"Climate change is a global issue and the UN has an irreplaceable role to play", Interview with Martina Volpe Donlon

Meet Martina Volpe Donlon, Head of Climate Communication at the UN in New York.

Martina Volpe
Association Suisse-ONU


Gesellschaft Schweiz-UNO / Association Suisse-ONU
Blog author
Resmy Paracherry


Gesellschaft Schweiz-UNO / Association Suisse-ONU
Blog author

Blog series on Swiss voices of multilateralism

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the UN, cinfo, together with foraus and Gesellschaft Schweiz-ONU (GSUN), is publishing a blog series on Swiss voices of multilateralism. Through interviews with young authors, cinfo wants to give a voice to Swiss people who are in contact with the UN world.

Martina Volpe Donlon's career

In this interview, Martina Volpe Donlon talks about her current position as head of climate communication at the UN in New York. She grew up in Bern and dreamed of becoming a journalist. After studying international relations in Geneva and Boston, she worked for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Wall Street Journal. She then worked at the Swiss Consulate General in New York as deputy cultural attaché and then as special assistant to the Swiss ambassador to the UN, Jenö Staehelin. She joined the UN 14 years ago.

You are head of the Climate Change Communication Unit at the UN in New York. What brought you to this position?

I came to the UN in a rather roundabout way. As a child, I wanted to be a journalist, preferably a foreign correspondent. After graduating, I worked for newspapers in Zurich, Boston and New York. It was in New York that I first came into direct contact with the UN, and I was fascinated. I found the combination of international affairs and communications and media work to be perfect. I started in the UN's communications department working on sustainable development, then moved to the human rights section, and since February I have been in charge of climate communications.

I came to the UN in a rather roundabout way.

What fascinates you about it?

I have to say that climate issues have fascinated me the most so far. It's not just about the environment, but also about the political, economic, social and technological challenges. At the end of the day, it's also about justice. The countries that have contributed the least to the problem are also the ones that are most affected by the climate crisis. Greenhouse gases, storms, floods and droughts know no borders. Climate change is a global issue and the UN, as a multilateral organisation, has an irreplaceable role to play.

Climate communication covers a wide range of activities. Which projects are you working on?

In terms of content, I am working on communicating the urgent need for action in three areas of climate policy to a broad audience: first, reducing greenhouse gases to prevent a further rise in global temperatures. The second focus is on adapting to climate change to minimise future damage. This includes, for example, early warning systems, reliable coastal protection or changes in land management. The third focus is on finance. All measures to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the consequences of climate change require money. Developing countries are particularly dependent on support from industrialised countries.

In practical terms, this means writing press releases on these issues, conducting media interviews, and creating text, graphics and multimedia products for websites and social networks. Together with our partners around the world, we are trying to shake up the relevant decision-makers.

As we all know, progress on climate and environmental issues is slow. How do you stay motivated?

Progress at the political level is indeed very slow. On the other hand, climate change is an area where there is an incredible amount of innovation and momentum, especially at the sub-national level. This includes hundreds of companies that have publicly committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Banks and investors are also increasingly aligning their investments with environmental criteria. Cities around the world are developing ambitious climate action programmes, such as banning diesel vehicles, planting trees and switching to wind and solar power. The science behind climate change is clear and the solutions are known, so I remain motivated and optimistic.

What advice would you give to young people who are also interested in a career at the UN?

The Junior Professionals Programme is one of the best entry points for people under 32. I myself got my UN job through it. But there are other entry points, and it's not a bad idea to get some work experience elsewhere first. In communications, for example, it's very helpful to have journalistic experience.

What I like most about my job is that I work with colleagues from 193 countries - and in 14 years I have never had a boring day. I learn something new every day.

It's not a bad idea to get some work experience elsewhere first.