Uzoamaka Nwamarah (MSc Environmental Technology 2005) is a sustainable development expert currently working as a Climate Change Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat where she supports the implementation of the Commonwealth Climate Change Programme.
Uzoamaka's international experience spans across the globe where she has worked with national governments, regional bodies and international financial institutions, advising and supporting them in designing and implementing low carbon and climate resilient policies, strategies, programmes and projects, together with climate finance resource mobilisation.
In August 2021, Uzoamaka was announced as a finalist in the 2021 Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) in the STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) Senior Leader category.
We caught up with her to learn more about her career, working in STEM and driving forward climate action.
Congratulations on being nominated for a Black British Business award. What advice would you give to Black students who are thinking about studying STEM, particularly at Imperial?
Thanks again. Opportunities exist for everyone. Identify your own dream and go all out for it. You have what it takes to succeed in your chosen STEM field.
Support systems also exist for everyone. Be sure to ask for help when you need it. In addition to keeping yourself focused and motivated seek out a mentor.
A STEM career is exciting with lots of ingenious prospects for creative thinkers and people who like to work on solutions for real-life issues for meaningful and positive change. The Imperial experience brings loads of fun with it too and extensive support – both academic and pastoral care.
Please tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.
I am currently Climate Change Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat. As part of my role, I am responsible for providing strategic leadership, policy, and programming implementation support and technical oversight pertaining to climate change for the implementation of the Commonwealth Climate Change Programme.
Within the past thirteen months, I have coordinated activities for the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub including recruiting and deploying eight Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers across the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions with the mobilisation of circa $10 million for Commonwealth member states within this period.
I also lead the Secretariat’s Climate and Gender Working Group and serve on its Young Professionals Advisory Team and keenly facilitate integration of gender and youth equality into our climate operations such that our work is responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys, with the consideration of them as equal participants in decision making and the beneficiaries of climate action.
What inspired you to drive forward climate action?
The first time I heard the term Sustainable Development was in 2000 in one of my Environmental Geology lectures – and this was a light bulb moment for me. I certainly wanted to support and live out the 'Brundtland' definition of "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
Work placement experiences as a Geologist as part of my first degree on the oil rigs compelled my decision for further study in Environmental Technology - Energy Policy option, as I wanted to be equipped with the ability to conserve and manage natural resources in a safe, clean and judicious manner.
What recent developments or innovations in your sector give you hope for the future of climate action?
The increased level of awareness and concern on the subject including behavioural change. Conversations on climate change have moved from the meetings of the conference of parties at the United Nations Conferences to the classrooms and even dining room tables.
The strong political will along with technological breakthroughs for enhanced climate action. 97 per cent of countries that are parties to the climate convention have signed the Paris Agreement – the legally binding international treaty on climate change.
Renewable energy technologies for climate change mitigation and climate adaptation measures that were once novel and being piloted on small scales are now mainstream and competitive with high market penetration rates.
Why did you choose Imperial as the place to follow your interest in STEM subjects?
During the process of searching for a school for my Masters, a relation of mine who had attended Imperial said, "Imperial is the best school for Geology in the UK!" So, I set out to find more about the school and really liked what I found, especially on the Environmental Technology course.
I chose the Energy Policy Option of the Environmental Technology Course for my Master's and loved it.
Let me start by stating I had received admission into three schools in the UK but obviously chose Imperial.
What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?
The importance of having a strong professional network. Every Thursday during my masters we had an alumni lecture and drinks reception – the real-time engagement with former students and their practical work in the field was quite rewarding. Most of our final projects/thesis were linked to industry – I worked with the @RISK software and Rolls Royce and got to travel to their HQ in Derby.
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
Volunteering on the Exscitec (excellence in science and technology) programmes. I really enjoyed the STEM weekend for secondary school students at the Wye Campus in particular. Supporting the Professors and teachers with the exciting science experiments was loads of fun. I also enjoyed speaking with the students and answering questions about my experience.
How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?
The content of my course at Imperial was very current and relevant for industry at the time and even now. It gave me a good grounding for my early career progression.
I even remember going back to review course text on marginal abatement cost curves when working on a project in the early days!
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family and immensely grateful for their staunch support. They make my work-life balance a reality.
I’m also proud of my time at the African Development Bank (AfDB), where I played an instrumental role in 'shifting the mindset' on the need for Africa, a low-greenhouse gas-emitting continent, to embrace the need to forge a low-carbon development pathway for green economic and sustainable development.
I made the case based on the need for the continent to take up the climate mitigation challenge as part of the global community as well as capitalise on the economic and social benefits to be maximised. Building on this, I advocated for the AfDB to be engaged in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and laid the foundation for the development of a public good, the 'new' CDM methodology for improving access to grid-connected electricity.
Furthermore, I secured senior management approval and support for the AfDB to be a partner and sponsor of the Africa Carbon Forum (ACF) which was in its infancy at the time. To mark the 10th anniversary of the ACF, which served as a cornerstone event of the first Africa Climate Change Week, I was invited by the organisers to moderate the high-level ministerial segment on 'Merging Sustainable Development Goals and Nationally Determined Contributions'.
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
Yes, one that keeps me facing my days with renewed vigour and strength: the Igbo proverb, ‘echi di ime’ – tomorrow is pregnant.
This is akin to when there is life, there is hope; and Proverbs 23:18 – surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.