Carving a path towards net zero carbon emissions
Just a year after graduating, Niny Borges played an integral role in Timor-Leste's legal team, negotiating the Timor Sea Treaty. Now, she is one of the top-ranking women in the global energy industry.
After Niny Borges (LLB '00) completed her degree at Sydney Law School, she quickly joined the team advising the Timor-Leste government on the historic Timor Sea Treaty with Australia, which allowed for the joint exploration of petroleum resources. For the young Borges, it was a homecoming that gave her both perspective and enabled her to give back to her country of origin.
“My parents left Timor-Leste when I was six months old,” Borges says. “I was too young to remember but the lasting impact of war on my family and the stories retold will always be imprinted in my mind” she recalls.
The Borges family - including Niny’s seven sisters and brother - fled to West Timor, where they spent a year in a refugee camp, before being evacuated to Lisbon, Portugal.
For my family, education was considered the key that unlocks everything. We weren’t well off, but my parents always invested in our education.
Living in a refugee camp in Lisbon was not any easier. “Winter in Europe is not ideal for living in tents. It was muddy. It was cold. And no matter how big your family was, it was one family to a tent."
Being a migrant, says Borges, informs your identity. The Borges family settled in Darwin in 1979, as part of the Family Reunion Act, joining her extended family.
“For my family, education was considered the key that unlocks everything,” she says. “We weren’t well off, but my parents always invested in our education.”
The young Borges pondered a career in medicine briefly, before turning her attention to the law. Completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Wollongong, Borges joined Sydney Law School in the late 1990s.
“As a child, I never imagined myself as a lawyer, much less an energy lawyer,” she says. “But while energy issues can be controversial, they also have a significant impact on our everyday lives. That’s what makes it so interesting.”
The road to law was not always smooth for Borges who experienced some health challenges and required surgery in her first year of law school.
“I had to take some time off to have an operation,” says Borges. “While a stressful experience, Sydney Law School did everything they could to accommodate me.” Told she could defer the year or have an extension of time to sit her exams, Borges chose the latter. “There was no way I was going to defer,” she says now, laughing. “If I hadn’t done it at the time I did, I may have missed the opportunity in Timor-Leste at such a critical moment, and it’s possible that I would not be where I am today. Timing is everything. I am really grateful to the Law School for their support.”
I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. I cherish that time, and I am committed to mentoring others now in my current role.
It was also a time when Borges came to learn the impact of role models, something that informs her approach to work today.
“All the professors were inspiring and early role models for me. Their passion for the law, their desire to inspire young lawyers, all had a huge impact on me. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. I cherish that time, and I am committed to mentoring others now in my current role.”
Borges found her way to the energy sector through her work in Timor-Leste. The daughter of parents who worked two jobs apiece to raise their children, she says she was singularly focused on giving back to her home country and honouring her parents in the process.
“Negotiating for Timor-Leste, a country that is part of my heritage, was not only a huge learning experience, but also such an important moment for the future of the country,” she says. “It was a humbling experience and gave me the drive to work incredibly hard."
After negotiating the Treaty, Borges spent the next seven years advising Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister and Minister for Natural Resources, developing a passion and talent for energy law.
The mission now is to transition to a low- carbon future,” Borges says. “It’s about getting the right balance of progress and change."
Borges, the winner of the University of Sydney's 2022 Alumni Award for International Achievement, is now the Vice-President, Head of Legal Upstream at Equinor, a Norwegian energy company with a market cap of US$90 billion. Previously leading the Equinor renewables legal portfolio, she is now responsible for the company’s global legal upstream portfolio. One of the top-ranking women in the energy industry, she believes there is still much progress needed to improve diversity within the sector – and this is one of her passions.
Another of her passions is the energy transition. “The mission now is to transition to a low-carbon future,” Borges says. “It’s about getting the right balance of progress and change. Are we doing this fast enough to make a difference? Ensuring we are, is important to me.”
Written by Lauren Sams