The messaging employed by youth climate groups could lead to important victories for the climate movementBiliana Tchavdarova Todorova

When it comes to the climate crisis, it is all too easy to despair but, in amongst the gloom, there are also countless sources of inspiration, tales of people from all over the world coming together to tackle the greatest challenge facing our planet. This Earth Day, we decided to take a step back and reflect on some of the amazing climate stories that give us reason for hope.

The rise of youth climate movements around the world

While environmental activism among young people is not a recent phenomenon, the media attention and political influence commanded by these movements has arguably been greater than ever before. In particular, activists in the global south have been critical to the climate change fight, as developing countries will be facing the worst impacts of climate change.

In the Philippines, Mitzi Tan became an environmental activist after speaking to indigenous leaders about the harm they had faced in protecting their lands. As a convenor for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), she has organized climate strikes to protest government policies that are harmful to the climate. In Uganda, Vanessa Nakate started organizing strikes after learning about how natural disasters in her country had been worsened by climate change.

Today, youth movements have been able to harness social media, speak candidly, and recognize the interconnection between climate and justice — messaging that could lead to key social and political victories. A long-running survey of US adults found increasing concern for climate issues and youth strikers have been endorsed by the UN Secretary General. There remains hope that youth activism could lead to more systemic, concrete changes.

Greening transport in cities

"74.5% of global CO2 emissions are from road vehicles, so replacing fossil fuel cars with less carbon intensive vehicles would greatly help the climate"Biliana Tchavdarova Todorova

To many experts and governments, recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to shift policy and infrastructure plans to better tackle climate change. One way that cities around the world have been supporting this “green recovery” is through investing in walking and cycling infrastructure. For example, South American cities including Bogotá and Lima have opened hundreds of kilometres of temporary cycle lanes to facilitate social distancing on public transport. Milan has similarly reallocated road space — permanently — from cars to cyclists and pedestrians, which is hoped to reduce air pollution in the city as well.

Some cities are going even further by attempting to phase out fossil fuel cars. Currently, 74.5% of global CO2 emissions are from road vehicles, so replacing fossil fuel cars with less carbon intensive vehicles would greatly help the climate. New York City has committed to having 20% of cars be electric by 2025, and Singapore plans to phase out all petrol vehicles by 2040, creating 28,000 charging points for electric cars at the same time. As improvements in lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicle investment continue, we could see a significant drop in transport emissions in the coming decades.

Big wins for the global divestment movement

In contrast to stereotypes that would have us believe “saving the planet” means separating your recycling and avoiding plastic straws, the divestment movement takes on the fossil fuel industry head on. Divestment does this by pushing public organisations to get rid of their unethical investments, in this case, in the fossil fuel industry. Crucially, by doing so, divestment raises awareness of the fact that just 100 fossil fuel companies have contributed 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1981.

"Divestment raises awareness of the fact that just 100 fossil fuel companies have contributed 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1981"Biliana Tchavdarova Todorova

Originally dismissed as radical and impractical, more than half of UK universities have now committed to fossil fuel divestment. Last October, after five years of tireless campaigning from Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, Cambridge University finally joined their ranks. Despite this, the fight for climate justice at Cambridge University continues with the exciting rise (and success) of college divestment campaigns and a renewed focus on the wider links between the University and the fossil fuel industry.

The divestment movement also extends far beyond universities. Last year, hundreds of UK churches committed to divestment and the New York State pension fund, valued at over US$ 226 billion, committed to divest from the riskiest oil and gas companies. The divestment movement is now such a force to be reckoned with that even Shell now admits it could have “a material adverse effect” on their business.

Urban farming and environmental justice

When fruits and vegetables come neatly wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf, it is all too easy to become disconnected from where our food comes from. To counter this, organisations like Harlem Grown aim to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives by providing hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.

Community-led urban farming projects are about much more than just food — they are an important form of resistance against capitalist and colonial systems of land ownership. The Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund addresses the “historical dispossession of land from Black farmers” by raising funds to allow Black farmers to purchase the land they care for.


Mountain View

To save forests, individual action isn’t enough

In the UK, BAME communities are 60% less likely to be able to access green space and natural environments than white communities and 1% of the population owns more than 50% of the land in England. One inspiring organisation working to tackle this is Land In Our Names, a Black-led collective committed to connecting land and climate justice to racial justice.

Plant-based diets

Something as simple as small changes to what we eat can go a long way in protecting the planet, with some studies unequivocally claiming that a vegan diet is associated with decreased greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternatives. Whilst evidence can vary (based on, for example, the exact nature of farming practices involved) incorporating some plant-based foods into our daily routines will likely benefit both the environment and our health.

Switching to a lower-meat diet is becoming more and more likely by the year, with Grand View research estimating that the vegan food market will be worth nearly 25 billion USD by the year 2025 and almost 600,000 people signing up for Veganuary in 2021 (a 50% increase from the previous year). Plant-based diets are clearly on the rise, and as the range of products available continues to diversify, any substitutions (however small!) that people can make will contribute to a healthier body and planet.