By Emily Pugin
In 2013, as a young Indigenous beach-loving Queenslander, the thought of moving to land-locked Canberra for the (then) AusAID graduate program was at first daunting. At the time, I never could have anticipated the unique opportunities the move would present and that 7 months down the track I would be working in an integrated department with Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have unexpectedly enjoyed living in Canberra, where I have swapped the surf for snow, and runs around Surfers Paradise to runs around Lake Burley Griffin.
Looking back over the past five years, my time in DFAT has been diverse, challenging and deeply rewarding. I have had the opportunity to advance Australia’s development, foreign policy and trade priorities and strengthen Australia’s relationships across the globe.
My graduate rotations across the department varied and included advancing Australia’s humanitarian policies and partnerships, monitoring development projects in the Indo-Pacific and preparing legal advice for Free Trade Agreement negotiations. After completing the graduate program, I wanted to work in an area that combined my interests in multilateralism and my passion for the environment and sustainability – the climate change branch seemed like a natural fit!
It is timely this blog coincides with NAIDOC Week. We have a number of policies in place to protect and promote the interests indigenous peoples. This includes a five-year Indigenous Peoples Strategy to align the department’s work on issues affecting indigenous peoples across the foreign policy, aid, trade and corporate objectives. Having the opportunity to translate these policies into real and meaningful action in the climate space has been a personal highlight.
A highlight of my career was representing Australia at the 21st Conference of the Parties in France, where 192 countries came together to negotiate the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. The negotiations were overwhelming at first, the hours were long and the coffee was awful – not a great combination! However, it was an incredibly memorable experience to be surrounded by countless heads of states and to witness first-hand the culmination of many years of hard work.
During negotiations, we strongly advocated with other Parties to include indigenous peoples in the agreement. Subsequently, the Paris Agreement outcome includes an explicit reference to indigenous peoples recognising the need to strengthen knowledge and efforts of indigenous peoples related to responding to climate change.
Of course, the hard work does not stop at putting pen to paper; we are now working with Parties to implement the Paris Agreement and drive change at the country level. I recently attended intersessional negotiations in Germany, where we worked with Parties and Indigenous groups to find ways to strengthen participation of indigenous peoples and incorporate best practice in the global response to climate change.
It has been a privilege to represent Australia internationally, from working on community-based adaptation projects in Cabo Verde and Oecusse, to negotiating multilateral climate agreements in Marrakesh. Witnessing first-hand the positive influences Australian aid and multilateral agreements makes to the lives of the most vulnerable communities across the globe has been truly rewarding.
My next challenge is a posting to Vienna, where I will be able to continue representing Australia in the multilateral arena. That beach-loving Queenslander has come a long way!
Emily Pugin is a descendant of the Kombumerri people of the Gold Coast. She graduated from Bond University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Laws and International Relations. Prior to joining DFAT she was an intern at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. She also has professional legal experience having clerked at MBA Lawyers and Allens Arthur Robinson Lawyers in the area of environment law.
Since joining DFAT as a graduate in 2013, Emily has worked in the Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships Section, the Office of Development Effectiveness, the Pacific Division, and the Office of Trade Negotiations. Emily is currently working as a Policy Officer in the Mechanisms and Adaptation Section of the Sustainability and Climate Change Branch in the Investment and Economic Division.
Communications and Parliamentary Branch at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade