I hope I can be a role-model for younger women to show what females in science and policy-making can achieve,” she says.
When the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, announced the UN Young Leaders initiative in 2016 she said that today’s young people were not the leaders of tomorrow but “the leaders of today … never before has a generation been so well equipped – with the knowledge, the passion and the technology – to put the planet and our societies on a sustainable path.”
If Emma Camp feels the weight of expectation she’s not showing it.
“As a young leader I feel a moral and social responsibility to act, and encourage others to act, to help ensure the function and biodiversity of coral reefs.
“We are the generations that are inheriting the world and its resources. I want my actions and passion to motivate young people to make a difference, and ultimately I truly want to ensure my actions leave the world a better place,” she says.
See Emma in action aboard the GBR Legacy Expedition: