School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Kiara Worth (right) with UN Secretary-Generl António Guterres.

UKZN Alumnus Official Photographer for UN Secretary-General at COP26 Climate Conference

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UKZN alumnus, Dr Kiara Worth had a grandstand view of deliberations at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, where as an official photographer, her work was provided to world leaders and activists, including former US President Barack Obama and Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Worth, who was the photographer for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and assigned to UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the conference, completed Bachelor of Social Science and Master’s in Agriculture degrees at UKZN and a PhD in Political Science at the University of the Western Cape.

Operating as a freelancer, she has an extensive work portfolio including development consulting and communication, youth empowerment, lecturing and workshop facilitation, and writing and editing. She also works as a photographer for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, operating as part of their Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) team that provides daily information from multilateral negotiations on the environment and development.

Sharing her insights regularly to followers on social media, Worth highlighted that COP26 was one of the most important climate summits of the decade, where decisions had to be made urgently about actions to lower global emissions. COP26 was the first meeting since the 2015 Paris Agreement where parties needed to review their nationally determined contributions to limit global warming to no higher than 2°C.

Worth said the agenda for COP26 included mitigation and adaptation; mobilising climate finance; the procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement; the proposed carbon market mechanism; how to handle the challenge of energy; transportation solutions; sustainable cities; and addressing “loss and damage” from climate change.

She covered deliberations on these topics and as well as events like Youth Day, the People’s Plenary hosted by frustrated civil society groups, and days focused on gender and climate change. She provided brief descriptive summaries accompanied by her photographs.

Worth also covered the World Leaders Summit attended by more than 100 presidents, prime ministers and heads of government. The gathering’s aim was to highlight the urgent need for leaders to make decisions that will move the world away from the serious impact of climate change, including biodiversity loss, poverty and war.

On her work for Guterres, Worth said it was an intense experience to document his efforts photographically, but an honour to witness his engagement with world leaders and how he operated.

‘I have always loved the United Nations,’ said Worth. ‘We are all people of one planet and I believe that in order to overcome the challenges facing humanity we need a unified world governing body to guide the decisions we make.’

Another memorable moment, she said, was the opportunity to spend time with United Nations global youth activists Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, Mitzi Jonelle and Eric Njuguna to discuss tackling the climate crisis.

When the topic of gender arose, Worth was not just witness to but part of the conversation, being a member of a panel at a side event focusing on female leaders in the UNFCCC, where she was recognised for the role her photography has played within the climate negotiation process.

‘What a thing to be honoured in that way, to have my work valued, and to share my own story,’ said Worth. ‘It reminded me that we all have a role to play – even if you’re just the photographer – and that no contribution goes unnoticed, no matter how small.’

She said the Glasgow Climate Pact’s contents aimed to accelerate efforts to phase out fossil fuels, amending parts of the Paris Agreement Rulebook, climate finance commitments, and the instatement of a dialogue between parties concerning loss and damage.

Worth indicated that while progress was made, more was needed.

The full collection of her coverage of COP26 is on the UNFCCC Flickr account.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied