Erika Rosenthal is a staff attorney with the International program.
Her work focuses on climate change, at international negotiations and with U.N. Environment Programme and regional bodies like the Arctic Council to reduce emissions of atmospheric pollutants such as black carbon and ozone.
I’ve always had a desire from a very young age to work with organizations that protected health, the environment and wildlife. In the 1980s and 90s and certainly throughout this new century, the changes in the world climate system are by far and away the most extraordinary global risk that the world community has ever faced.
Civil society’s role or the NGOs' [non-governmental organizations] role generally is to hold the governments’ feet to the fire, to set a marker—the old expression “Speak truth to power.” There are very clear steps that need to be taken, and they are difficult ones: They involve changing the energy sector in our country and other countries. They involve other significant investments. All of which, have the great potential to actually be economically advantageous and to create jobs. Nonetheless, there are big economic changes that need to happen and civil society organizations work in these various negotiating forums internationally to help both to make sure that the light of public scrutiny is brought to bear on the discussions between governments to let them know that we are bringing the message back to their constituents, the voters at home, about the kinds of positions that they take and to push them to do the right thing.
Many governments and negotiators they know what the right thing is but they are being buffeted by many economic interests. Industry has of course huge representation at all international forums and so it is the NGOs' job to represent those people around the world and certainly those creatures around the world that don’t have a voice and can’t speak for themselves.
One of the wonderful things about getting to do this kind of international work is that you have a community of international NGO representatives, as well as government and industry representatives, that you see on a regular basis and get to work with some of these NGO representatives from every country on the planet, helping to forge common positions and strategies and to organize civil society to move issues forward. Just being able to work with international colleagues to get their insights on why their governments respond in particular ways, is a great privilege.
"There are no national boundaries in terms of international environmental issues. Chemicals applied in cotton fields here in the United States make their way all the way to polar bears in the Arctic … We are all very connected."