“The best crisis we’ve ever created” – and other insights from London Climate Action Week

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been back in London for nearly two weeks.

In some ways, it feels like a lifetime – the turbulence of ‘re-entry’ after 10 months away has been overwhelming at times. In other ways, the time has flown by – reconnecting with friends and settling back into that uniquely London life of traversing the city for events and activities.

Thus far, the biggest perk of unemployment has been the ample time to learn, and to think. Trying to figure out career next steps while still on the road was a lovely idea, but utterly unrealistic. The whole point was to be present and enjoy the freedom from expectation, not to worry about what would happen upon my return.

Even more than expected, these past 12 days have been a wakeup call. Back in my previous, achingly familiar surroundings, I can feel the contrast between the woman I am now, and the one who left last year. I’m actively figuring out how to take everything I’ve learned and apply it to the future.

So, last week’s London Climate Action Week was absolutely perfect timing.

There were events all over the city, with topics from climate diplomacy to the green economy with speakers and organizations from all over the world. It was a crash course into the entire sector, and an incredible opportunity to figure out a direction of travel as I start job hunting intensively.

But, recognising that few others will have had the time to attend the events, here are some of my learnings and reflections from London Climate Action Week:

The general public are woefully under-informed

First, a few questions (answers are at the bottom of the post):

  1. What’s the significance of the circular design in the middle of the London Climate Action Week logo?
  2. What do you think of when you hear the number “1.5”?
  3. When you hear the word “cop” in relation to climate change, what does it refer to?

Even though I considered myself fairly well-informed when it comes to climate change, I wouldn’t have been able to answer all of those correctly before last week.

And that’s the point.

We have less than 12 years before we face catastrophic consequences globally, and we’re not moving nearly fast enough.

Don’t get me wrong, there is progress. Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, Sir David Attenborough – the dialogue has shifted and people are paying attention. The focus on reducing single-use plastics and plastic pollution has been particularly effective.

But it goes so much further than a reusable water bottle or taking public transportation. How many of us are taking our climate impact into account in our daily decisions of how we eat, how we work and how we live?

Not enough. Not nearly enough.

The United States has failed in leadership on this issue, for decades

As a kid in the late-90’s and early 2000’s, I remember it was a big deal when the U.S. didn’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But at the time, it was just another headline. I didn’t fully understand the implications.

This week, across multiple events and speakers, it was jarring to see just how weak/nonexistent/counter-productive the U.S. has been on this issue.

At a panel on lawyers fighting for climate justice, Dr. Seth Osafo, the Legal Adviser to the African Group of Negotiators in global climate negotiations, outlined how the U.S. decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol cascaded across other nations and essentially stalled the global process for years. Here’s a nice summary from CNN.

At a different event on climate diplomacy, current and former diplomats agreed that November 3, 2020 is the most important date of next year. U.S. Election Day.

Sure, there’s positive work happening in the private sector and at the city/state level in the U.S.. But, next year’s election will change the tone globally. It’s one week before COP26, when the world’s nations are coming together to ramp up their commitments to the Paris Agreement.

If the current administration wins another term, and god forbid fails to ratify the convention, the U.S. will fail to lead on this issue, yet again.

There’s systems thinking. And then there’s systems thinking when it comes to climate change.

In laymen’s terms, systems thinking is a way of approaching a system (like an organisation) and thinking about how its parts interrelate, how they work over time, and how they interact with and within other systems. I’ve learned about it for years, from undergrad through my time at Barclays.

In the case of climate change, system thinking is required to understand the interconnections between and across government, society, and individuals, in relation to areas like policy, consumption, quality of life, all in the context of their impacts on our planet’s ecosystem – it’s mind-boggling.

Diagram of the global food system including inputs, outputs and biological, economic and social systems.
Source: Center for Environmental Transformation

As an example, here’s a brilliant resource from the Food Climate Research Network on the global food system. Read it – I guarantee you’ll learn something. Or for those visual learners, a simplified visualization of the global food system. (imagine what the complication one looks like)

It was wonderful last week to hear from a variety of actors in the system, from think tanks to NGO’s and charities, from diplomats to scientists and spiritual leaders. People working on the issues are incredibly passionate, but the scale of the global transformation required felt overwhelming at times.

How we eat, how we work, and how we live.

These words keep running through my head. As an individual, we can feel powerless given the number and scale of the other actors at play, but we can make a difference. We must demand more of our governments, put our money towards businesses that are pushing for change, and think about our climate impacts in every decision, every day.

Climate change as “the best crisis we’ve ever created”

My favorite event of London Climate Action Week was Sunday evening, a conversation between Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Sister Jayantri, a leader in Brahma Kumaris, a worldwide spiritual movement.

It was a powerful event, with these two female leaders discussing climate change holistically and spiritually. It was a huge contrast to the data, science, legal and policy-driven approaches I saw in other events.

Christiana said that she views climate change as “the best crisis we’ve ever created”. It’s a crisis because we’re running out of time, but it’s the best because it’s forcing a fundamental and deeper learning.

External fixes like reforestation, renewable energy, and maintaining biodiversity are important. But the transformation must also be internal, to our hearts and our souls, to our appreciation of each other and our relationship to our planet.

My words can’t really do justice to the power of the dialogue, but I left that event filled with optimism and belief that we can co-create a better future.

And I’m determined to play my part.

Answers to the questions:

  1. The 17 shapes that form the circle refer to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They are “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.
  2. 1.5 = the degree increase (in Celsius) that we must adhere to, in order to limit the catastrophe we face. Here’s a good summary article on the 1.5 and why it’s critical we remain below this increase.
  3. COP = the Conference of the Parties – these are annual, global climate change conferences. All the world’s nations come together to review the implementation of the Convention on Climate Change.  

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