1. What inspired you to pursue a career focussed on the environment? 

I grew up in a very beautiful area where I was surrounded by nature and I always felt a strong connection to environmental issues. Finding out that I could use the law to protect the environment let me bring together two interests and I was further inspired at University by a combination of an incredible teacher and by the writings of James Lovelock, which somehow found their way into a course on environmental lawAll of this made me realise that we only have one planet and we each have a duty to use all the means available to us to try to we leave the planet in a better condition for future generationsAs a species, we’re still not doing very well with that.   

  1. Have there been any particularly memorable experiences that have shaped your career? 

I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some incredible people, including getting to know some of the scientists whose ground-breaking work set the basis for much of our current understanding on climate change and environmental damage. Being able to sit down with them for a coffee or a beer and hear in their own words what led them to their achievements has been absolutely fascinating.   

  1. you've been involved in a number of COPs, has there been a stand out convention or moment? 

Every COP is different and every Treaty and meeting has at least one stand out momentFrom a political perspective, UNFCCC COP 13 in 2007, when Papua New Guinea stood up in the final plenary and told the USA to either take the lead or get out of the rest of the world’s wayFrom a personal achievement perspective, the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing at CBD COP10 in 2010, when I could point to various provisions of the new treaty and say ‘I drafted that’And from a fun perspective, the policy expert, the scientist and the dead penguin going into a bar at Ramsar COP 12 in 2015… 

  1. What has been your role in previous COP’s? 

Many and variedI’ve been head of the UK delegation, legal advisor to the UK delegation, lead negotiator, expert advisor, policy advisor to the First Minister, Chair of various negotiating groups and processes; negotiator for and legal advisor to the EU; technical advisor to the Sri Lankan Government; and most recently, strategic and legal advisor to the Belgian GovernmentBasically, pretty much anything that needs to be done. 

  1. What do you think are some of the key opportunities emerging from the climate change arena at the moment? 

Climate change poses almost unfathomable risks to our planet and to humans as a species and it can be easy to let this become absolutely overwhelming, which makes it so much harder to addressBut the real opportunities lie in the solutions we can put in placeAs we show on the RSGS Climate Solutions course, in every area of activity we know and understand the solutions to climate change and environmental degradationThe real difficulty comes in shifting perceptions and helping people, businesses, governments – everybody! – to see that by making changes to the way we all do things, we can collectively shift that needle in a more positive directionIts also worth remembering that the vast majority, if not all, climate solutions will ultimately have other positive impacts on people’s lives and the planetThat could be from improving energy efficiency in buildings – which will also make people warmer and healthier and reduce bill; restoring peatlands and forests, which help to sequester carbon but also provide benefits to biodiversity and to people’s wellbeing; or increasing urban woods, pocket parks, and green buildings, which help to keep our towns and cities cooler whilst providing biodiversity corridors and generally making our urban environment a nicer place to be.   

  1. What does geography mean to you? 

EverythingThere are so many different aspects to geography, it touches and influences everything we doFor me, geography is about connectivity – connecting us as people to the places we find ourselves in and making that connection at all levelsIt’s about the way we affect our environment and how our environment affects usAnd if I’m honest I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by maps and the stories about what drove all the great explorers over time. 

  1. What are some of your interests beyond work? 

I live in Highland Perthshire, which is an absolutely wonderful place to stayEvery time I step outside my door, nature reminds me why it is so important and just how connected and dependent we are on our environmentOutside of work, I’m the Vice-Chair of Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, which is working to put people into the heart of nature and nature into the hearts of people across Perthshire, including through the Perthshire Nature Connections Partnership – a landscape scale ecosystem restoration programmeI’m also a volunteer fire-fighter in my local community.   

  1. What do you hope to achieve at RSGS? 

One of my priorities is RSGS’s excellent Climate Solutions course, which I’m hoping to bring to new audiences over the next 12-18 monthsFor us all to be able to take the steps we need to take to address climate change, we all need to understand why it is important and what steps we can take – as individuals, communities, micro-businesses, bigger businesses, the public sectorI’m also hoping to help Mike build a Community of Geography in Scotland, the UK and beyond.  Watch this space!