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Global Change Fellow Tira Beckham is Addressing Socio-Political Barriers to Climate Resilience

Tira Beckham is a first-year master’s student studying natural resource policy and administration. Her research focuses on the socio-political barriers to climate resilience in low-income, rural, inland communities.

Tira was recently named a Global Change Fellow. The Global Change Fellows program supports students across multiple disciplines who are making an impact around climate change. We recently spoke with Tira about her research and what she hopes to accomplish going forward.

What encouraged you to enter your field of study?

I became interested in environmental policy, especially in the context of environmental and climate justice, after working with low-income communities for both local and state governments. More recently, I was a project manager, collaborator, researcher and lead author for the implementation of NC Executive Order 80 and the development of the NC Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan.

Through the development of this plan, I got to collaborate with lead climate scientists, top decision-makers and communities. Through this process, I realized that effective change can only be made by taking a bottom-up approach to equitable governance.

What is the focus of your research?

I will be studying socio-political barriers to climate resilience in low-income, rural, inland communities. Specifically, I will be conducting a case study of Robeson County, North Carolina to develop a framework for equitable governance and communication with vulnerable communities.

How do you hope to make an impact through your research?

Identifying the barriers to resiliency and adaptation in traditionally excluded communities will help state and federal agencies to properly distribute funds and design programs that will adequately represent the needs of rural communities. This research also has implications for the local and regional economies in rural communities with agriculture-based economies. The development of an interactive participatory framework for local and state governments can lead to improved communication between local governments and rural inland communities and more deliberate climate resilience actions and decisions within these communities.

As the climate emergency rises to the top of the political agenda for many states, nationally and internationally, it is important that policy documents and frameworks that foster communication and reciprocity between communities and governing entities be pushed to the forefront of our approach to the changing climate. 

How has the College of Natural Resources helped you along the way?

My advisors, Bethany Cutts and Louie Rivers III, have encouraged me through this challenging semester and have given me the resources I need to thrive academically, professionally and personally. I have just started in the College of Natural Resources at a time when it is hard to make connections, but I have been welcomed immediately by the students and faculty. That has made all the difference when starting grad school in the middle of a global pandemic. 

What advice do you have for those who want to enter this field?

When it comes to science and climate change policy, it is important to have a passion for people. So often, policy and decision-makers have a disconnect with the people who are directly affected by the decisions being made. It is easy to believe that governance should only happen behind closed doors at top levels, but it is important that the experiences of those being governed are considered and included in the decision-making process. This can only be done through direct communication and collaboration with those who are being affected.  

What future aspirations do you have in your field of study?

After completing my graduate studies, I hope to begin my career by working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Interior working to establish equitable governance practices for all regions and communities across the country.

Eventually, my goal is to work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to build equitable climate resilience and adaptation on a global scale. The UNEP is making significant steps toward climate mitigation and adaptation around the world, and I would like to join this effort by using policy and diplomacy to assist governments in developing countries in adapting to climate impacts, which are exacerbated by a lack of resources and capacity.