A woman and a non-French national at the head of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD). This is a first for the IRD, and Maria Snoussi is the embodiment of that change. The Moroccan environmental scientist believes that only through solidarity and collaboration will the Mediterranean be able to face the effects of climate change.
Maria Snoussi is a coastal geoscientist. In that regard, she knows her native Mediterranean coasts like the back of her hand. During her student life and later while working, she travelled the region and the rest of the world to learn more about climate change and the effect it has on human life. Today at the head of the IRD, she leads research into the science of sustainability in the intertropical and Mediterranean regions. This is nothing short of extraordinary, considering the under-representation of women in science, where less than a third of the world’s researchers are women.
One might wonder what it takes for a woman and a non-French national to end up at the head of such an institution. Talking with her might give you some hints: seated on a chair, her pose is elegant and relaxed at the same time. Maria Snoussi looks at you straight in the eyes, always with a sparkle of amusement in her gaze. But above all, she is passionate about her work and how to bring it to the people.
For the researcher, communication around climate and environmental change is vital to educate leaders and help them make informed choices that will impact citizens’ lives. Snoussi says:
“We need to inform and enlighten public opinion through the use of robust sciences, including social and human sciences, but also through local and traditional knowledge”.
Maria Snoussi’s native region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. “We are confronted with a cocktail of worldwide challenges: global warming, water acidification, accelerated loss of biodiversity”. The scientist highlights that Mediterranean countries have to face those challenges as a region and go beyond national policies.
“When it comes to regional and worldwide challenges, countries will not be able to respond individually. It is important to have a common, shared vision.” However, her discourse is poised, just like her body language when she talks. She sees the world through clear lenses and seems to understand that the answers to overcoming our challenges might be found in the middle. “At the same time, it is necessary to construct national and local visions that fit with communities and decision-makers. Decentralised cooperation between Mediterranean regions allows the construction and development of common knowledge and practices.”
On top of her role at the IRD, the Moroccan researcher is part of the Mediterranean Experts Network on Climate and Environmental Change (MedECC), creators of the first scientific Report on Climate and Environmental Change in the Mediterranean. The report originates from the political endorsement of the UfM and its Member States, which highlighted the need of more scientific-based data on climate change in the Mediterranean and that supported the creation of the MedECC network in 2015.
“It is a network of experts on climate change and the environment in the Mediterranean. We are 600 scientists and we come from 35 different countries”.
The work carried by this network resulted, among other things, in the first ever region-wide scientific report on the impacts of climate and environmental change in the Mediterranean, with alarming conclusions confirming our intuitions on the region’s situation. Maria Snoussi co-led the research carried out for this study and her expertise earned her awards and a seat at various tables from the University of Rabat to the CIESM’s committee on coastal systems.
The coastal expert cherishes of her region and trusts that countries, cities and cultures will come together in the most constructive way. “All Mediterranean countries are seeing fast demographic, social, cultural, economic and ecologic changes. But there is a powerful will from both sides of the Mediterranean, each at their own level to build together a healthy, stable and prosper Mediterranean”.