Interviewed by Hanna Müller
In this interview, WTP6 Talent Stephanie Langerock tells her what motivates her to serve as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. Inspired by an encounter with humpback whales in Colombia and Cousteau’s films, she has developed a strong commitment to ocean conversation and biodiversity. In her words: stay stubbornly optimistic and incorporate diverse perspectives to drive the green transition!
You are Senior International Relations Officer responsible for Biodiversity at the Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, a role which includes serving as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. Could you tell us more about this Commission and your daily work more broadly, and why you are so passionate about it?
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded more than 75 years ago and is charged with the conservation of cetaceans and the management of whaling. In addition to regulation of whaling, today's IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching. Besides my role as Belgian Commissioner for the IWC, I am also chair of the IWC Bycatch Mitigation Initiative of which I am very proud as we are bound to start several pilot projects to prevent the accidental catch of cetaceans in fishing gear. As a child of the ocean, I find it very rewarding to contribute to the protection and the conservation of biodiversity and our marine ecosystems.
As a child of the ocean, I find it very
rewarding to contribute to the protection
and the conservation of biodiversity
and our marine ecosystems.
Prior to your career in biodiversity, you worked in different fields, including consulting and transport. What made you take the leap into environmental sustainability and biodiversity?
My career until today has mainly been seizing opportunities when they were offered. Only recently, I started thinking about my personal purpose and how to move my career forward. I have always been interested in many things at the same time, but the central theme of my career is international relations and an affinity with social causes. That is what brought me to Federal Public Service and the World Health Organisation representing Belgium.
I have always been fascinated by the documentaries of Cousteau. When I was 18, I went to Colombia where I really got in touch with nature, both on land and sea. That was when I first saw and heard whales. For me, it was a life-changing experience. At that point, I thought of studying Marine Biology. When I came back home, I returned to my first love, languages and cultures. Later in my career when I returned to work after having a burnout, my current boss asked if I wanted to join the biodiversity team as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. He knew I was intrigued with whales. My interest in nature was triggered again and I did not think twice. My current role helps me to grow and reconnect with nature and with myself.
My current role helps me to grow and
reconnect with nature and with myself.
You describe yourself as someone having a strong sense of fairness and justice. How have these values guided you, both in your private and professional life?
I have always been driven by equality, even when I was at secondary school. I volunteered for several organisations, both with youngsters and elderly people, trying to contribute to the community. Treating everybody fairly and offering equal opportunities is my utmost concern. We need to achieve equity, look at individual needs, respect each other and promote everybody’s uniqueness. I try to live by these values by listening actively and being empathetic.
You strive for the conservation of the oceans and marine biodiversity. How can we keep conversations focused on the ecological transition? Are you optimistic for the future?
First, yes, I am optimistic! Two years ago, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Antarctica as part of Homeward Bound, an immersive global leadership programme for women. During our voyage I met Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change who is considered as one of the architects of the Paris agreement talked about stubborn optimism.
I think that I have always been a stubborn optimist - I just did not have a name for it. I believe that things can and will get better and that there is always a possibility for success. The climate and biodiversity crises are tough, but I am very much convinced that, as humans, we have everything in our hands to bend the curve and protect and restore nature. We are all dependent on our forests, rivers, oceans, and soils that provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink.
We need to keep raising awareness. For many people, the ocean is a vast blue hole. For me, Antarctica is the heart, the Amazon are the lungs of our planet, and the ocean is our veins, which connect us all. It is in our own interest to protect and to keep the ocean healthy.
The climate and biodiversity crises are tough,
but I am very much convinced that, as humans,
we have everything in our hands to bend the curve
and protect nature.
What role do women play in building a more sustainable and environmentally friendly society?
Women are half of our society. For me, it is just unimaginable that 50% of our population would not have a voice. It is essential to consider women and men when we talk about sustainability. They both have the right to be around the table when we make environmental, social or economic decisions that have an impact on all of us. We need more diverse perspectives, not only for the green transition but for any kind of social transition. To push boundaries and consider all possible angles, a wider range of influences and opinions is needed. And that is where women play an essential role. So, it is time to raise our voice, and advocate for inclusive, authentic, and empathetic leadership.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: what do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would not say that there was one great achievement in my life, but I am currently most proud of the person that I have become. I feel good in my skin contributing to the green transition and creating a more equitable and respectful world where humans can live in harmony with nature.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero