CC&E Graduate Named a Young Climate Change Ambassador for Panama

August 25, 2023

Mercedes Pinzon

Pinzon worked in John White's Wetland and Aquatic Biogeochemistry Laboratory while receiving her Master's in Oceanography & Coastal Sciences.

BATON ROUGE - First stop—two degrees from LSU. Next stop, the United Nations.

CC&E alumna Mercedes Pinzon, who graduated with her Masters degree this August after receiving a Bachelor’s in Coastal Environmental Science in 2021, has been chosen as a representative of her home country of Panama at the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  

Pinzon will be taking a four-month internship with Panama’s Ministry of the Environment, to help prepare for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held this December in the United Arab Emirates.

“This is my opportunity to advocate for the environmentally sustainable society that Panamanians deserve,” she said.

Pinzon was one of three final candidates chosen through a rigorous application process put on by Climate Reality Latin America, a program whose goal is to get younger people more involved in discussions about climate change. 

“Climate change is a current problem that will ultimately affect the children and youth of today,” she said. “Whether through law, education or science Latin American youth can harness our skills to advocate for environmental action, because we are agents of change.”

Confronting a Changing Climate

Panama faces many environmental issues that would sound familiar to residents of Louisiana--for example, rising sea levels.

“Panama is surrounded by two oceans and has several islands,” Pinzon said. “Some communities have already had to be relocated due to sea level rise, specifically the indigenous groups are being the most affected. While we may not have the resources to build sediment diversions, the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan can definitely be taken as an example and used to the best of our ability.”

However, she believes the most significant issue Panama is currently confronting is the increase in temperature. “We have severe droughts affecting agriculture and livestock, which are the main economic activities in the country. And the people who work in these activities are mostly low-income families who don't have the resources to keep up with the changes.”

Panama doesn’t have the infrastructure people in more developed countries are accustomed to. A lot of buildings don’t have air conditioning, leaving people with few alternatives when temperatures rise to dangerous levels.

Pinzon hopes to advocate for policies that will help Panama adapt more quickly to the changing climate.

Flow of money is a big issue, she said, for funding projects that will help communities prepare for climate change. “You can develop an adaptation plan, but it can take six or seven years to get the money to implement it,” because much of the funding available comes from international sources and there can be a lot of impediments to getting it. Even then, much of it is loans, and repayment can be difficult. Pinzon hopes to help develop new avenues for such projects.

A New Direction

After two degrees focused on applied sciences, Pinzon’s work on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change represents her first foray into policy. Although she took classes in policy as a student at LSU, Pinzon is interested learning more about its application. “Scientists do the research and provide the information. Policymakers then take that information to make changes that can be applied to society.”

Pinzon initially came to LSU to study Coastal Environmental Sciences as an undergraduate, on a special water resource issues scholarship created by Panama’s Instituto para la Formacíon y Aprovechamíento de Recursos Humanos (IFARHU), as a way provide Panamanian students gain meaningful knowledge to help address the country’s maritime challenges, which are similar in many ways to those of Louisiana.

Pinzon continued on to receive a Masters degree from the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, where she studied wetland nutrient cycling under Dr. John White, CC&E’s Associate Dean of Research and John and Catherine Day Professor, in the Wetland and Aquatic Biogeochemistry Laboratory.

She will also be pursuing a PhD at the University of Central Florida this fall, where she will be investigating carbon cycling in mangrove forests, and how they are affected by climate change.