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UCLA Vice Provost Cindy Fan (right) led a panel discussion with (from left) Consuls General Marcela Celorio (Mexico), Julie Duhaut-Bedos (France), Jane Duke (Australia) and Ahmed Shaheen (Egypt).

Diplomats from Australia, Egypt, France, Mexico and Romania speak as part of campus's International Education Week.

One way to measure Los Angeles’ standing among global cities is the fact that it is home to the third largest consular corps in the world.

Consuls general representing five nations came together at UCLA on Nov. 10 for a program that enlightened audience members about the diplomats’ roles in local responses to global challenges. The event, held at the UCLA Faculty Club, was part of UCLA International Education Week, and it was cosponsored by the Los Angeles Consular Corps.

“Today’s event is an opportunity to gain insights from a diverse array of leaders about the challenges affecting our global community,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Bringing together such partners to unravel problems and develop solutions is one of the roles of a globally oriented public research university like UCLA.”

Block laid the groundwork for a panel discussion by describing several major global challenges with compelling local dimensions — issues UCLA scholars are also working to address — including economic concerns, global health care challenges, the spread of misinformation, mental health, climate change, technological competition and education for a knowledge-based economy.

In his introductory remarks, Cosmin Dumitrescu, consul general of Romania to Los Angeles and dean of the consular corps’ executive committee, said one common misconception about diplomats is that they work only behind closed doors in capital cities. Most consuls general are career diplomats and among their many responsibilities, he said, are putting together their nations’ citizens together with investors to start companies in the U.S. and forging partnership with U.S. universities.

“They are very active in trade, commerce and the economy,” he said.

Consul General Marcela Celorio of Mexico said the spread of misinformation has been a major challenge. For example, she explained that Mexico has accepted dual nationality for 30 years. But, she said, “there are still people here that … believe that if they become American citizens, they will lose everything, or they will lose their [Mexican] nationality.”

Her organization also has tried to combat misinformation during the pandemic, working to build confidence in scientific authorities among those it serves. The consulate opened a COVID-19 test center and provided both vaccinations and humanitarian services, including a food pantry.

Julie Duhaut-Bedos, consul general of France, said the U.S. is France’s top partner in scientific cooperation, naming pandemic preparedness, climate change mitigation and technology as key areas of focus. Part of her job is to identify research universities in both nations that can collaborate on those issues.

“We have a huge collaboration … in quantum computing, and UCLA is one of our partners for that,” she said.

Jane Duke, consul general of Australia, highlighted her work on trade between the U.S. and her home nation, and joint efforts to address climate change in California. One manifestation of the trade relationship: Duke arranged for Australian manufacturers to deliver baby formula to the U.S. during the recent supply shortage.

On climate change issues, she said, Australia has ongoing collaborations with many California agencies to address wildfires, sustainable water management and drought response.

Climate change is also a major consideration for Consul General Ahmed Shaheen of Egypt. Calling it a “very serious threat,” Shaheen said Egypt’s entire northern coast is projected to disappear by 2100 because of rising sea levels.

He noted that while Africa has the lowest share of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is the continent most affected by climate change, and it receives “less than 5.5% of climate finance,” he said.

He expressed hope that COP27, the UN climate change conference currently taking place in Egypt, would address the issue of climate finance and produce a roadmap for helping Africa to find its fight against climate change.

Cindy Fan, UCLA’s vice provost for international studies and global engagement, closed the program by thanking the consuls general for their optimism.

“When we work together … we can make small changes, and small changes add up to be big changes hopefully,” Fan said.

This article is also published on UCLA Newsroom.

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