Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Lisa Johnston: 10 Questions for a Center for Blue Economy Fellow


Lisa Johnston worked on Blue Carbon Policy with the IUCN over the summer.

"The organizations offering Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) Fellowships are some of the best in this field. These are not easy internships to get outside of the CBE!"

1) Your Center for the Blue Economy Fellowship was with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). What was that like?

Working at IUCN in Washington, D.C., really opened my eyes to the policy side of environmental work. This was my first experience working with a multilateral organization, rather than an NGO. IUCN carries out its work in cooperation with a vast network of partners and member organizations, including governments, NGOs, UN agencies, and research organizations. So while the office I worked at was pretty small, with only around 15 staff, we were often communicating with many other organizations. The atmosphere in my office was very fast-paced and every day brought new challenges.

2) What work did you do for the IUCN?

I worked with the Blue Carbon Initiative, part of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program. Part of my work involved assisting my boss to coordinate the first workshop of the Blue Carbon Policy Working Group. This working group included top experts in the Blue Carbon field from around the world. I put together a 20-page background document outlining the current state of all policies, international conventions, and programs related to blue carbon to make sure everyone was up to speed and on the same page before the workshop began.

The other main project I worked on was researching and drafting a paper that investigated how mangroves can fit into international climate change policy, in particular a program called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The research I produced will contribute to a future IUCN publication.

3) What is Blue Carbon Policy?

Blue Carbon refers to coastal ecosystems that store and sequester huge amounts of carbon primarily in their soil, such as mangroves, sea grass, and salt marshes.  When destroyed or degraded, the carbon stored in the soil of these ecosystems is released into the atmosphere slowly for decades. These ecosystems are declining at a rate faster than tropical forests and coral reefs, and make up a significant portion of global carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Blue Carbon Policy refers to international efforts to incentivize protection of these ecosystems through various payment mechanisms.

4) Why is Blue Carbon Policy important?

Without policies that can provide economic incentives for countries to protect and restore Blue Carbon, these ecosystems are likely to continue declining at a rapid rate. In addition to concerns over carbon emissions, many developing countries depend on mangroves to support their fisheries and protect their coastal cities from storms and tsunamis.


5) How was the experience of putting together a Blue Carbon Policy workshop?

This was a fascinating experience for me. I learned a lot through the process of putting together a background document, assisting with note-taking, and observing how my boss facilitated the workshop. It was great to see the final product of the action plan and timeline, which showed how productive and successful the workshop had been.

6) Who was at the Blue Carbon Policy workshop?

Workshop participants included experts in climate change, ocean and land use policy from a wide range of NGO’s, think tanks, the US State Department, UN agencies, the World Bank, and many wetland and coastal ecosystem scientists. This was really a top-notch group of people, so I felt pretty honored to be there.

7) Did you have a lot of opportunities to network with industry leaders?

Absolutely. The Blue Carbon Policy workshop was a great networking experience because I had lots of time for informal conversations with people. Aside from that, nearly every week I was able to go to a lecture or brownbag hosted by institutions throughout Washington, D.C., where I would meet other people in the field.

8) How did this fellowship help you towards reaching your career goal of working on climate change policy and sustainable development in Indonesia?

This internship has strengthened my resume considerably by giving me experience with a reputable, well-known international organization that is involved in high-level policy work. Also I had the opportunity to network with people from many international organizations that may be valuable connections for finding work in Indonesia in the near future.

9) Why are you so interested in working in Indonesia?

I worked there for 4 years before coming to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), working with several local grassroots organizations. I became interested in environmental issues affecting this country and the Southeast Asia region while living there, and it’s been the focus of most of my work at MIIS so far.

I’m most interested in projects related to coastal ecosystem and land use issues, specifically projects that promote sustainable use of peat forests and mangroves.

10) What advice do you have to students looking at a fellowship with the Center for the Blue Economy?

It’s really an amazing opportunity that you should not pass up. The organizations offering CBE Fellowships are some of the best in this field. These are not easy internships to get outside of the CBE!